Category Archives: Chain Reactions

Chain Reactions: The McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish


40 days of fish filets.

Lent is upon us, and to my heathen mind, that means one thing: Shamrock Shake season at McDonald’s. What’s better, these annual few trips to McDonald’s bring relief from the lower-quality fish sandwiches I generally muddle through the rest of the year (snark). My earliest memories of the fish sandwich came with the Filet-O-Fish, and, in many ways, it’s still the gold standard. I’m not being entirely sarcastic either; who’s to say that, in the right context, a Filet-O-Fish washed down with a green mint shake isn’t the equal of a Grouper Reuben with a Florida Avenue Ale? Continue reading

Chain Reactions: Subway’s Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt


Eat fresh, or have it your way, or something.

First things first: There is nothing inherently lowbrow or gimmicky about snack chips on a sandwich. Peanut butter and honey with Ruffles was a staple of my childhood diet, and BBQ chips are a critical component of renowned sandwich innovator Tyler Kord’s brilliant Zucchini Parmesan at No. 7 Sub in New York. Crisps, as our friends across the pond call them, are a quick, smart way to add all-important textural contrast; if anything, they’re underused.

Yet in the minor hubbub that followed Subway’s rollout of its Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt, the well-known corn chips seemed to be singled out for mockery, their mere presence pointed to as an indicator of the sandwich’s absurdity. Yes, in fairness, they are probably its most noteworthy ingredient, and undoubtedly its most aggressively-promoted. Still, in the long history of Subway’s limited-time-only specials, the Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt is far from extraordinarily preposterous. Immediately, I knew I had to have it. Continue reading

Chain Reactions: The Turkey & Stuffing Sandwich from Così

The cult-classic returns.

“The cult-classic returns.” (?)

Rejoice! ‘Tis the season, ladies and gentlemen, that the deservedly revered Thanksgiving sandwich celebrates its all-too-brief moment of glory. We like to say that any great meal can make a great sandwich, but the traditional feast of turkey, stuff and cranberry sauce makes the translation to mobile form more naturally than most. The best examples of this most comforting of comfort sandwiches would be typically prepared in the kitchen of your ancestral home, on Black Friday, while nursing a hangover, but plenty of savvy professional sandwichmakers have taken to offering up their own interpretations, with varying levels of success.

Chief among these opportunists is the ubiquitous Così, whose “signature flatbread” sandwiches I’ve never been particularly fond of. Though the bread’s high crust-to-innard ratio results in a pleasant crunch, it adds little else to the overall sandwich package. And it’s the only bread you’ll find on this menu.

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Chain Reactions: The Grilled Chicken Mediterranean from Potbelly Sandwich Shop


Many years ago, working as a feature writer for a chain of regional business management magazines, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryant Keil, the Chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Potbelly Sandwich Shop. Keil spoke in detail of his plan to grow the brand while maintaining a unique character at each and every location. While he has clearly succeeded in expanding the chain—Potbelly now has locations in 18 states and D.C. and has more than doubled its annual revenue since 2007, when Keil and I spoke—whether or not each Potbelly boasts the singular charm he was aiming for is far less certain. In some ways, this is a good thing. Consistency is one of the few strengths of chain sandwiches, and notwithstanding the locally-inspired kitsch lining the shops’ walls, Potbelly’s uniformly above average product is what separates it from its uniformly mediocre peers. Continue reading

Chain Reactions: The McDonald’s Chicken Bacon Onion

The newest addition to the McDonald’s “premium” line

According to my most trustworthy sources, McDonald’s employs 1.7 million people and feeds 58 million others every day in 119 countries. As a reward for its unprecedented worldwide success, the Illinois-based chain has become, among its countless, extremely vocal detractors, the poster child for the evils of globalization and the leading cause of America’s slow decline into a fat, lazy, fast-food society. I concede that there are many, many reasons to hate McDonald’s. (Just ask PETA.) But more so than any of these gripes, what has always offended me most about McDonald’s is the chain’s complete disregard for the quality of the products they sell.

Though I have a weakness for a hangover-curing Sausage Biscuit, an itch I scratch couple times a year, I can’t recall the last time I ate anything off the McDonald’s lunch or dinner menu. Nor can I recall ever having endured an eight-minute period more soul crushing than the eight minutes I spent waiting last week for my “threemendous” Cheddar Bacon Onion (or “CBO,” as it’s been branded), the latest addition to McDonald’s “premium” sandwich lineup. Making each minute longer and and more insufferable than the last was the strong suspicion that I was waiting on what would be a truly shitty sandwich. But this blog is dedicated to enjoying every sandwich, not just the ones made with locally-raised, grass-fed beef and pickled organic daikon, and this feature is intended to challenge and, I hope, to disprove our preconceptions about chain restaurant food. I tried as best I could to keep an open mind. Continue reading