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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
January 10-17, 2007

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Dining Issue:
Jozseph Schultz | Pomegranates | Fast food

fast food

Mmm ... New-y Burgers

How many Crunch Wrap Supremes does it take to reach enlightenment? Our wide-eyed scribe dives into a bold new world of fast-food dieting.

By Mike Calahan

With the dawn of 2007, the Year of the Pig, I made the decision to start getting back into shape, to treat my body more like a temple and less like the house of a relative I don't really like. The key to this is, as always, diet (unless you're lucky enough to be one of those enviable many who manage to qualify for gastric bypass), so out went the links of Italian sausage and cartons of Chunky Monkey.

Fortunately, over the holiday season. I saw my cousin Lea, a blond, pretty and thin girl of 22. I asked her what sort of diet she was on, assuming she must be doing something right. "I'm not," she answered. "I eat out most of the time. Fast food mainly." Such an epiphany happens so rarely in one's life that it must be embraced like a toupee on a windy day. If it worked for Lea, it's bound to work for me! I decided to try to eat as much fast food as I could, as soon as possible.

To aid me in what I hoped would be the first day of my new dietary regimen, I donned a pair of sweat pants with an elastic waistband. I feared the drawstring style would limit my intake of food and I'd be damned if I was going to let anything get in my way of reaching a healthier lifestyle. "When I come back," I said, kissing my girlfriend at the front door, "you're gonna think Jack LaLanne got a key to the house." She looked at me like I was an idiot. I get this a lot.

First stop was the Carl's Jr. at the Capitola Mall. It being morning and breakfast the most important meal of the day, the Breakfast Burger was my order of choice. Reading the slogan "It's a coffee shop breakfast plate ... on a bun!"

I was expecting a disgruntled waitress' name tag and cigarette ashes on a bun, but was pleasantly surprised to find an all-meat patty, with bacon, a fried egg in the shape of an amoeba under a microscope, hash brown nuggets and cheese (optional).

This was perfectly accompanied by a cup of Carl Karcher's coffee (which did not have cheese as an option). After breakfast, I thought a bite for the road would give me the energy I needed to get me to my next location. So, I ordered the new Philly Cheesesteak Burger, (thinly sliced steak and a juicy, charbroiled burger patty, finished off with peppers, onions, Swiss and American cheeses, and mayonnaise on a seeded bun) to go.

The cost so far:
Breakfast Burger $2.59
Philly Cheesesteak Burger $3.49
Total Calories: 1,660

Next on the list was the Taco Bell located at 1405 Mission St. It not yet being lunch, I was in the market for a light snack. An advertisement showcased the new Crunch Wrap Supreme. Wait, a new me, a new menu item--it must be a sign! The Crunch Wrap Supreme (or "CWS" as the gentleman taking my order called it in response) is a combination of seasoned beef, warm nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes and served in a flat configuration that gives the appearance of a stuffed taco that has been run over by an 18-wheeler and then fried to a golden brown.

As lunch neared, it was time once again to travel and bid adios to the restaurant that discovered a fourth meal. Fourth meal? Yep, it was apparently found by the Taco Bell corporation to be situated between dinner and breakfast. Who knew?!

Crunch Wrap Supreme $2.29
Total Calories: 560

After being on such a strict diet all day, is there nothing more satisfying than lunch? Not a chance. Pavlov would have nodded appreciatively as my mouth began to water the closer I came to the Jack in the Box at 640 Ocean St.

Testing the remaining elasticity of my sweatpants with my thumb, I perused the menu and several menu items ran sluggishly through my mind. Again, next to a large-fonted "New" was a picture of what was to be my destiny: a smothered, glistening Sirloin Steak Cheddar Ciabatta Sandwich (a marinated sirloin steak on ciabatta bread with cheddar cheese, some of that vegetable stuff and topped with a peppercorn mayo). If anyone has ever wondered if God himself were a culinary genius, the writing is on the wall--well, menu.

In a press release announcing this new delicacy, Teka O'Rourke, director of menu marketing at Jack in the Box Inc. (NYSE: JBX) said that consumers are expecting more from fast food restaurants. "They want the same upscale menu items they order at casual or sit-down restaurants, but served in a way that's affordable and portable. A high-quality sirloin steak sandwich fits the bill."

Exactly! I can't count the number of times I've wanted a steak sandwich without all of that hassle of showering or wearing pants, something that would be expected of a customer by some of those upscale dine-in restaurants like Denny's or Tiny's (may it rest in peace).

But would that fill me up and give me the natural energy I needed to continue on through my caloric calisthenics? I wasn't sure, so I erred on the side of caution and ordered up a side of Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (these tiny obelisks of fried cheesy goodness have a bonus element: after eating them, one can run their greasy fingers through their hair and, voilý, you look just like Elvis Presley!) I settled back into one of the dining area's hard-backed chairs and ate my well-earned lunch. My stomach began to hurt as I finished off the last of my sandwich, but, as they say at the gym--no pain, no gain.

Sirloin Steak 'n' Cheddar Sandwich $4.59
Mozzarella Sticks - small $1.39
Total calories: 1010

With only one meal left before I returned home for dinner, I chose to eat someplace with an air of romance, where chivalry is not dead and royalty rules over the land. Burger King is located at 1302 Soquel Ave. and, if you ask me, has an almost ethereal glow that emanates from behind its glass doors. (The glow can be attributed to a mixture of pride, magnificence and prisms created when the sun shines through the splatterings of grease.)

Inside, I was met with a glory that can only be on a par with witnessing the resurrection ... the Texas Double Whopper! Yee-haw! Two quarter-pound beef patties topped with bacon, spicy mustard, American cheese (none of that Al Qaeda cheese that's so prevalent in other eateries) and jalapeño peppers. At $4.49 and weighing in at 1,050 calories, it seemed like the deal of the century, so it was soon sitting on a tray before me. As I made my way to the sandwich's midway mark, the diet began to make its effects well known. The invigoration of mind and body was replaced by ... I decide to get up and ask for a Tums and ...

Mr. Calahan is resting comfortably at Dominican Hospital where he was rushed, after complaining of chest pains, while researching this article. Well-wishers can send cards and emails care of Metro Santa Cruz.--Editor

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