An integral part of the American identity, fast food may be our guiltiest pleasure. But what happens when our favorite options get old and we don't have the bucks to shell out for more nourishing meals? We improvise.Word on the street is that many of these restaurant chains and franchises have “secret menus,” each with different levels of exposure, from the well-known (In-N-Out), to the obscure (mystery flavors at Jamba Juice). Here, I take on some of the more interesting off-menu items from some of California's most ubiquitous eateries:Destination: In-N-Out Burger
Objective(s): Flying Dutchman (two meat patties, two slices of cheese, no bun), french fries well-done, Coke float
Result: Success on all counts. A young woman greets me with a bright smile. “Can I get a Flying Dutchman?” I ask. “What's that?” she responds. “It should be on the register,” I say. She asks for assistance from a co-worker. The co-worker comes over to help her with the order. “Sorry, I've only been working here for about a month,” says my jovial cashier. “Did you know you can get a root beer float, too?” I did not know that. “How about a Coke float?” I say. Score!
Conclusion: The Flying Dutchman must be eaten with a knife and fork, but it isn't bad, especially if you're looking for a protein (and fat) fix. Unfortunately, the rest of the meal is insufficient. The well-done fries are dry and crunchy, so I reach to the Coke float for a thirst quencher and realize that it's made with chocolate ice cream. Who does that? I never thought I could be unfulfilled by In-N-Out, but it finally happened. My suggestion? Stick with what you know.Destination: Jack in the Box
Objective: Hash-brown burger (Jumbo Jack with hash browns instead of meat patty)
Result: Success. It doesn't take much to get what you want at Jack in the Box. The cashier seems to have no problem taking the order, but as she instructs the cooks what to do, they smile and snicker. My main concern is whether I'll receive the ever-too-common “spit burger” for inconveniencing the employees.
Conclusion: Certainly tastier than a regular Jumbo Jack, the hash-brown burger serves as a good meatless option for vegetarians who don't have many options after a late-night post-drinking binge, even if most vegetarians wouldn't consider eating at Jack in the Box. And I definitely wouldn't call it “healthy”—the hash browns are more like deep-fried rectangular latkes. In any case, they should add this thing to their breakfast menu. It beats the hell out of French Toast Sticks.Destination: Wendy's
Objective: Grand Slam Burger (cheeseburger with four patties)
Result: Success by default. I'm almost ashamed to order this, as it's practically the pinnacle of fast-food gluttony. Wendy's already has a three-patty burger on the menu, as if that weren't enough. When asked for the “Grand Slam,” the cashier says, “We don't have anything like that on the menu” (read: “This isn't Denny's, asshole”). “It's a cheeseburger with four patties,” I say. “Well, I can just add another patty to our Triple Stack,” she says. This is going to be trouble.
Conclusion: The burger itself isn't bad, but halfway through, I start to feel nauseous and light-headed. As the in-house radio station plays Miami Sound Machine's “Conga,” the words of Gloria Estefan taunt, “You know you can't control yourself any longer.” Heartburn, a long shower, a three-hour food coma and accelerated heart disease are imminent.Destination: Starbucks
Objective: Irish coffee (coffee with brown sugar, Irish whiskey, whipped cream).
Result: Failure. The omnipresent coffee conglomerate is rumored to make any drink you desire, even if the ingredients are brought from home. Well, I prefer some Jameson in my coffee. The first store I visit seems receptive, until the cashier takes the query to her supervisor. “Oh goodness, no!” the manager says, like a Christian teenager offered her first toke. “You can add whatever you want when you leave, but we can't make it for you.”
It's less than a mile to the next Starbucks, so I decide to make the short trek, where I ask the college-aged barista for my caffeinated morning cocktail. “We don't have anything like that here,” he says. “I was told that you'd make me whatever I want,” I respond. His colleague with the pencil-thin chinstrap beard chimes in, “We don't have an alcohol license, so we can't do it. But you can do whatever you want in the bathroom.”
Conclusion: Starbucks sucks. Their coffee has the consistency of motor oil, and, no, I don't want a copy of the latest Neko Case CD. But I received permission to drink liquor on the premises, so I guess it's not a total bust.