I caught a few minutes of Slap Shot on TV the other day including the scene where the Chiefs goalie Denis Lemiuex explains what it is like for a hockey player to spend time in the penalty box (video). His closing words “…and you feel shame” seem applicable to so many things we do in life, including eating burgers. If you’ve spent any time in fast food joints (and I’m guessing if you found your way to this blog you have) you’ve probably ended up in a second or third tier place looking to scratch that burger itch. Depending how far down the chain you have allowed yourself to go, I’m guessing you will at some point end up doing the walk of shame out to your car, or back to the office or worse to your spouse or friends having to explain just how far you’ve fallen.
The chart above is my attempt to plot out my fast food burger experiences. There are places where I have gone, found the food to be amazing and then felt the urge to stand on the mountaintop and proclaim to the world that my taste buds have been sated and my soul has been strengthened by the manna from the g-ds. And then there have been places where I have almost instantly been filled with regret, embarrassed to mention how low I have dipped and yes – felt shame. I am taking a wild guess here by saying that I bet you have had those moments, too. For every story about hitting In-N-Out within 15 minutes of the plane landing in Las Vegas there is a tale that will never be told about a shameful trip to West Philly for a Baconzilla at Checkers.
I am hoping you will join the conversation by leaving a comment. I apologize that the “Leave a comment” button is a bit hard to find in this theme. Take a look on the top left of the text section below the picture and photo info. You’ll find the link there. Chime in. (Update: click here to leave a comment if it is easier)
A few parting thoughts…
I know that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are the same company but I really think they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Now it could be the setting (my Carl’s Jr. experiences have obviously been on the West Coast, in California, Utah and Nevada – world’s apart from the Hardees in Harrisburg, PA that I walked out of last week) because the marketing shtick and food are pretty much identical. They really do seem to present the two brands much differently and I wish that wasn’t the case, because those of us on the east coast are getting the short end of the stick on this one.
Check out Hawk Krall’s recent trip to Krystal (here). For those who are quick to dismiss them as a southern knock-off of White Castle remember that WC was born in the midwest, not Gotham City. My earliest Krystal memories are from my time living in Mississippi, taking bonding drives with my dad in our convertible. One of the best lessons he ever taught me was about letting things out of your control slide off your back as we watched a sudden thunderstorm dump gallons of water on our car while the roof was open. He just sat their casually eating his burgers waiting for the storm to quickly pass. Like a scene out of a movie I remember opening the car doors and watching tons of water flow out. We both hopped in, the car started up and off we went. This being Mississippi the car was dried out after a few minutes of driving and he carried on with no sense of panic or concern. It was after all just a car. If something had gone wrong we would have dealt with it, but part of me thinks the time we were spending together inside eating and talking about baseball was more valuable than whatever else could have occurred (plus the electrical system probably would have been completely shorted in the first few minutes, but allow me to wax nostalgic won’t you?).
I placed McDonald’s just above and to the positive side of the middle on this chart because to me they are the control group. Their burger is the taste that I still compare everything to (thanks to Ray Kroc’s model of consistency breeds familiarity breeds happiness/brand loyalty).
What does nostalgia taste like?
For folks in the Philly suburbs, today it tasted like the idealized version of the Gino Giant they have been dreaming of since the regional chain named for one of pro football’s earliest off-field entrepreneurs, Gino Marchetti, ceased to exist in the early ’80s.
For those who braved the opening day crowds it must have truly seemed like “Everybody Goes To Gino’s”. Others, like me, benefited from the benevolence of co-workers who are lucky enough to have offices within Whopper-throwing distance of the new location on Rt 202 in King of Prussia (across from the King of Prussia Mall – either the Court or the Plaza, I can never remember which is which…the one I’m talking about has the Apple Store).
Is it possible that the Gino Giant would still taste the same after all those years? Like Lou Reed crooning in the Velvet Underground classic Sweet Jane “Those were different times” and indeed they were. The fast food landscape in 1982 bears little resemblance to today. Oh sure, many of the same players are at the top of the charts, but what is offered up now on their plastic trays is worlds apart. While the market leaders have continued to hone their successful strategy of peddling highly processed foods “designed” to ensure unwavering consistency of taste (while severely minimizing any possibility of food borne illness and/or human error requiring dumping of the product), upstarts like Five Guys and Elevation Burger have blazed a new trail with hand-formed patties cooked fresh (and with accompanying doneness variations). Where my memory, and this commercial, remind me that Gino’s originally strove to be in the first category, the modern day version aims to compete head-on in the new, more “upscale” genre.
The Giant is still the Giant, a pre-Big Mac era “Big Mac” (not sure if they beat Wright’s Dairy-Rite to the punch, or the countless other joints that back in the day slapped secret Thousand Island-style sauce on top of twin patties, shredded lettuce and double cheese) and I have to say that despite a 20 minute journey in the car, mine held up well. The meat itself was very tasty (two 1/4 lb beef patties), the sauce perfectly piquant, the shredded lettuce acted as unobtrusive roughage and the American cheese was extra-gooey. The Giant is served up nicely on a sesame seeded squishy roll and wrapped in paper (hallelujah!). Visually, it looks identical to a Five Guys cheeseburger , but I’d give Gino’s a bit of a nod because the burger didn’t come with that side order of meat coma which Five Guys always tends to bring on because of the amped up grease quotient (this isn’t necessarily a knock, because as we all know Vitamin-G is an essential part of every growing boy’s diet). The car ride and the fact that the place was mobbed and required workers to do everything in double-time meant it was less than photogenic by the time it arrived, but taste trumps all in this game. I am eager to sneak over in the near future to test out another and also try their fries and the item besides the Giant that they are most fondly remembered for, their fried chicken.
Welcome back, Gino’s. We honestly couldn’t have expected you not to change, but in this case change might be a good thing.
It bugs the heck out of me that the sandwich is called the “Gino Giant” and not the “Gino’s Giant,” yet the chicken version is called the “Gino’s Chicken Giant.” I am not grammaratarian (should be a word if it isn’t), but man it hurts my brain to type it without the “‘s.”
This 1971 commercial paints a terrifying picture of the effect drinking soda can have on children. The winded kid at the end telling us to hurry up and get to a store before all of the kites are gone seems ripe for Michael Pollan’s picking. Bonus at no additional cost to you – awesome mid-Atlantic region accents on the twins at the :10 second mark (love how they say “to go.”). And for those that might ask, that is not a younger me at the :21 second mark, though I do have those glasses and (before it began to recede) I had that hair.
The Commodore 64 was released in 1982, the year the Gino’s chain was sold to the Marriott Corporation and folded into their Roy Rogers’ business.Gino’s Burgers & Chicken 611 West DeKalb Pike (Route 202) King of Prussia, PA 610.265.5900
A.J. at Montana Eats is on a mission to eat every cheeseburger in Helena, Montana. 5 spots down and many more to go, all wrapped up and scored so you’ll know where to go in case your travels ever take you to Big Sky Country. Take some time to look around the site, too. Besides burgers these folks are cooking up some amazing dishes and taking some of the nicest pics I’ve seen on any food blog.
Sixth Guy is a new blog following one man as he endeavors to visit every Five Guys Burgers & Fries in existence. With Five Guys history and word from the frontier states of a local variant “fry sauce,” I’m interested to follow his trek and eager to meet up with him when he visits the Philadelphia area.
Aussie Darren Atkins just launched a NY-centric burger site called “DManburger” which features a Burger TV section of hamburger related YouTube videos.
Spiedie’s Bistro in Phoenixville is now closed…I wrote about them a few months back and am sad to see they didn’t make it.