I'm not Catholic - I'm not even religious unless you count baseball - but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the spate of fast food seafood promotions during Lent. Some of them are specials on items that are available year-round, like McDonald's and Burger King discounting their fish sandwiches on Fridays. But some of them are part-time promotions that will only be available during Lent. I figured I should try a bunch of them as a service to my readers (the numbers have actually swelled to about a dozen lately; I feel drunk with power.) And also because it would be fun.
JACK IN THE BOX
I went to a Jack in the Box that I had never been to before - at the top of Lake Ave. Wow. The parking lot is already tiny, and I had to park on the street because the lot was full of cars idling at odd angles. It was only once I got inside that I learned what the problem was: a woman had parked in the drive-through and gone inside, not to order, but to talk with someone she knew. No one could go through the drive-through until she finished her conversation and got back in her car. A guy inside at the counter waiting for his food looked exactly like LeBron James, and even signed an autograph for a kid. (It was not LeBron, by the way; ignoring the fact that LeBron probably wouldn't be hanging out by himself at a Jack in the Box in Altadena on a weekday afternoon, this guy was also about 5'10".)
I ordered the fish filet sandwich and took it to my car. There was no box on the wrapper to mark it "fish," so charmingly an employee had just written the word in pen. It actually looked a little better than I was expecting: two battered filets that were warm. No, this was not the piece of haddock I once ate on a Dublin street at midnight (one of the ten best things I have ever eaten) but it was much better than some of the pre-formed, breaded fish patties that will be coming up in a minute. Also, they did not go too heavy on the sauce. I will never, ever eat this again, but it wasn't bad.
DEL TACOOnce every year or two, Del Taco releases their "Crispy Shrimp Tacos," and I always try them. You can always get a regular fish taco off the menu, but I'm not a fan. I went to the Del Taco in East Pasadena, because the last time I was at the one on Lake I was almost murdered by an insane woman who kept promising me that "Kobe is coming." (Okay, I wasn't almost murdered, but she really annoyed me.)
This time I only wanted a snack, so I ordered a single shrimp taco, took it to my car and unwrapped it. There were only four shrimp in the taco - not a surprising number for something that costs $1.89, but I wish there had been a couple more. However, the shrimp were great. They were crispy and the breading was flavorful. If I was served this in a restaurant at twice the price I would be content.
WIENERSCHNITZELI'm not going to lie: this one made me very nervous. I'd read about the Wienerschnitzel "Sea Dog" before, a battered and fried piece of fish in a hot dog bun with lettuce and tartar sauce. It looked like one of the worst things I have ever seen. Not one of the worst foods. One of the worst things.
But, in the spirit of these adventures, I had to try it. I recruited Elizabeth to come with me down to the Wienershnitzel in Alhambra. (I believe I had to promise her some mini corn dogs.) I ordered the food and we sat in the car so I could listen to a basketball game on the radio.
Unwrapping the Sea Dog was bad; the site of a fish stick drowned in sauce was enough to make me call off this whole fiasco. But what really got to me was the smell. It can only be described as warm milk and urine. (I apologize if you have not had lunch yet.) Elizabeth put her hand over her nose and frantically tried to roll down the window.
"You're are NOT going to eat that, are you?" she asked/pleaded.
"Yes," I said. "Yes, I am."
Here's the part that I did not see coming: the fish was good. I mean really, really good. It tasted like a fresh beer batter around a fresh piece of fish. Unfortunately, the tartar sauce was probably the worst I have ever had, a mix of runny mayo and a few tiny pieces of pickle. And there was a lot of it. I tried to scrape off as much as I could, but this was an exercise in futility. Besides, with the smell lingering - and by this point we had rolled down all the windows and turned up the air full blast, but there was no eradicating the odor - there was just no way I could enjoy this dog.
MCDONALD'SI'm sure at some point in my life I have tried the McDonald's fish sandwich. I must have. It's just that I have no memory of it. So one night I decided to give it a try. I wish I had not. Despite being served on the trademark McDonald's warm-and-buttered-bun, the piece of fish was a square, overly-breaded cheap filet. I took a few bites and threw more than half of it away. I can't believe anyone would enjoy this. Actually, that's not true. I'm sure many people love a flavorless, fried hunk of fish with a mayo sauce on top. But not me.
POPEYESI tried Popeyes' "Butterfly Shrimp" once a few years ago and really liked them. (I have liked pretty much every promotion Popeyes has come out with over the last few years.) So when they reintroduced them for Mardi Gras, I jumped at the chance to try them again. I brought Elizabeth with me - I have turned her on to the joys of Popeyes in the last year - and we ordered some shrimp and chicken nuggets. It was busy but we got our food in only a couple minutes.
The shrimp were once again great: hot and crispy, they disappeared quicker than any other item I ate on this adventure. These are better than the fried shrimp you get at most restaurants around here, and less than half the price. I wish these were always on the menu at Popeyes.
WOLFE BURGERSIt was a beautiful day so we decided to have lunch on the patio at Wolfe Burgers. For the first time I can remember, there was not a single other person on the patio. Elizabeth ordered her usual Wolfe Burger, and looked at me puzzled when I ordered the "Sea Wolfe." I could not blame her; for the first time ever I was ordering something other than a burger at Wolfe Burgers. But I love their burgers, so I was hoping their fish sandwich would be good, too.
My heart sank a little when I saw it: it looked like the same square, breaded filet that McDonald's uses. And it was drenched in tartar sauce, more than any fish sandwich I have ever seen. I don't mind tartar sauce, but it should be a complement to the fish. This was way too much.
I took a reluctant bite. It was actually decent. But, as I'd feared, the massive amount of sauce was distracting, so I scraped most of it off with a knife. It was much better that way and I came close to finishing the sandwich. I will never eat this again, but it was twice as good as McDonald's. And it was one hundred times better than what you are about to see. In fact, you might just want to stop reading now. I will not blame you.
BURGER KINGAh, Burger King, you never fail to disappoint me. Pretty much everything I ever try from Burger King I find disgusting. From their freezer-burned tasting beef to their ridiculous "Chicken Fries," their food is without fail bland and consistently the unhealthiest of fast food options. When I first conceived the idea for the fast food adventure, I was planning to skip BK all together.
Then I heard that they are making their fish sandwich with a cilantro and lime sauce instead of tarter sauce. This intrigued me. Cilantro and lime is one of my favorite flavor combinations, perhaps second only to garlic and basil. I went to the BK that is closest to my place, on Fair Oaks. They did not have the sandwich with lime and cilantro; they had not even heard of it. So I went to the location on Lake Ave. They had it. After waiting an inordinately long time, almost fifteen minutes, I sat down and unwrapped the sandwich.
The sauce could only be described as a green mayonnaise. It did not look appetizing, however it did have the odor of lime. This breading on the fish was the darkest of any of these; one bite and I realized why - it was very overcooked. And it tasted disgusting. This was cheap fish, speckled with several gross-looking dark spots inside the patty. The sauce was horrible, tasting mostly like mayo with a touch of lime. No cilantro at all. I took two bites of this, and the second bite I spit out. This was the worst fast food item I have eaten in a long time. I should have expected nothing less from Burger King.