The first fast food we knew as a kid came not from golden arches or a king of burgers, but from an outpost of a regional chain selling fat, sprout-laden deli sandwiches on wheat bread. The Fresher Cooker, it was called, and whenever our healthy-eating parents had to work late, the Volvo had a habit of swerving into the drive-thru for a sack. In the mid 80s, this sort of thing was probably in vogue -- vaguely hippie-ish food for domesticated baby boomers -- but there's a reason we don't see one sprouting out of every highway rest stop today.
Brainstorming fast food concepts that don't exist but should, we think of the tiny, highly focused establishments one finds in Tokyo -- takoyaki counters, Japanese-style churro stands, and so on -- not big-tent operations aching to be all things to all customers: relentless, reliable purveyors of chicken nuggets, burgers, salads, fish sandwiches, apple pies, onion rings, roast beef sandwiches, and unfortunate taco experiments. Food trucks are specialized, excessively so in many instances, especially when the cook behind the truck in question happens to be no good at cooking his supposed specialty. But there's also something nice about rolling into a meal on the side of the road without having to check Twitter. Without further ado, five fast food restaurants that should exist but don't...
5. Casseroles. From macaroni-and-cheese to broccoli and cheese to chicken with cream-of-mushroom soup (and cheese), this restaurant would sell casseroles -- in both personal-sized ramekins and family-style troughs. If you're driving to Portland and don't want to stop, drop one of these stones into your belly and you'll be good until Lake Shasta at least. We envision this as a regional Midwest thing, though sticky summer months could be a challenge.
4. Sticks. No plates, no plastic-ware, no fries. Just meat and (if absolutely necessary) vegetables on sticks -- skewers, really, but calling them "sticks" would probably be best, if only for the play-on-word possibilities. On the downside: Very dangerous to eat while driving. One abrupt stop and your tongue is the next course.
3. Stuffers. What better way to stuff your stomach than to do so with something that has already been stuffed? Stuffed mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed chicken, and stuff outside the chicken on the side. What about chicken without stuffing? Sorry, but we'll have to get all Sang Yoon about that.
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2. Sushi "tubes." Yeah we know noxious sushi "burritos" exist, full of kewpie, gobs of rice, and clumsily hacked discs of suspect yellowtail. Still, drivability is a key test for fast food fare, and nothing beats being able to eat and steer with a minimum of mess. A sushi "tube" (sold by the foot like bubble gum tape) would allow the driver to simply pipe lunch into his or her mouth while clutching the wheel with the other hand. No big bites and spilled ketchup as with burgers, no desperate attempts to dunk nuggets in wee cups of sauce.
1. Game. Okay, we know the kids in the backseat won't stand for tucking into Bambi burgers or Thumper pie, but what they don't know won't hurt them. And food-hounds might be stoked to try different wild things from different places -- opossum in Kentucky, wild turkey in Missouri, and bear barbecue in Wyoming.