Unless your idea of fine dining includes eating a room-temperature slab of grey beef from a warming tray at a highway rest stop while sitting in the stuffy sleeping compartment of your semi, the cold sweat prickling your skin as you pray to come down smoothly from the benzadrine you've been taking to stay awake for three days to make your next pick-up, you probably haven't had occasion to eat at Carl's Jr.
While the “Breakfast Burger” may not be a new menu item, it's often overlooked in the avalanche of biscuit-based breakfast options at the chain, each overflowing with double portions of meat, double portions of sausage, or double portions of bacon and sausage. All those biscuits are distracting. You can get an omelet on your biscuit. You can get guacamole on your biscuit. You can get strawberry jam on your biscuit. You can get gravy, ham, or another biscuit on your biscuit.
But tucked away among all these insipid biscuits lay another option, a quiet bit of gut-thunder peeking out between the orange juice and the hash brown nuggets, a breakfast item that answers the question no one has been asking since the dawn of time: “How can cheeseburgers be eaten for breakfast?”
Name: Carl's Jr. “The Breakfast Burger”
The Pitch: Charbroiled All-Beef Patty, Egg, Bacon, American Cheese, Hash Brown Nuggets and Ketchup on a seeded bun.
The first thing you notice about the Carl's Jr. Breakfast Burger is the weight. It lays heavy in its paper sack, the full weight of a beef hamburger patty augmented by a full additional portion of scrambled egg, bacon and hash browns smooshed right into the bun. Before you even unwrap the package, you can almost see all of the plans you had for the day leaving you, your ambitions swirling the drain with the self-respect that you already lost last week.
After unwrapping the burger, the second thing you notice is that it seems to have been prepared in the lavatory of a moving Greyhound bus to Minneapolis. Everything is the same temperature as the air you're already breathing, and the dried-out husk of the blistered burger patty sits uncomfortably dry against the mush of greasy hash browns that were applied by the fistful by a hormonal teenager. The bacon is so thin as to be nearly transparent, and the egg is a lifeless standard-issue fast food scramble packet.
The only beacon of hope in the entire sad affair is the melted river of bright yellow processed cheese smeared on top of the whole mess, gluing all of the disparate components together in a haunting reflection of your own slipping ability to hold your life together for one more day.
So how does it taste? It tastes primarily like artificial liquid smoke flavoring, a flavor that's generally unwelcome at nearly any time of day, but particularly at breakfast. Your brain can't quite cope with the fact that the meat you're eating this early in the morning isn't sausage. The hash browns promise crunch and substance, but disappear into an oily mash at the bottom of the burger, leaving only the strong flavors of ketchup and a frozen hamburger patty made from the meat of hundreds of different cows lingering on your pockmarked lips.
It's not a bad idea, necessarily. Indeed, a burger topped with scrambled eggs and bacon almost seems like the next logical step in breakfast sandwich excess. However, the execution of this concept at Carl's Jr. is so jaw-droppingly bad, it's enough to make you wish you'd never thought of the whole thing, or maybe even ever gotten out of bed that morning.
At 800 calories, 43 grams of fat, and 1380 milligrams of sodium, if you're in a position where extremely limited funds mean you need to absorb as much salt and fat as possible with only a few dollars to spend for the whole day (that is, if you are either a college freshman learning to eat by yourself for the first time, or are someone who earns their living by reciting street poetry), the Carl's Jr. Breakfast Burger will have you off to a great start. But maybe you should just call your mom instead. It's her birthday and we know she'd love to hear from you.
Malcolm Bedell blogs about cooking and food weirdness at From Away and Spork & Barrel, and is the co-author of “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.” Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.