This week, we're looking at new offerings from two of the major fast food players: The inevitable expansion of Taco Bell's wildly successful “Doritos Locos Tacos” line (or “DLT,” because ugh), and the new “Steak, Egg, and Cheese” McMuffins and breakfast biscuits from McDonald's.
“Fiery Doritos Locos Taco Supreme”
The Pitch: “A Taco Supreme® made with premium seasoned beef, crisp lettuce, diced juicy red ripe tomatoes, real cheddar cheese and topped with cool reduced-fat sour cream, in a crunchy red shell combining spicy chili with a hint of lime flavor.”
Available: Now by request, official rollout August 22
For a company that only has six ingredients to work with (tortillas, meat, lettuce, tomatoes, white, and yellow), Taco Bell manages to be one of the leaders in fast food innovation. A cheap fast food taco wrapped in a giant Dorito was such an inspired example of tween-friendly brand synergy, that it seems almost incredible that it took this long to be invented. The product has been such a success, with over half a billion sold so far, that new flavor iterations were inevitable.
The company initially announced that the next flavor of Doritos Locos Taco would be “Flamas,” a bright red, spicy combination of chile and lime popular in the Doritos chip line. Somewhere in the focus testing, however, someone at Taco Bell must have realized how close they were to releasing a product that would be pronounced “flame-ass” by at least half of its target market. Never a company to abide mispronunciation of their invented corporate Spanglish, they amended the product name to the even more ham-handed “Fiery,” while keeping the flavor profile of “Flamas” chips intact.
Listen, we don't have to explain to you how high the stakes are, here. The flavor of the new “Fiery” shell is the only variable that's changed in this new Doritos Locos offering. Inside that shell, it's standard issue Taco Bell same-old, same-old. If Taco Bell can't leverage a whole new taste sensation out of this latest chemical explosion of bright red flavor sand, then what in the world is the point of this exercise, indeed, the point of anything?
The results are fine. Maybe even good, when weighed strictly against the chain's other offerings, instead of against the somewhat broader spectrum of “actual food.” The synthetic chile and lime flavors are actually much more suited to the other muted flavors of a Taco Supreme than, say, “Cool Ranch” or “Nacho Cheese,” and the band of reduced-fat sour cream piped down the center appropriately compliments the new spicy red shell. Chile lovers won't find a lot here to interest them; the heat of the powder the shells are doused in is more of a low-grade fever than a fire, but provide as good a vehicle as ever for the application of a dozen packets of Taco Bell hot sauce.
Turn the page for what's going on at McDonald's …
“Steak, Egg & Cheese McMuffin”
The Pitch: “Tender, juicy steak patty, grilled onions and melty American cheese top off a freshly-cracked Grade A egg on a warm, toasted English muffin.”
McDonald's new premium “steak” breakfast sandwiches come in two forms: There's the familiar McMuffin version, prepared with a “freshly-cracked” fried egg, cheese, sautéed onions, and a thick beef patty, and the biscuit option, which subs in a McDonald's biscuit for the English muffin. At our local McDonald's, the cooks didn't seem to make a distinction between the two types of eggs available at the chain; we were disappointed to find the same sad scrambled egg packet used on each sandwich. Since the real news here is in the faux-steak patty, however, we pressed on.
McDonald's highly cynical definition of what exactly “steak” is should come as no surprise; the chain has long placed a priority on systems efficiency over food quality. But the so-called steak in these sandwiches is even worse than you think.
It's as though the McDonald's food scientists purchased that sketchy frozen pre-barbecued steak from the dollar section of the frozen food aisle, boiled it, had someone chew it up into a coarse paste, then pressed that paste into a burger mold, steamed it into a solid grey puck, and then sprinkled it with sugar to make the whole thing oddly sweet for no good reason whatsoever.
We tried, with some difficulty, to imagine the intended audience for a breakfast sandwich that manages to transform a diner-style “steak and eggs” into something you can eat while driving your car. We have to presume that this audience loves steak in all of its juicy, beefy glory, adores the way the drippings from the steak ooze and intermingle with the yolk from the runny eggs, combining into a perfect forkful of manliness that will give you the strength you need to go out and build a barn after you eat it, or at the very least, the strength to go sit at your desk and work on web banner layouts for a recycled roofing company in Kenosha.
The new steak breakfast sandwiches from McDonald's manage to hit none of these marks, offering instead the kind of meat that would be cooked in a Cold War-era black and white Russian propaganda film that lied about the Soviets inventing microwave ovens. Even truly terrible trips to McDonald's manage to ping at least a few of your pleasure receptors, if not always in flavor or quality, than at least in nostalgia or in comfort. Unfortunately, these new sandwiches fail utterly, even in those already diminished terms.