Cheese trails only corgis and dead British men as a stimulator of exaggerated public devotion. Forgetting for a blessed second the “lactose intolerant” cowards who try to hide dime-store haterism behind their genetics and intestines, we all stand ever ready to declare undying love for good old thickened milk.
I am a decent human being and therefore a willing participant in our collective cheese-adoration society, though my tastes are decidedly middlebrow. I know it’s crass to speak of money in the same sentence as love, but, broadly speaking, I enjoy just about every cheese that costs between $10 and $14 per pound. I’ve had plenty of nice times with both higher- and lower-caste cheeses. I can get down with the fancy, funky stuff that comes from goats or the gnarly, sweaty stuff that comes from gas stations, but in general, I’m pretty content with the second-classiest cheddar from a mainstream grocery store.
I mention my personal cheese orientation only to establish my qualifications for judging fast-food products featuring the stuff. My cheese populism prevents me from blanket dismissal of the processed-yellow-goo genre, but I’m not so slavishly devoted to the mere concept of melted cheese that I find it all flawless. Some jalapeño poppers rule; some nachos suck. The honest cheese examiner’s life is full of surprises. Let us now consider two new encheesed fast-foodstuffs.
Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries
I believe this is the first time French fries have been entered in a Deadspin Fast-Food Smackdown, which is appalling. The site should be shut down before I finish typing this sentence, but if it’s not, then I can assure you that a thorough inspection of our great nation’s favorite vegetable will be coming along shortly.
The first thing you notice about Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries is the thoughtful packaging: They’re served in a wide plastic tray that allows the cook to spread the fries out into a high-potato-surface-area canvas before embellishing them with the bacon and cheese. The fries—a Small order’s worth, which is plenty—are very damn good, too. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say they were a revelation, as I hadn’t realized Wendy was doing such strong fry work these days. These babies had crispy, ideally seasoned exteriors and fluffy—rather than mushy—middles, with no grease or other undue moisture.
The bacon was also top-notch, if a bit to the rubbery side; had I been at the controls, I might have opted for another 10 seconds in the meat-heating contraption. But the flavor was outstanding, with definitive porkiness underneath a somewhat sweet smokiness. A nice, thick portion, too: Maybe three strips’ worth of nickel-sized pieces, pretty good value for $1.99.
So these Bacon Fondue Fries feature very good bacon and fries, which is plenty good enough to declare them—oh, wait. The fuckin’ fondue. We need to address that. It’s bad. Specifically, it is salty and sour and disconcertingly shiny. It looks like a fluid you would come across in a naughty cartoon, and it tastes nothing at all like the gruyere it purports to be. This is a shame, because the bacon and fry elements were both B+/A-, making Bacon Fondue Fries a potentially great menu item. At least the bacon and fries were the predominant players, with the mercifully small fondue splooge only touching (i.e., wrecking) about a third of the fries.
McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks
You’ve likely noticed that the major fast-food companies are all currently bundling their cheaper items into specially priced packages in an attempt to goad us into being even more grotesque than usual. Wendy’s is offering a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, four Chicken Nuggets, fries, and a drink for $4; Burger King takes the heartbreaking route by providing their inferior versions of the aforementioned Wendy’s shit, plus a cookie, for the same price. McDonald’s is calling their hustle “2 for $2,” and they let you choose any pair out of lineup of a McChicken, a McDouble, fries, or their new mozzarella sticks.
I instead paid $1.59 for a single order of McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks, which yields three pieces about the size of a medium-height fat guy’s pinkie. It’s not a ton of food, as they weigh less than you’d expect them to, but they’re still a good deal, because they are food that a fellow human being will prepare and package for you for $1.59. Plus you get a little tub of marinara.
They McStix have good coloration, with a craggy surface ranging from medium-khaki to orangey brown, dotted by flecks of green irrelevance. The are well constructed, with the cheese fully encased—no leakage—but not overwhelmed by the breading. And I wouldn’t go so far as to call these sumbitches crunchy, but they’re not as noodly as they could have been.
The cheese is more rubbery than melty, and it can be stretched out about a foot before breaking, if you’re gentle and disgusting. The flavor is fairly mild, which is cool—better safe than sorry at this end of the dairy spectrum. No need to get real ambitious, especially since even real mozzarella’s not one of your more aggressive cheeses. It’s not as salty as I’d feared, with the major flavor being a creamy sweetness reminiscent of store-brand vanilla yogurt.
The room-temperature marinara was legitimately flavorful, with deep tomato, oregano, and garlic flavors—not at all the oversweetened ketchup I’d feared. The texture was fine: Kinda chunky, but not a gummy, pasty mess like so many lesser fast-food sauces. McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks don’t necessarily need sauce, but the marinara is a fine choice if you’re looking to make your snack a little drippier.
McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks by a nose. Wendy’s Bacon Fondue Fries have two great elements, but the goo’s just not good enough to get them over the top.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Lead art by Sam Woolley.