Constable: Can this be the meal of my dreams if there's no McWine?
I ponder the myriad food options for a few minutes at this Downers Grove restaurant before ordering what I hope to be the meal of my "dreams" that the menu promises. My server, who couldn't be more polite, delivers my meal, thanks me for my selection, expresses his wishes that my lofty expectations will become reality, and asks if there is anything else he can do for me.
I'm tempted to have him fetch the McSommelier so I can ask what vintage of McCabernet would go best with this new McDonald's hamburger.
I haven't eaten a McDonald's hamburger in the decade or so since our boys coveted some Lego Bionicle toy that was included back then in Happy Meals. Now, McDonald's is trying to win back customers such as me by launching a "Create Your Taste" menu that lets diners "make the burger of your dreams" by choosing among breads, toppings, cheeses and sauces. The McDonald's at 2535 Ogden Ave. in Downers Grove is one of a handful of test markets, but plans call for the "Create Your Taste" campaign to be expanded to more than 2,000 locations nationwide next year.
Born in Indiana a couple of years after Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald's in Des Plaines in 1955, I remember our family trips in the 1960s to the nearest McDonald's drive-in 40 miles from home. I'd always order a 15-cent hamburger, some 15-cent french fries and a 22-cent shake. McDonald's was fast, cheap, family friendly and had the hamburger market practically to itself.
Today's marketplace offers so many more options. In addition to longtime fast-food rivals such as Burger King and Wendy's, McDonald's faces competition in our suburbs from Subway, Chick-fil-A, KFC, Culver's, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Sonic, Jimmy John's, Domino's and an explosion of burger places such as Five Guys, Smashburger and local favorites. Giving customers more flexibility to order what they want has been one way that competitors have attacked the more rigid McDonald's menu ever since Burger King unveiled that catchy "Have It Your Way" advertising jingle in 1974.
"We haven't been changing at the same rate as our customers' eating-out expectations," McDonald's CEO Don Thompson told an Associated Press reporter this fall. The giant corporation, headquartered in Oak Brook, has been under attack. The McDonald's website tries to offset customer's concerns about the quality of the food by answering disturbing questions such as: "Do McDonald's buns contain the same chemicals used to make yoga mats?" (The azodicarbonamide found in yoga mats "is used in most of the buns and rolls," but "it's simply not the case" that it is "unsafe" to eat). "Do you ever use so-called 'pink slime' in your burgers?" (Not since 2011). And even, "Does McDonald's beef contain worms?" ("No, Gross!").
Even so, McDonald's stock has fallen from $103.78 a share earlier this year to $90.11 on Wednesday, in the wake of a 4.6 percent drop in sales last month.
The restaurant also announced plans Wednesday to simplify and cut some items from its menu, even as it makes things more complicated with its new burger.
The "Create Your Taste" option features a kiosk that sports pamphlets detailing the new McDonald's options. In some locations, you can make selections on a video screen. You start by choosing one patty or two, add thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, if you wish, select a toasted bakery-style bun or opt for a buttered toasted artisan roll. Cheeseburgers can be made with natural sharp white cheddar, natural pepper jack or American cheese. Topping options include guacamole, sliced jalapeños, grilled mushrooms, crisp red onions, caramelized grilled onions, chili lime tortilla strips, fresh sliced tomato, crisp green leaf lettuce and crinkle-cut pickles.
And you can finish it off with any combination of Big Mac special sauce, spicy mayo, creamy garlic sauce, sweet BBQ, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.
I opt for a single patty with cheddar cheese on an artisan roll, topped with grilled onions, mushrooms, guacamole, tortilla strips, creamy garlic sauce and one leaf of lettuce for health reasons. That sandwich with no fries and a $1 Diet Coke, again for health reasons, sets me back $6.16. Were I still a teenager, I would have added a slice of bacon, fries and a McFlurry, and the meal would have topped 10 bucks. The clerk at the register gave me a "tracker" to carry so that the server would know where I was 5 minutes later when my burger was finished.
McDonald's is taking a gamble. This is not the cheap and fast burger I loved as a kid. Underneath all those toppings, the beef pretty much tasted like Quarter-Pounders with cheese. We will see if consumers and families are willing to spend more and wait longer for a McDonald's hamburger that competes with all those newer, fancier burger shops.
The "Create Your Taste" offering I ordered does not measure up to "the burger of my dreams." But those chili lime tortilla strips do stay with me until bedtime.