We took an unusual angle asking one of our long time readers and let him review his Hardee's meal. Regular readers know the FPT is not just about drive-thrus and snacks, and Tom has often come thru with some great food news for us in the past few years as he is our organic foods consultant to the FPT Test Kitchens.
This part 8 of our 5 part series of "Cynic's Corner" where we send in the toughest critic and see how it pans out.
"Recently, I saw the recipient of a nice selection of free coupons, generouly provided by the FPT, for the Hardee’s French Dip Thickburger and also the new breakfast item, Biscuit Holes. My plan was to hand them out and then get some nice quotes for a review. Unfortunately, everyone took the coupons and ran, so I didn't manage to get the feedback I had anticipated. Owing a write-up, I took it upon myself to go down to Hardees to check out this new Thickburger for myself."
"Lately, I have become a conscientious object in the fast food wars, and eat much healthier these days, but I decided to take one for the team here. I drove down to Hardees to purchase the French Dip Thickburger Combo, since I had given all the coupons away. Hardees drive-thru I am going to have to declare a disaster area. It took about four tries to get my order right at the order speaker. For some reason, they kept trying to give me a Mushroom Thickburger Combo instead of the French Dip, but they finally got it right. I am always paranoid about arguing with the voice on the speaker because I am afraid they will spit in my food. And that's not paranoia, that is fast food reality. Mess with them, they will spit in your food (I am not singling out Hardees here)."
"I get to the window, pay out about $7.50, then they start with the "pull forward, we will bring your food" routine. This is one of my biggest fast food pet peeves, but there's nothing you can really do about it, and noncompliance is garuanteed to get your food spit in. I manage to pull forward a little bit, which is difficult because there are already two SUVs full of people that have pulled up and are waiting for their food. OK, this sucks, I thought. I wait for about five minutes and the SUVs get their food, so I pull up a little more to let the car behind me pull out and actually leave, because they have their food already.
As I pulled up, I realized I was right across the glass for a grizzled old customer inside in a beat up porkpie hat. He was reading the paper and also dipping his burger into what I can only assume was the Au Jus sauce of a French Dip Thickburger as well. I felt a momentary twinge of solidarity and brotherhood with him, then I shook it off and gave him by best Travis Bickle impersonation. Unfortunately he didn't see me or just didn't feel like biting tonight, so I let it go. I just quit smoking and I am convinced he would have noticed me with a cig in my hand and the smoke and all. So, wasted effort there."
"Finally, after about three minutes of waiting since the other cars left, the Hardees counter girl came out with the bag of food. Not my bag of food, as I noticed there was a THIRD car that had been ahead of me pulled into a parking spot and with it's lights turned off. She blew past me and said they were still waiting on my fries. Another pet peeve. People, if you work in the food industry, never run out of fries. Everything you sell comes with fries; there is no excuse for not having enough on hand. Two minutes later, she comes out with my bag and asks me if I wanted any ketchup. Now we are ten minutes into this drive thru experience at least, and I was about to get very pissed off when I said "Yes." She smiled like she had known I wanted ketchup all along and walked off."
"I checked the bag and she had come through with five packets, which was pretty generous. I understood that this messed up situation was not her fault, that it was the fast food system that did this too us. Made us wait, like a woman makes you wait, or a drug dealer. I knew she had a good soul and for a moment, I was passionately in love with her, but then I thought ketchup generosity was probably shaky grounds for starting a relationship. I was tempted to walk in there on general principle and carry her out "Officer and A Gentleman" style, but she seemed heavy, my food was getting cold and I didn't think it would sit well with management, so I drove off."
"When I got home, I explored what a supersize combo from Hardees gets you. First, a gigantic 44 ounce soda. Nobody needs this much soda. I know I've harped on soda size in the past so I won't get into a rant here. Second, a mess of nasty fries that kept the shape of the box when I dumped them onto a plate. They were greasy and fairly obnoxious. I did not finish them and they got tossed into the trash. Considering that I had to wait so long for them, it was sort of an insult."
"Third, the French Dip Thickburger itself, with au jus sauce. The first thing I noticed was the fact that the au jus container was a little leaky, but I don't know how you could fix a problem like this. It's au jus sauce. It isn't really meant for transport. Next, I opened the burger and it wasn't very impressive. It was not a bad looking burger by fast food standards these days. The bun sort of overpowered the burger, but it's au jus, so I guess it's to be expected. Not sure if these buns are standard across all Thickburgers but I assume they are."
"I opened it up for a peek, and there was a sad looking piece of roast beef over processed Swiss cheese on top of a burger. Burger looked decent actually but the cheese didn't look too appealing. I put it back together and tried a taste without the au jus. It was not bad. Definitely had a fast food taste and texture to it but i liked the flavor of the hamburger. This is the Black Angus Thickburger patty, and I was impressed with it. Didn't really taste the roast beef but the Swiss at least tasted like Swiss cheese despite not really being Swiss cheese. Next, a taste with the au jus. The au jus was not horrible. A little salty and severely lacking in the subtlety required in an au jus, but it was passable in this context. I liked the burger with the sauce and did finish it."
"Overall I found the burger to be decent. It would not be my first choice on the Hardees menu, but I might get it as a standalone item, not a combo. The fries were terrible and the service was not much better."
FPT STAFF REBUTTAL: Looks might taasty from here, sometimes location means everything too. Plus you look like you were enjoying that big soda too.