I’ve gone on ad nauseum on this website about what a big role fast food played in my childhood, so today I decided to break down the definitive fast food sandwiches of my childhood. I’m going to look at the four most heavily trafficked fast food restaurants for my family and me, and then close it out with a bit of a wildcard. Since I’m sticking with sandwiches here KFC and Pizza Hut won’t be highlighted, but I hope they know I’m thinking of them with love in my heart and blockages also in my heart. I refer to blockages as love. Without further ado, to the list!
We start with the king (sorry Burger King). When you’re dining in the king’s court what do you eat? A Big Mac, right? Probably, but not this guy! I had my first Big Mac fewer than three years ago. I realize that is blasphemy, but the fact as you will soon see by these choices is that when it comes to fast food burgers I am a cheeseburger baby. No lettuce, no tomato, until very recently oh hell no mayo. Instead my choice may not have been fit for a king but it was a pretty solid fit for a teenager playing several sports: It’s the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
Apart from the occasional detours into McNugget or limited edition specialty sandwich territory, my McDonald’s burger evolution went cheeseburger happy meal–>two cheeseburger value meal–>double cheeseburger (when available) (sometimes two), Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Double Quarter Pounder Value Meal, Supersized. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the introduction of the DQP, a cool abbreviation I just came up with that everybody is using now, was the most important moment of the 20th Century, bar none. Try to think of a bigger one, I beseech you! Point being, the DQP was RAD, supersized fries were RAD, gigantic pop I honestly DIDN’T CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT, and being 14 and able to eat this much food without feeling like a beached whale (or Grimace. Eh? Eh? oh whatever) or ballooning up in weight was VERY RAD. Also my friend CJ and I used to race to see who could finish their sandwich first and one time I started choking and my dad called me an asshole and punched me in the chest. It was an effective Heimlich technique.
We move on from the king to talk about the King. Burger King now is mostly a dumpster fire with an Impossible Burger, but the Burger King of my youth was…still inferior to McDonald’s and Wendy’s but overall not a bad option. My ordering evolution at BK was similar to McDonald’s, but it stopped after step two: I went from cheeseburger to double cheeseburger. I mentioned that I tried an Impossible Whopper during my visit to the Monmouth Mall but I’ve never had a regular Whopper. The farthest I strayed while at Burger King was into the arms of the Rodeo Cheeseburger, but otherwise it was double cheese all the way.
This is the point where I reveal that the “Flame-Broiled” BK marketing gimmick worked flawlessly on me. It blew my dumb little Midwestern mind that you could buy something with grill marks on it from a fast food restaurant. Grill marks are outside marks! I legitimately enjoyed this burger, and it easily makes my childhood top three. Burger King was an all-around solid bet up until 1998 when they voluntarily ruined their fries. Throw in self-serve drinks, entirely too much power to place in the hands of a child, and decent kids meal tie-ins and you’re looking at a pretty nice little visit.
If you’ve been a regular reader of this website I’m not going to cover any new ground in this paragraph. I’ve gone on at length about how much these two restaurants mean to me. It’s not a burger, per se, but if I didn’t include the Arby’s and Rax Roast Beef Sandwich in this article I’d be lying to you, and we can’t have that.
(The second one is for the salad/hot bar not the sandwich but it’s too fun not to share)
Until 1998 or so the most difficult decisions I made when entering an Arby’s were did I want home style or curly fries and did I want a regular or a giant roast beef. At Rax there was no decision to be made. I was either getting a regular roast beef or I was getting salad bar, and the second option was a choice my friend’s parents would make for me. Eh, they were buying. Lack of money doesn’t talk.
Even in a world where Arby’s has the meats, my preferred sandwich there is the roast beef. Generally I do with the double, and now I always get it with cheddar sauce because I am not a fool. Oh but reader I was! How was I permitted to go so long without adding cheese sauce?! For shame, mom and dad. Instead, to both the roast beef sandwich at Rax and the one at Arby’s I would add barbecue sauce (Arby’s sauce, in their parlance), and that was it. I never did horsey sauce because of an entirely rational aversion to anything resembling mayo (and one I mostly ignore these days. The introduction of chipotle to mayo swayed a lot of mayo haters, myself included). Now I’m all about that horse, but back then I kept things simple and ketchup based. The simple roast beef with barbecue isn’t the flashiest or sexiest option but it has a deserved place in my personal childhood sandwich Mt. Rushmore.
Lorain County Fair
I brought up Wendy’s earlier and you really thought that Chekhov’s Double With Cheese would be making an appearance in the final act, didn’t you? Not today, friendo! Wendy’s is to date one of my favorite fast food restaurants, but as a child I didn’t really have a signature burger there to order. Reason being, Wendy’s puts mayo on everything. This was a big deal breaker for adolescent John. I always had to do a special order (ketchup mustard pickles only) and frankly I resented it. I resented it even more when they still put mayo on it and I frantically tried to wipe it off with a napkin, which never really worked.
Instead the final entry in this article is something I was introduced to at the Lorain County Fair. No, it wasn’t Confederate flags in northern Ohio, but solid guess. It is the pizza burger. The 1980s was a simpler time, when young John couldn’t fathom such things like combining pizza and a hamburger into a single sandwich. Pizza was for the Hut, burgers were the King’s domain, and never the twain shall meet. Well the Lorain County Fair and every street festival everywhere I imagine had something to say about that! And that thing they had to say was “we could probably put some marinara and mozzarella cheese on the burger we’re already serving and call it a pizza burger. Maybe charge an extra buck.” As it was decreed, so it came to pass! And John ate it up, literally. I thought the pizza burger was the greatest thing ever. I also got it in my head that the fair was the only place I could possibly ever get it. So I never sought it out elsewhere. Of course now I’m an adult, and every pizza place within 5 miles of my apartment offers a pizza burger sub. The times, they’re not innocent anymore, folks.
What are your childhood burger favorites? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
Interested in learning more about the history of the hamburger? This is a quick and informative read.