Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jack in the Box

Festus MO

I’d never been to a Jack in the Box, ever. I haven’t been deliberately avoiding it, just a matter of not being near one when I was looking for a bite to eat. That and the fact that there are a lot of places that just do not have JITB’s; SW MO, Kentucky and Maryland specifically, the places where I’ve lived most of my stunningly handsome life. The Metro St. Louis area is crawling with them though.

The chain’s roots start in California in 1951. At that time there were many burger joints, most of them the car-hop type. Jack had a different idea. Rather than have people going in and out delivering orders to cars, they created an intercom system that you could drive right up to, shout your order into and then pull forward to a window and pick up your order… Yeah, JITB invented the drive-up burger window. Since the outdoor intercom was in a clown head, the kids just loved it . Rodney Allen Rippey became famous in the 70’s for his JITB commercials ("It's too big-a-eat!") and you know what that did for HIS career. (That pretty much was his career)

As a stunningly handsome youth I recall Johnny Carson making jokes about the place, but had no idea of what made JITB different from other places.

The first time I recall actually wanting to go there was fairly recent. It was a commercial with small-person cowboys on small horses herding ‘cows the size of schnauzers’ to advertise their ‘Mini Sirloin Burgers.’ I was hooked.

The Place:

Above the interstate in Festus, near everything else, including that disgusting Fazoli’s.

The place was very clean inside and a little more upscale than your typical injection-molded-plastic fast food joints. There were actual tables and chairs, many of them Bistro styled (tall ones). The counter was likewise clean and shiny. I read through the overhead menu, saw the mini-sirloin combo, and decided. I did notice that they offered quite a unique and diverse menu. Salads, all day breakfasts, teriyaki bowls, pastrami sandwiches, pita pockets, along with their more traditional burgers. We placed our orders and were handed big foam cups. We sat at one of the Bistro tables and discussed global economic conditions, climate change, unrest in Somalia, the floods in Pakistan, The STL Cardinals’ dismal season, and the general decline of societal values.

Actually I don’t recall what we discussed, if anything. I did look around and took note of the casual, subdued look and feel of the interior. The tables and chairs were almost classy, rust colored tops with black trim. The walls were a comfortable, but forgettable pastel shade. What was clear though was that they kept it all very clean.

The food:

I had ordered Combo #3, three mini sirloin burgers and seasoned curly fries. Angel, the #12 Chicken strips and seasoned curly fries, Adam #11, spicy chicken sandwich and seasoned curly fries. We all also ordered the same side, two tacos for ninety-nine cents. I’d heard a lot about their tacos, Angel, Adam, and even Tyler (Angel’s adult son in Springfield) have raved about them.

They have other kinds of fries, but that didn’t matter since they had seasoned curly fries. Seasoned and curly is how fries should be made, this is a rule. If you want fries the proper thing to do is to have them in the following order according to availability.

1. Seasoned curly fries

2. Curly fries

3. Crinkle fries

4. Standard fries

5. Shoestring fries

6. Someone else’s fries

7. Thick/Texas fries

8. Any style fries found under your car seat.

This is not debatable.

From the self-serve drink fountain Angel tested the lemonade while I searched around for tea. There was no tea. Angel seemed satisfied with the lemonade and filled her cup telling me that it was just a little tart, not too sweet. I poured a little myself, concurred with her assessment and filled it up. I only sometimes like lemonade, it has to be just right. This stuff was pretty close. Adam poured himself a tall Coke.

Our food was delivered within a few minutes, just as we entered a lively debate over Lindsay Lohan’s current rehab situation. (Actually I still don’t recall exactly what we talked about)

I tried one of the curly fries first, it was exceptional. Long and crunchy, and fresh. JITB makes their food to order, it doesn’t sit around under radioactive heat lamps getting all soft and radioactive-y.

The three burgers were each slightly bigger than a White Castle slider. (or ‘gas-powered diarrhea pill’ as it is also known) They were thicker and the buns were unexpectedly and pleasantly toasted. It sounds like a small thing but a toasted bun is about three and a half times better than a soft doughy one. I bit into one and my taste buds all shouted together as one, in unison, and at the same time ‘STEAK!’ Whereas other FF burgers have a not-always-unpleasant greasy taste this actually tasted like a pretty good steak, certainly more lean than a quarter pounder. It was pre-condiment-ized with just a little ketchup, cheese and onions. With the toasted bun I’d say it was definitely the better FF burger I’ve had lately. The patty was not wafer thin, it appeared hand pressed, irregular shaped, indicating made from fresh rather than factory pressed and frozen. I don’t know that for sure, but whatever they did, it seemed fresh.

Angel was satisfied with her chicken strips, but only so. “Not my favorite.” she said. She didn’t care much for the breading, citing DQ’s as being better. (She also said McD’s were better but I reminded her of my ‘No McDonald’s Comparisons Allowed’ policy. This policy is in place because McD’s is owned and operated by Satan. Who else could make fries that irresistible? Genesis would be more believable today if Eve was in fact tempted by a McDonald’s French fry rather than an apple. (An Apple? I mean Sheesh, who couldn’t pass up a mere apple even if it was from the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’?) Anyway, McDonalds is owned and operated by Satan and should be avoided altogether, just trust me on that.

Adam didn’t say much, but seemed to enjoy his sandwich thoroughly.

The Tacos:

Here’s where we diverge on opinion. I bit into my taco and was not impressed, at all. Angel and Adam plowed into theirs as if they were the best tacos this side of Iowa. The tacos looked kind of funny, thin, almost flat. They were crispy and the edges were kind of pinched together. The filling was Spartan; meat, shredded cheese and lettuce. By meat, I mean ‘meat’ in air-quotes. There was a rumor floating around on the interwebs that these tacos are in fact vegetarian friendly. They are not. The so-called ‘nutrition information’ clearly shows beef as the number one ingredient but also mentions soy protein. This concoction is sometimes referred to as meat-paste. Unlike loose ground beef, the meat-paste spreads like peanut butter and stays inside the shell better, like meat-spackle. Also included in the meat-paste ingredient was ‘spices’. This is where I had the problem. The crunchy shell was fine, the lettuce a little weak, the cheese, white and thick-shredded was nearly tasteless and the meat paste was, in my well reasoned opinion, too salty. I’m sure there were other spices since I looked it up, but all I got was salt and maybe a little chili powder. It wasn’t nasty, I just did not want any more. I gave my second one to Adam which he saved for later. Don’t scream at me, it’s simply a matter of taste though my opinion is of course superior and more stunningly attractive. (In order to keep the meat from falling out with home tacos, I use refried beans as a binder.)

Summary:

The meal came in at just under twenty four dollars. Not too bad. We could have gotten similar meals at Burger King, DQ, or that unmentionable place for a little less, but they would not have been as unique and good. The housekeeping standards at JITB appears to be superior to all the others (on average) and the quality of the food (except for the meat-paste) is a little better. Tea would have been nice, it may be that I just couldn’t find it.

Later I noticed something was missing, that greasy queasy feeling my precious little tummy gets after eating at a fast food joint. Bonus!

I’d certainly recommend JITB, and will go back… It’s like a FF burger joint, but without the snotty-nosed screaming babies and the trash on the floor.

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