Biking home from work on Friday, after a typically long week, I decided to stop off at Burger King for the first time in years. The night before, my roommate had brought home BK and just the sound of the name and the look of the wrapper and the smell of the grease flashed an image in my head of biting into an Original Chicken sandwich, all manner of worldly stresses floating further and further into the recesses of my easily distracted mind. The urge came on like a migraine; more than three months ago I said goodbye to meat and took up pescetarianism (though I still find it problematic that seafood is categorized separately from things like beef and pork and poultry, but I digress).
It took some rationalization to work up the courage (or weakness?) to order meat for the first time in months, especially considering how good I feel as a result of detoxing: It’s just this one time; I can’t deny myself forever; If I don’t get it now, I’ll obsess about it, I thought. It really didn’t take much more than Oh, and it’s on the way home to convince myself that I would surely give in. But it being a long workweek with inconsistent, mood-affecting weather, I also had a craving for a drink—an adult beverage. But what kind of alcohol, I wondered, goes with Burger King?
Water, to start. After the bike ride, much more of a slog than usual, I needed water. But I also thought it would serve as a palate cleanser. So with my taste buds perky and flushed, I lined up the bar.
[Before I begin with the menu, I implore you to reserve judgment on the eating and drinking described below. This kind of exercise is not habitual; this is about discovery.]
I started with a Spicy Chicken sandwich from the Value Menu. This being the first course, I decided to pair it with a light entry: Bud Light in a glass bottle. The first thing I noticed was that the “Drinkability” slogan really lived up to its name, which I was thankful for. The sandwich was especially dry—a lack of mayonnaise—and the beer aided in coaxing the sandwich down the gullet, as with milk after peanut butter. It was a decent start, but nothing memorable, and the small size and lack of bold flavors kept the duo from being anything more than a dull, American-sized amuse bouche.
The main course was the object of my affection: the Original Chicken sandwich. I paired the first half of this sandwich with the same Bud Light, but this time in a beer stein from Bruges, thinking that maybe the vessel would change the profile. Unfortunately for my sizzling urges, the sandwich suffered from the same dryness issue as the previous one, but even more, the buns felt especially dense, giving the bread a distinctly Play-Doh-y feel. But the use of the stein changed the game entirely. There was an intriguing textural contrast with the head of the poured beer. In terms of consistency, the two came across as something that might appear on a losing dish on Top Chef: mild flavors without any boisterous edge, improper cooking, and fanciful but unnecessary foam. Appealing to another sense, the stein also allowed for more of the beer aroma to find its way into the nostrils, making it less of a freshener—like the water after biking—between bites and more of an actual component to the meal.
Thankfully, the second half of the sandwich was much better prepared, with a better balance of mayonnaise, lettuce, and chicken, though with the same gummy bun problem. Following the mediocre first half, the second half was one to be savored, so I decided to try it along with two fingers of Jameson on the rocks. Each sip gave a typical whiskey burn, which caused the throat to tense, then relax. The taste buds became exhausted and bombarded, so the blander flavor of the sandwich offered a nice, mild respite. The light fried, savory taste of the chicken’s breading and the saltiness of the patty itself worked nicely against the earthly sting of the Jameson. And as the ice melted in the glass, the sting softened, marking a mellow (and unfortunate) denouement with the arid, overcooked, condiment-less last bites of the back end of the sandwich. The sesames on the bun felt like an afterthought and I thought what a shame it was that they weren’t, say, toasted to give a different note.
Since I wasn’t entirely accepting of my pescetarian betrayal, I also ordered a Big Fish sandwich. This, I paired with a glass of Andes Crossing, Argentinean Malbec, 2009. The wine, a near-bottom shelf red wine from Whole Foods, was milder than other malbecs I had tried, especially before I let the bottle breathe (I was, after all, fighting the clock, as with anyone who orders fast food to go). It had a flat plum taste but with a pleasant peppery finish that actually paired quite nicely with the fish. I know the general thinking is to pair fish—particularly white, flaky fish—with white wine, but I don’t think that suggestion considers fried and breaded fish on a bun. The composition here was perfection—great moisture to the fish, light on the condiments, even the lettuce tasted less aerated, and without the ridiculous, sinful slice of cheese that McDonald’s includes on their fish equivalent—so the dryness of the wine was a great contrast. The sandwich had a slight oily flavor because of the mayonnaise and frying, and the bolder tart taste of the wine complimented in a way that I don’t think a beer or dark liquor could. Each was an ideal follow-up (and lead-in) to the other.
All things considered, the experiment was a success. I found a few proper pairings and, more importantly, I was disappointed enough with the food to go another few years before returning to a fast food restaurant. Using my rationalization in a more beneficial way, I thought, if this was what I’ve been missing by not eating meat, I don’t think I’ll be going back any time soon.