What better time than New Year's Eve for looking back at the waning year from a fast-food perspective? Here's a list - placed according to highly subjective criteria from "worst" to "best" - of what I consider the top 10 fast-food menu item introductions of 2010. Note that some items which received a good deal of internet buzz - like Carl Jr.'s foot-long burger, for example - didn't make this list. That's because they may have been test-market-only products that never made it nationwide, or because franchises featuring the foods just don't exist in the Hartford CT/Springfield MA market (my home turf.)
10 - Burger King Ribs: Although a Time Magazine article called Burger King Ribs "a success," I have to disagree. Tiny, overpriced, with a strange spongy texture and odd salty aftertaste, there was nothing especially worthy about these ribs that made them worth standing in line for. In fact, if it weren't for this post I bet you'd already forgotten about them. Props to BK, though, for the balls it took to try something so completely outside the standard fast-food norm.
9 - Wendy's Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt: Perennial burger joint also-ran Wendy's scored a huge victory for mediocrity by introducing these spectacularly ordinary boardwalk-style fries to their menu.
8 - Friendly's Grilled Cheese Burger Melt: Lynnafred had this at Friendly's a few weeks ago, but hasn't gotten around to writing a review. The waitress gave her a funny look when she ordered it, so when it came to the table, Lynnafred asked her if it was a popular item. "Yeah," the waitress replied, "We sell a lot of them to stoners, and you don't really look the part." It should come as no surprise that the actual sandwich looks nothing like the idealized photo at left, but more closely resembles "a pile of lunch," as Lynnafred said. She also reported that the sandwich fed her and two friends, was difficult to eat without a knife and fork, and was mostly "a sloppy, greasy mess."
7 - BK Breakfast Muffin: Burger King's lame attempt at copying McDonald's Sausage McMuffin with Egg is an abject failure, doomed by bland sausage and a tiny portion of scrambled egg. On the positive side, though, the television advertisement for the Breakfast Muffin was made of Win wrapped in Awesome.
6 - Dunkin' Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites: Cheap, greasy sausage wrapped in a batter that has more in common with corn dogs than it does with pancakes. My review for them is in the post queue - look for it to go live in a couple of days.
5 and 4 - McDonald's Frappes and Smoothies: I'm giving McDonald's McCafe offereing two spots on the list because they're two distinct products. The smoothies are awesome, and the frappes are destined to give Dunkin' Donuts Coolatas a run for their money.
3 - McDonald's Fruit and Maple Oatmeal: Even though I'm not really a big fan of oatmeal, I found this new offering by McDonald's to be pretty awesome. Order it without the brown sugar - you won't be missing anything but an extra load of calories.
2 - The Reintroduction of McDonald's McRib: Back nationwide after a 16-year hiatus, the McRib made a big splash with the press and fans alike. Made of chopped and formed pork slathered in so much sauce it practically required gloves and a bib to eat, it was nonetheless tasty. Lynnafred, who is too young to have remembered the last time McRibs were widely available, said "I could eat these every day."
1 - KFC's Double Down - The single most badassed fast food sandwich EVER, the Double Down went national in April 2010 (clicking on the link provided will bring you, however, to my full review from October 2009 when we first encountered them in the Rhode Island test market.) The Double Down truly deserves the top spot on this list; not only does it encompass sweepingly vast expanses of awesomeness, but it set the stage for all of the bizarre and over-the-top offerings which followed it.
Do you notice that four of the five top spots - worthy and delicious products all - are from McDonald's? Think what you will of them, this kind of careful product development combined with Micky D's powerhouse marketing strategies are why they're the leader in the fast-food market.
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