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Monday, May 12, 2008

On a Deadline, The New Yorker’s “Goings On About Town” Restaurant Reviewer Hits His Local McDonald’s

John Jasper Owens

Some ground is destined to be fertile. Those in the know recall the expanse of asphalt between Le Cinéma Multiplex and the interstate exchange as an after-hours meeting place and de facto watering hole for the North Face and Fall Out Boy set, a place of frantically rocking S.U.V.s and broken condoms. Now it seems a restaurant has decided to try its luck in a vacant lot where so many before have gotten lucky. Faux-retro neon glitters into the night a beckoning for Scottish fare—McDonald’s.

Hungry diners are lured to McDonald’s (mk-don-aulds) by kitsch interlocking double arches, suggesting a fusion of the Gateway Arch and the interior of the Arc de Triomph. Appetites are whetted with intrigue—what will we find within? The titular suggestion of haggis, or an experimental French/Midwestern blend? One soon observes, however, that the McDonald’s menu is all over the map (perhaps too much so), offering a selection of American, Tex-Mex, Italian, and Asian cuisines, all served deli-style in an egalitarian order-at-the-counter process.

A little research (and a 10-spot slid into the palm of a confused, paper-hatted teenage girl, who points to a wall-mounted proclamation) reveals an eatery struggling to escape the long shadow of its founder. Décor is clown-based. One recent night found a couple fretting over frites served a bit soggy, and a sauce on a processed-pork sandwich that was overly aggressive, with smoky and woodsy undertones. Service can be spotty. A request to substitute Époisses or Brie de Meaux for the American singles on my double cheeseburger (a bargain at $1.09) was met with a cold stare from my opposite behind the Formica counter, a young man with a blank name-tag hanging askew who muttered something that was at least a homonym for “asshole.”

We are spared an overly peppy bartender (we are, in fact, spared alcohol altogether) in favor of an honor-system drink-dispensing wall (cluttered with drink lids during one recent post-theatre rush). Unscrupulous diners will be tempted to sample every flavor, from the citrus bite of Mountain Dew to the oddly over-syruped Diet Sprite. One may need a sweet soda to counter the lightly marinated bite of the grilled-chicken sandwich — the same teriyaki-leaning glaze that everybody seems to be doing this year. I am assured the salads here are not-to-be-missed, though I am not a salad person per se.

One fascinating feature of the cutlery here is the ability to order abovementioned salads in a device resembling a plastic Champagne flute. This is for the ingenious method of serving diners while still in their cars. No roller-blading, tray-dropping, carhop knockoff here, McDonald’s has installed a special window, cut right into the wall of the building, to expedite delivery to passing motorists. The open kitchen (watch the chefs perform!) brings a continental mentality to a decidedly American innovation. Too bad the invention is somewhat wasted on fare, frankly, that can be found many other places.

McDonald’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, $.99–5.49. Desserts are extra (skip the apple pie and go for a Blizzard). Combos available prix fixe.

John Jasper Owens lives in the South, and was not named after the painter, although thank you for your concern. When not fending off satire groupies, he shamelessly attempts to raise enough money to get married by offering unpublished fiction and humor at low, low prices.