McDonald’s worldwide (when available)
From a culinary standpoint, I like to walk on the wild side. It was inevitable that I had to eventually consume the UMO (Unidentified Meat-like Object) that is well known to billions as the McRib. A majority of Americans might question the concept of the McRib as “bizarre food”, and I although I contend that it is impossible to overlook it as strange cuisine I will agree with them on the basis that it can only marginally be called “food”. Some journalists risk life and limb covering stories while hugging trees during Category 4 hurricanes, crouched down with rounds of ammunition whizzing past their heads, or being escorted through maximum security prisons; my defiant act of staring death in the face in the name of unbiased reporting involved passing through the golden arches for the sandwich that has had more farewell tours than The Who. In 2005, 2007 and 2008, the McRib was brought back for a limited time in what is likely an artificially inflated supply-and-demand game by McDonalds. The latest release was approximately a month long (beginning in November of 2010) which gave me approximately 30 days to muster the courage to eat one and to keep an open mind while doing so, considering the sandwich on its own merits. Working up the courage to approach the counter, I felt like Walter Cronkite covering a Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally; I knew I had to be impartial and call it the way it was.
The first thing that made me laugh was the red cardboard Pandora’s box the sandwich is served in with “McRib Tangy Temptation” emblazoned on the top; I equated the experience to showing up for a blind date, or interviewing at a company with no windows. The kimono was opened and I took a moment to size up my prey; I was face to face with a rather unassuming sesame seed roll with a brown 1/4 inch thick, brown, sauce-drenched slab poking out of the length of the roll with spatters of orange sauce in various spots on the bun and inside of the box. There wasn’t much of a smell (which I regarded as a blessing), even after lifting off the top half of the bun. I wanted to see the famous molded and colored “rib” formation, but it was difficult to make it out with the sauce, pickle chips and raw white onion pieces on top. I scraped the toppings off lightly with a knife and noticed that there was an even consistency to the meat, realizing that the McCrew member had assembled the sandwich with the McRib face down. A gentle flip exposed the now-legendary faux quarter-rack, but the “meat” portion did not have the original darker artificial coloring that used to make it stand out from the edible “bone” portion. I cut the sandwich in half, noting that the meat appeared to have an even consistency all the way through – it looked like a finely ground, compressed meatloaf or a burger in the UK. Since I always try to break down a new food to its simplest form, I broke off a piece of the meat. The taste was somewhat bland, approximating a cross between SPAM and a cellulose sponge. I replaced the top half of the bun and slowly finished the sandwich. The sauce was inoffensive; it had a little tang to it, and while not being either syrupy or watery it was neither overly sweet nor spicy. What it didn’t taste like was pork ribs; the meat is mostly pork shoulder and fat, ground and pressed into a mold and then pre-cooked before being flash frozen. This small sandwich weighs in at approximately 500 calories, half of which are from fat.
Although I didn’t require hospitalization, I don’t see myself ever having to eat a McRib again. If you are in the minority who have not yet tried the sandwich and are interested in trying it out of morbid curiosity, I recommend making the pilgrimage to Downey, California the next time it becomes available and eating it at the oldest McDonald’s still in operation. This location will make the experience more memorable from a nostalgic standpoint, but don’t expect carhops and fresh food made to order. After the original McDonald brothers’ stand in San Bernardino was demolished, the 1953 Downey location remained as the oldest in the world. The sign out front is a throwback to the old days with an animated neon Speedy on top, and the restaurant still maintains the original double arch design (initially created for structural integrity). Next door to the restaurant is a tiny, one-story building that houses a museum chock full of memorabilia including hats, a menu board and one of the original multi-mixers used to make their legendary shakes (in the days before using ingredients lab rats wouldn’t intentionally ingest). Sadly, McDonald’s missed the boat on maintaining the site as a flagship restaurant serving made-to-order menu items the way the McDonald brothers did in original uniforms. As you walk up to the window you come to the sad realization that the quality, prices and decor are no different than any other McDonalds. Back in the 1970s, a McDonald’s commercial featuring actor John Amos and ending in the familiar “You deserve a break today” started of with the line, “Grab a bucket and mop”. I don’t anticipate eating at a McDonald’s any time soon, but if I ever happen to have my car break down in the parking lot of a Mickey D’s hundreds of miles from civilization after three days of starvation in the desert, I may ask them to have that bucket and mop ready just in case.
World’s Oldest McDonalds
10207 Lakewood Blvd
Downey, CA 90241
GPS Coordinates: 33°56’50.66″N 118°7’4.29″W
Watch an old McDonald’s commercial from the 1970s featuring John Amos