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Fish wars get sexual

4/10/2013

Hardee’s Pacific cod sandwich tasted way better than it looked.

Hardee’s Pacific cod sandwich tasted way better than it looked.

Recent news from the fast food wars came with a measure of shock if not awe. After surviving 10 years of economic booms and bust without a single decrease in monthly sales, McDonald’s suddenly experienced declines in three of the last six months. Wendy’s and Burger King took significant territory in market share battles. McD’s responded by announcing a new strategy — to launch larger and more frequent “new product” offensives. Wendy’s plotted to increase its gains by reinforcing two fronts: by advertising its “superior ingredients” and by promising to remodel stores with upscale amenities such as fireplaces. By partnering with Seattle’s Best on a new upscale coffee line, Burger King attacked one of McDonald’s strongest profit centers. In the fast food industry, wars may be fought with advertisements, but they are won in the mouths of young men and women.

So Cityview dispatched this humble correspondent to observe how the latest tactics are playing on the frontlines. Probably the fiercest recent battles have been maritime. Trying to tap into the lucrative “healthy choice” market, four locally represented national chains launched brave, new fish dishes. They are brave because seafood initiatives inevitably come with cross-contamination issues that frighten corporate lawyers (who do not bill by the hour). That’s probably why Taco Bell has no fish tacos. Taco John’s, though, is now promoting its version. I tried one that stuffed a flour tortilla with a deep-fried, cornmeal battered whitefish stick, plus lettuce, cheese, sour cream and a lime wedge. The fish stick flaked like unadulterated fish.

Wendy’s has been making some noise on this front with its Northern Pacific cod sandwich, heavily advertised as an upscale product hand cut from whole filets for flakiness and breaded in Panko for crunch. The one I was served delivered a beautiful-looking piece of golden fish on a toasted, white bun with tartar sauce and a leaf of iceberg lettuce. Looks were deceiving. My fish was so tough and fibrous I ended up spitting out all but the center of the filet. It had no flakiness whatsoever. From my experiences, this only happens when cooked fish spends too much time hanging around heat lamps. I suspect my experience was a bad mistake, but I won’t bother going back to verify. Sea salt fries did not taste any fresher than the fish sandwich. Still, Wendy’s did not provide the worst fish experience I found.

In one of its heaviest advertising blitzes since the introduction of its “extra value” menu, McDonald’s countered Wendy’s success with its own new McFish Bites. These were advertised as Alaskan pollock, as if that was a good thing. A cynical teenaged friend described them as “the bastard offspring of Ore-Ida tater tots and Van de Kamp’s fish sticks.” For comparison sake, I ordered a Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a product that McD’s has been serving since 1962. That older product tasted more like fresh fish and less like breading. Even its tartar sauce tasted less like salt and pickle brine.

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Back in the “looks are deceiving” department, the best-tasting, new fish product I found, by far, came with burnt edges and what looked like excessive seasoning. To counter its lack of pulchritude, Hardee’s launched its new char-broiled Atlantic cod sandwich with a sexually suggestive Super Bowl ad in which Danish bikini model Nina Agdal touts the orgasmic prowess of its 500 calories. Probably because it’s hard for food processors to mess up a naked piece of fish, this compared well to broiled fish sandwiches in full-service restaurants. Unlike other fish sandwiches I tried, this one came with a slice of tomato.

Side Dishes Waterfront’s popular annual crawfish-and-shrimp boil will be offered on Wednesday, April 17 with andouille sausage, boiled potatoes and slaw… Splash Seafood Bar and Grill’s April 30 wine education event will feature vintages of northern Italy, paired with appetizers. These bargains events sell out quickly at $40. For a reservation call 244-5686. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

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