Posted on March 30th, 2011
The In-N-Out Burger “secret menu” is anything but. However, some fast food restaurants have done a better job at maintaining their honor and keeping their lips sealed. In this piece, I conduct an investigative report.
The setting: Jack in the Box, counter service, 7921 Martin Luther King Blvd @ Columbia, Portland, Oregon. 3:28PM.
For those of you unfamiliar with Jack in the Box, think of McDonald’s, but with tacos and spring rolls.
I wait patiently behind the young, sinewy, buzz-cut lawnmower repair shop mechanic as we all eye the bountiful wonderland that is the Jack in the Box overhead marquee menu. His hands are scrubbed well, though as it is only mid-day, he has not yet undergone the rough Lava Soap and ice pick ministrations which will clean the black end-of-day sickles of grease from beneath his fingernails. No bother; he is unlikely to be so ravenous that while biting his food he actually bites off his own fingertips and ingests the concentrated toxins thereunder. His health should be fine, I assure myself. I focus on my own task, which is both complicated and dangerous. His task is simply stated:
MECHANIC: Yeah, uh, Ninety-Nine Cent Chicken Sandwich, taco, and the curly fries.
CASHIER: You are have drink with that?
MECHANIC: Uh, no. [Fishes around in oversized, well-worn Carhartt shop jacket for a few greasy bills]
ME: Hold on, friend. [I firmly place my hand over his money as he attempts to slide it across the counter.]
MECHANIC: [Responding as though someone had just slapped a dead pike across his thigh] Dude, what the fu—
ME: Are you familiar with the concept of the permutation?
MECHANIC: Like…when a bear becomes a panda?
ME: Let me put it this way. Have you heard of the In-N-Out Burger “Secret Menu”?
MECHANIC: You can get the secret menu in Grand Theft Auto Pasadena, grandpa. Get off my money.
CASHIER: Please, sir. Grandfather. He make decide.
ME: [Removes hand from money] Good, so you understand. Has it ever occurred to you that In-N-Out Burger might not be the only place with a secret menu? What about… [I gesture grandly at the overhead menu] …Jack in the Box!
MECHANIC: Yeah, fine, whatever. [Looks at cashier] Make all that stuff “secret style,” Borgiš. This guy likes secrets. [Gestures at me.]
BORGIŠ: [Takes money, makes change, seems to be smiling to himself.]
ME: No, this is not a case of “whatever.” What if we were to take the…Chicken Enchilada Strips…and ask them to top them with Four Power Chili, sour cream, poppers, Badger-Style Arizona Master Cheese Sauce™, and extra-dark fries? All on a bed of refreshing crisp chopped iceberg, Two Power Chili, and hand-cut taco bites?
MECHANIC: Extra-dark fries?
ME: Fries darken the longer you cook them. Any fry cook can accommodate this request if he’s not too busy. They get more crisp.
MECHANIC: [Muses] Hm. Usually the fries suck here ‘cause they’re too soft. You work for them or something?
BORGIŠ: [Insulted, scowls at floor]
ME: No, I’m a food journalist.
MECHANIC: What’s that? The guy who says calories on the radio? Or coupons?
ME: [I notice for the first time that he has ever so slightly buck teeth, and that his utter lack of freckles somehow makes him seem trashy.] I just try to have fun with food.
MECHANIC: Like Gallagher or whatever. I get it.
ME: Like a person who is having fun in life. Breaking molds. Evolving things. Change is survival, though we are naturally inclined to be wary of the unfamiliar. It is, perhaps, life’s central irony.
MECHANIC: Yeah, that’s real good, ok. [Takes bag of food, grabs napkins and two salts, walks out insouciantly without looking at me.]
BORGIŠ: And you are for to have, Mister Special?
ME: I…could I please have the curly fries with…melted cheese and Presidente Chimichanga Wheels on top?
BORGIŠ: I sorry, sir. Only regular is Chimichanga Wheels. Alone against other things.
BORGIŠ: No, sir. [Gestures apologetically at register’s smooth-touch keyboard]
ME: What about ketchup?
BORGIŠ: Is over there. [Points to tray/napkin/condiment area, where a fight has apparently taken place in between cleaning shifts]
ME: Can you add the ketchup before you give me the fries? Like, squirt it over the top? Salt it a little?
BORGIŠ: [Looks down, shakes head, and subtly gestures to a ceiling-mounted security camera]
ME: I…I understand. [I place a dollar bill on the counter as thanks for his time]
BORGIŠ: [Puffs powerful burst of air out of his nose, blows dollar off counter and back at me, all while continuing to look down]
ME: [Catches dollar and quickly shoves it into pocket] I see. Okay. A number three, please. Double Spicy Sicilian Chicken Floater with fries and a Raspberry Nestea. Just like the board says.
BORGIŠ: Maybe no today is best time.
ME: [Glances tensely around]
BORGIŠ: [Stares hard at register, both hands on counter. I can only see the top of his baseball-style cap.]
ME: [Leaves, while nervously watching for shadows which might approach my own while crossing the parking lot. This being Portland, I quickly head to a strip club that specializes in Hainanese Chicken Rice and used eyeglasses.]