Big Mac-ghazi

Enjoy the long Weekend

Happy Memorial Day!

As it’s a holiday, in lieu of a real post I am simply going to treat you to an extended complaint about a random New Yorker article titled “The Best Burger to Eat Right Now” about a place called Smashed NYC that sounds pretty tasty.

The lead of their story is about a menu item called the Big Schmacc which as you might imagine is designed to be a burger done in the style of a Big Mac, except upscale like you might get written up in the New Yorker. I have bolded a key sentence for effect.

A big part of what makes the Big Mac appealing in pictures,” a burger aficionado I know mused the other day, “is that the patties extend past the perimeter of the bun. But then you actually get one, and most of the time you can barely even see the patties.” We were sitting outside Smashed NYC, a new burger shop on the Lower East Side. He peeled back the black-and-white checkered wax paper folded around the Big Schmacc, a highlight of the menu. Two thin jagged-edged disks of deeply browned ground beef hung floppily over the limits of three halves of Martin’s “Big Marty’s” sesame roll; there was clear visual evidence, too, of sharp-cornered, barely melted slices of American cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, crinkle-cut pickle coins, and Creamsicle-colored Smash Sauce. “This is what it’s supposed to look like,” he explained, with the authority of a biologist.

I confess that I’ve never tried a Big Mac—because I’ve seen what it looks like in real life. (It’s better not to gaze directly upon the beef, which tends to take on a gray tone.) But I imagine that the Big Schmacc is also what the Big Mac—which McDonald’s introduced in the hope of attracting adult customers, and once advertised as “a meal disguised as a sandwich”—is supposed to taste like: a sandwich carefully layered to provide a uniform, balanced medley of charred, smoky fat, mellow cream, gentle tang, crunch, salt, and just a hint of sweetness in every bite. Unlike at McDonald’s, where the burgers are precooked and reheated, at Smashed your burger is made to order, pressed flat and seared on an extremely hot griddle until it becomes a marvel of the Maillard reaction, umami sparks flying as amino acids and reducing sugars collide, coalescing into a crunchy golden crust.

I don’t understand how you write this line in this story.

For starters: Who has never tried a Big Mac? If you’re a lifelong vegetarian — fine. Or if you’re just a profoundly incurious person — also fine, I guess. But you shouldn’t be so incurious. It’s a good idea to try things.

There are limits to the curiosity principle. One time when I was in Chicago I went to Alinea because I’d heard it was amazing and I was curious. It was, in fact, amazing. But a dinner for two there with wine costs hundreds of dollars. It’s not something you should just go do if you don’t think that you would enjoy it. It’s a very expensive restaurant.

But a Big Mac is cheap. And they are ubiquitous. There is a McDonald’s five minutes from Smashed NYC on Delancy Street. There is a McDonald’s two blocks from The New Yorker’s office. If you are even slightly curious about the world you should buy a Big Mac sometime and take a bite or three. Decide what you think. Personally, I think a Quarter Pounder is way better and also all the McDonald’s burgers are pretty bad but the fries or great and there’s some excellent breakfast options. Kids enjoy the Happy Meal. If you don’t like the Big Mac after two bites, you can just throw it away.

Now some people’s reaction to this was it’s a showy snob thing, like the people who (pre-streaming) would be all “I don’t even own a television.” So, fine. You’re a snob. You wouldn’t be caught dead in a McDonald’s.

The problem is that this is a professional work of journalism whose subject is a restaurant doing a riff on a Big Mac. Experience eating Big Macs is so directly relevant to executing the story, that the author had to go out of her way to mention that she’s never had a Big Mac. But so do the reporting! Buy yourself a Big Mac and explain the difference between the two. It’s not like this is some kind of impossible assignment — where will I find a Big Mac? How will I get the expense approved?

Years ago, Kenji Lopez-Alt did an article for Serious Eats about his mission to build an improved version of the Big Mac. A key line of his story is “the first step was to take a close look at the original sandwich to determine exactly what needs improving.” Makes sense, right?

Regular programming will resume tomorrow.