This was a food review that I wrote on a whim for our school paper. The readership seems to like it, so I thought I would post it here as well. I'd like to thank Jacob Karlins for bringing this culinary wonder to my attention.
The new KFC Double Down seems like an exciting concept: what if you took a fast food sandwich’s least interesting component—the lousy processed bread—and replaced it with its most appealing—more meat? These kinds of questions are how new menu items are born.
The anticipation for the sandwich was something like apocalyptic (in fact one source actually described it as a “harbinger of a breadless apocalypse” [eater.com])Words like “abomination,” “baffling,” “ominous,” “freak-show,” “deadly,” “angina,” and so on.
KFC tacitly acknowledges that the public might be skeptical. The promotional paragraph on the KFC website begins by asserting “The new KFC Double Down sandwich is real!” which is surely the most existential statement ever made by a fast food restaurant on behalf of its product.
I too can vouch for its reality, up to a point. On 12 April, overcome by childhood sentiment for the days when Kentucky Fried Chicken (note the lack of abbreviation) was the nearest fast-food chain to our house, I sought out my nearest KFC (which turns out to be in Danvers, where rte 35 meets 128) and ordered one. When I arrived, I was a little nervous, since there was no sign of the major marketing blitz that I had been told of. There were no Double Down signs, nor was it on the menu. No “Today’s the DD Day,” hoopla. I had to ask if they actually had the sandwich for sale, and was told, with a definite lack of enthusiasm, that they did. I bought it, and not long afterwards, I ate it, hot.
Here is where the Double Down’s touted reality begins to need qualification. One of the great truths of fast food is that the camera always lies. The pictures of menu items always seem to be brimming with freshness, neatly and lovingly assembled, moist where they should be moist, crispy where they should be crispy, and so forth. Of course the sandwich that arrives is usually of a much lesser star, smushed, soggy and so forth. With that in mind, we note that in pictures, the Double Down looks like a sandwich. It lies flat, with its ingredients of bacon, cheese and sauce neatly arranged, and with a handy paper envelope to keep it all in place and keep hands from becoming overwhelmingly greasy. (one commentator suggested, entertainingly, that the sandwich might be healthier if you ate the wrapper).The moment I opened my bag, it was clear that the whole “sandwich” notion was a cheerful fiction. The handy envelope was nowhere to be found, and the chicken breasts (being pleasantly real and therefore not entirely flat) did not behave like remotely like bread, but rolled around loose in the bag. A lonely looking strip of bacon and an ersatz-looking piece of cheddar jack seemed barely affiliated with the other ingredients. If there was sauce, I didn’t notice it as such.
I managed to cajole the whole thing into an awkward and extremely greasy “sandwich,” however, and began to eat. And here is the kicker: it may not be a sandwich, but it was really pretty good. The chicken was hot and moist and juicy, and the batter it had been fried in was crispy and flavorful. The bacon and cheese didn’t contribute much, but they didn’t detract either. Other critics have claimed it was very salty, but no more so than any other two pieces of fried chicken.
Of course, the Double Down is bad for your health. Particularly if you eat a lot of processed foods or have trouble with your blood pressure, you shouldn’t go near it (and don’t think you will be any safer with the grilled version: it has even more salt and almost as much fat). But although, calorie-wise, the Double Down is no better than a Big Mac, it isn’t any worse either. And although I was thirsty afterwards (presumably from all that salt) I was satisfied, and had none of the queasiness that I usually experience after a fast food burger.
One still must ask the question “why?” Why have this goofy sandwich-thing? Why sell it? But I think I have the answer. Because it has been there all along. The Double Down could be rolled out with absolutely no changes in inventory or preparation procedures. All the ingredients (the breasts, the cheese, the bacon, the sauce) are things that KFC already keeps on hand for other menu items. Only the little envelope is new (and apparently optional). Even nutritionally, the fuss seems overstated; how is this actually worse than a two or three piece chicken meal with greasy sides? KFC has been selling that (and worse) since before this writer was born. KFC gets to roll out an attention-grabbing new product and the only cost is promotion. And since KFC is always running ads anyway, that isn’t really any change to its bottom line; you have got to advertise something. So even if the whole Double Down is a dumb idea, and disappears as quickly (and with less fanfare) than it arrived, it is still kind of smart. Will I order another Double Down? Probably not. But I walked into a KFC for the first time in 20 years to try one. Isn’t that probably what they were after?
The Double Down in its Platonic form, as represented on the KFC website, with handy wrapper, neat assembly, and a plate. A plate? Mine came in a bag.
The Double Down as it exists in the material world. Note its difficulty hanging together as a “sandwich.”