April 21, 2010

Guest Post: Sonic Burger Tasting!!

Today's post is brought to you by my lovely friend Hoosh, a cherished confidante since our days of young, awkward nerdiness in college. We're still nerdy, just a little more seasoned at it these days. Thanks, Hoosh, for blogging with us today!--LKP

You’ve seen it… We’ve all seen it… The video of a person sitting patiently in a white cubicle. A piece of food or drink is slid through a tiny door. The door shuts and she delicately tastes the item. Then she picks up her pencil and answers questions on a piece of paper.

That’s what I pictured when I signed up to be a taste tester for Sonic Drive-In, a fast food burger chain that started in Oklahoma and has quickly spread across the country.

Imagine my surprise when I was brought to a bright classroom with seven other people and we were instructed to sit at a desk with a laptop. There were no two-way mirrors or stern-looking people in lab coats. And there wasn't a clipboard in sight. The only giveaway that we were dealing with food and not an English exam was that there was a bottle of water and napkins at each seat.

A young, casually-dressed man greeted us and explained that we were participating in the "Burger Session" of the taste test. He told us they were going to bring us burgers (yes, full-size burgers!) and we were to answer a survey the computer. He said we could talk freely and share our opinions out loud. This really surprised me. I thought we'd have to be quiet so we didn't sway anyone else's vote. He did make a point to warn us about a video camera in the corner of the room. No biggie. We all soon forgot about the camera.

Here is how the testing was done… There were three burgers. The leader read a description, and then servers in Sonic aprons brought us the burgers. We'd eat several bites and then answer questions on the survey. The questions were typical: "What do you like?" "What do you dislike?" "What would you add/take off?" My favorite question was “What would you name this item?”

Here's what we had...

Burger #1 -- Two meat patties, topped with parmesan cheese slices (Yes, slices. Not sprinkles), pepperoni, marinara, fried mozzarella cheese sticks and banana pepper rings.

Okay, I know it sounds huge and ridiculous, but OH MAH GAH! It was so, so good. There was something magical about the banana pepper rings. You could smell them as you were biting into the burger. Your taste buds hit on the savory part first but your nose was still processing the sharp, sweet and vinegary scent of the peppers. Then the spices from the marinara and smooth/nutty/fatty flavors from the cheeses starting competing for attention. You’d think it would be chaos in the close confines of your mouth, but it turns out that all of the flavors waited their turns and played nicely with one another.

I called this one “My Big Fat Italian Burger.” I really hope they move forward with putting it on the menu because I don't think I can live the rest of my life without having another one.

Burger #2 -- Two meat patties, topped with Pickle-O's, ranch sauce, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato.

For those of you unfamiliar with the legendary Pickle-O, it used to be a Sonic staple. Fried pickle slices that could be eaten sans sauce or dipped into ranch dressing. Suddenly, they disappeared from almost all Sonic menus. Imagine the outrage! Everyone in the taste testing group was quick to tell our leader that Pickle-O's needed to be brought back! However, none of us were too impressed with the idea of putting them on a burger.

Our opinions didn’t change after taking a bite. The Pickle-O’s were almost immediately soggy and slid out of their protective fried shells. The burgers were decent but they were essentially a regular ol’ burger whose pickles just happened to be fried. We all said we’d rather just pop some Pickle-O's as a side dish. (In fact, I ate all of the Pickle-O's off this burger before I managed to take a picture of it.)

Burger #3 -- Two meat patties, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and topped with... get this... Frito Chili Pie.

I don't think anyone in the room was overly excited about this one. When our leader explained what was coming, we all sat there in silence. Someone (maybe it was me) eventually broke the silence with, “Really?”

The sight of the burger was comical. It was too big to eat. We all tried smooshing it down to a bite-able thickness, but that just squished the ingredients out of the sides. After tasting it, we all agreed that teenage boys with big appetites might appreciate having two comfort foods in one dish, but none of us would order one of these if it was on the menu.

The Fritos became soggy rather quickly. The salt from the chips plus the inherent saltiness of all of the meat made my tongue tired. The small bits of lettuce and tomato that I was able to taste among the rest of the big, manly flavors provided some relief but it just wasn’t enough. Plus, it was just too messy. Not something you'd want to balance on your lap in the car.

After we'd received all of the food and filled out our surveys, an official-type person who is involved in developing new products for Sonic came in and asked more questions. By this time, we were all giddy from the high-fat foods that we were overly chatty and laughing about everything. It was like a party and we didn’t want it to end. But we were informed that the next panel was waiting to come into the room for their session and we needed to clear out.

We all packaged up our leftovers and headed out the door, which made the people in the lobby chuckle. (Apparently no one from earlier panels had done this?) Before we left, the leader gave us all $20 gift cards and $10 in cash. He said Sonic might be contacting us again to participate in future taste tests. I hope they do! Don’t tell them, but they didn’t have to pay me. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have paid them to be a part of it.

So, if you see a big, fat, Italian burger on the menu at Sonic Drive-In anytime soon, I hope you’ll order one. I’m pretty sure you’ll thank me. And I’ll enjoy knowing that I can take some credit for it.

1 comment:

LKPheartsfood said...

Hoosh--I hope we can hit Sonic when ABF & I come see you in May! Also, maybe it's the Yankee in me, but I just don't 'get' the whole Frito pie thing.

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