In recent years it has become a weekend ritual for Mrs. Toy to pick up burgers and fries from Wendy's on her way home from a busy day of church musicianship. This weekend we thought it might be fun to alter the routine and try out the new In-N-Out Burger joint in Seaside, which opened to great fanfare and excitement about three months ago.
While we didn't expect our meal to live up to the hype, we did expect a reasonably good hamburger and fries, and we left open the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. We didn't expect to be too disappointed, much less a little disgusted.
The bag contained two double burgers with cheese and two “containers” of fries. I used quotation marks because the fries were placed in shallow paper trays that didn't really contain them. They just sort of spilled out everywhere. The burgers were half naked with the other half wrapped in a flimsy paper shell. Unlike normal fast-food hamburgers, which come in a clamshell box or completely wrapped in paper or foil that can be opened up and used as sort of a plate, these In-N-Out burgers had no real protection, nothing to keep them warm on the drive home, and required plates from our cupboard.
As I expected, the hamburger was nothing extraordinary. In fact the taste was almost indistinguishable from the Wendy's product, and the ingredients were essentially the same. But it was a good deal messier. Once I had eaten the exposed half there was the problem of how to separate the wrapped half from the tight wrapper. As someone with limited manual dexterity due to chronic pain and muscle stiffness, it was especially challenging.
I decided just to rip the paper off. I almost didn't notice, which means I almost ate, a microscopically thin layer of paper that remained clinging to the bun. It looked and felt like the film that you find between layers of an onion, and it was devilishly hard to remove from my food.
Once the second half of my burger was free, I had a hard time holding it together, and before I could raise it to my mouth it collapsed into a mess on my plate. What remained looked more like a serving of hamburger casserole than a hamburger. I ended up eating the individual components separately.
Meanwhile, I found the fries, which In-N-Out fans rave about, to be almost flavorless. They certainly didn't taste like potatoes, not even an undressed baked potato. Mrs. Toy thought they tasted undercooked, and she called them “inedible.” This word came from a woman who, in the 35 years I have known her, has no more than once or twice turned up her nose at any food put in front of her.
The only thing that saved the meal from total disaster was my chocolate milkshake. It tasted pretty good, though as shakes go it was a little on the thin side. A truly good milkshake takes a little work to suck through a straw. This one was too easy.
To make matters worse, our In-N-Out meal didn't settle in our stomachs very well and now, about 22 hours after the fact, we both still feel a little bit queasy. We're still waiting for the "Out" part of In-N-Out to happen.
So our first In-N-Out burgers were also our last. And we are now completely puzzled as to how an unimpressive, overstuffed hamburger and bland French fries in poorly designed packaging has gained such a cult following. It's not unlike the Donald Trump phenomenon, a lot of hype and no substance seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people making them very giddy over junk.
If you want a truly excellent hamburger, and a great milkshake too, I suggest you skip the chains altogether and pay a visit to our locally owned R.G. Burgers in Carmel and Monterey.