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DRIVE-BY DINING

Hey, there's something different on the menu

March 15, 2007|Dog Davis | Special to The Times

WENDY'S has a vanilla Frosty; Jack's got a steak ciabatta; and Jack, Del Taco and Carl's Jr. are all serving fish and chips. What's up with that?

The fast-food industry has flooded the market with new offerings recently. Some are welcome; others are destined for that big drive-through in the sky. One thing's certain: This column can't possibly review them all. Time to do some spring cleaning.

The big news is that McDonald's is test-marketing three new burgers under the banner Angus Third-Pounders. Each has the aforementioned amount of Angus beef, plus toppings such as mushrooms and Swiss. Sure, Carl's Jr. and Burger King (paging Dr. Angus!) have similar burgers, but McDonald's is a genius at making someone else's idea its own. After all, the double-deck Big Mac, which debuted in 1968, is a copy of a Bob's Big Boy, created in 1936.

Speaking of Carl's Jr., it has a new Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. Never mind that every joint in the country already has a spicy chicken sandwich and that Carl's own charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken is a lot more interesting; it's spending a lot of dough to market a sandwich that looks and tastes exactly like an oversized KFC Buffalo Snacker. Even the Carl's website, spicybuffalo.com, seems more focused on its blond spokesmodel than the sandwich.

In the 1970s, Burger King had the Yumbo. It was a huge ham and cheese sandwich microwaved so long the bun came out gummy and the cheese scalded the roof of your mouth -- in other words, it was perfect. Until BK brings the Yumbo into the 21st century, we'll have to settle for its new Hamlette Breakfast Sandwich -- ham, cheese and egg in a smallish bun, topped with sweet honey butter. It's pretty good, sells for a buck and lends itself to Shakespearean puns.

Fatburger, a chain that rarely alters its menu, recently added a veggie burger and a salad wedge. If you fear this may affect its "fat" status, don't worry: The wedge is smothered in bacon bits and dressing.

During the last few years, Arby's introduced sandwiches on honey wheat bread and marble rye, as if searching for an artisan bread to call its own. Now it has Flatbread Melts, featuring Philly cheesesteak or cheesy beef fajitas stuffed in flatbread. Will flatbread become the next craze, like ciabatta? Stay tuned.

Finally, for those who question the health benefits of deep-fried dough smothered in glazed sugar, Krispy Kreme has the answer: whole wheat doughnuts. That's right. Krispy's new whole wheat doughnuts may still be high in sugar and fat, but these caramel-flavored suckers have only 180 calories. That's 20 fewer calories than the glazed originals. Now a dozen doughnuts can have only 2,160 calories instead of 2,400. Dieters, rejoice.

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