Fast food is all but defined by its standardized menus, never deviating from the cheeseburgers and fries we’re used to, no matter where we are in the world. There’s always been something comforting about that reliable sameness. However, sometimes individual franchisees go rogue and do their own thing—usually to the chagrin of their corporate overlords—and in the process, they transform the typical fast food menu into something much more interesting.
Let’s look at some of the ways fast food has dared to be different at particular locations, and how it makes the entire experience more fun for the customers.
McDonald’s McPizza is the stuff of absolute legend. The famous menu item debuted in the ’80s but was eventually discontinued from almost every location, because it turns out not a lot of McDonald’s customers want to wait 16 full minutes for their order. (Imagine what the drive-thru line would look like.)
Until recently, two of the last holdout locations still serving pizzas were in Pomeroy, Ohio, and Spencer, West Virginia, but in 2017 McDonald’s corporate requested that they stop. Why can’t we ever have fun things?
The pizza, many customers claimed, was only okay, nothing special—but still. The idea of having an appetizer of Chicken McNuggets before a McPizza main course sounds pretty solid to me.
That leaves just one: A solitary McDonald’s location in Orlando, Florida, still sells pizza. It also happens to be the largest McDonald’s location in the world by square footage, and has an incredibly bizarre menu of not only brick oven pizza, but also pasta, paninis, and specialty breakfast dishes like ham and cheese French toast. Looks like I’ll need to make a pilgrimage someday.
Takeout contributor Danny Palumbo recently wrote about the one contintental U.S. McDonald’s location still selling fried apple pies instead of baked ones. Though the switch to baked happened back in the ’90s, one location in Downey, California, as well as Hawaii-based McDonald’s locations, stubbornly serves them up fried. In a side-by-side taste test, there’s no question which pie is better. Palumbo writes of the fried pie:
Biting into it, the shell is crispy, slightly salty, and fatty. The inside is gooey, warm, and spiced, just like the baked, but the contrast in textures makes the fried pie sing. The fried apple pie is completely indulgent, without the evident strains to appear healthy, making it a breath of fresh air in the fast food space.
After I hit up Orlando for some McPizza, it’s off to Cali for some pie.
In 2013, one Wendy’s in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada began advertising something called a “T-Rex Burger,” which was essentially a nine-patty cheeseburger. Nine. The rest of the world was alerted to its existence due to a viral Reddit post. This monstrosity of a sandwich contained roughly 3,000 calories, around 200 grams of fat, and a whopping 6,000 milligrams of sodium (for reference, 2,300 milligrams is the recommended daily limit).
It didn’t take too long for the thing to be yanked from the Wendy’s menu. Eater reported that the Brandon Wendy’s location told a local news outlet at the time, “Wendy’s of Brandon neither condones nor promotes the idea of anyone consuming a nine-patty hamburger in one sitting.”
RIP, Wendy’s one-off T-Rex Burger, you legend. I’m not sure I would have ever tackled one, but I would have been perfectly happy to watch someone else attempt to eat one. In fact, if it weren’t about a decade ahead of its time, it might have become a viral food challenge over on TikTok.
I understand fast food restaurant chains not wanting to deviate from their core menus, due to consumer expectations and rules set by their headquarters. And in some cases, like at Taco Bell, it’s so easy to modify existing menu items to get exactly what you want anyway. Still, that’s not quite the same as being able to order something wholly unique to a single location—some local flavor, if you will.
It’s hard not to wish that corporations would loosen the leash on franchisee creativity. Oh well. Hop in the car, everyone, I guess we’re headed to Orlando for some pizza.