Boo! Chain restaurants! Fast food! Boo! Death in a paper sack! Did I say "Boo" already? BOO!
Psst. Down here. Quiet, the cuisine cops'll hear you. Here, have a seat on this stack of Captain D's boxes. Have I introduced you to...the Arby's Limited Edition Patty Melt?
Shhh! Don't run! A healthy lifestyle attracts them! Yeah, I know--I should have been consuming an oilcan of granola and washing it down with locally cultivated flaxseeds. Instead, I scrunched as far down as I could and called out my order to the Arby's drive-thru from the vicinity of my floor mat. The lure of the Patty Melt could no longer be denied.
Let it be said that the siren song of fast food with a finite window of opportunity is well nigh impossible to resist. Dude--the Patty Melt may never come this way again! For me, that was enough to overcome the sandwiches' weirdo concept, which bears no relation to anything you or I know as a patty melt. The concept's been tried, in various forms, by nostalgia excavators from Burger King to Hardee's, but anyone with intimate knowledge of vinyl stools and Formica counters knows a patty melt is basically a cheeseburger on toast instead of a bun.
This, by contrast, is not a burger but sheets of roast beef draped over rye toast and priced at an acceptable $1.99. Of the three available sandwiches, I've declined the Three-Cheese Melt, which looks suspiciously like the Arby's Beef N' Cheddar's layabout cousin. But I tried the ambitiously named Classic, a Reuben knock-off with Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese and a curious slaw of sautéed, shredded purple onion. The weak link, surprisingly, was the onion, which was too limp to crunch but too tough to chew. (I think that's the name of the current AC/DC tour.)
My favorite was the Garlic Butter Melt, which has actually taken some heat from haters (you know who you are) for not being garlicky enough. Me, I was happy not to encounter that fake stinking-rose twang I associate with Papa John's garlic sauce, which tastes like something mopped off the Cinema Paradiso's floor. It's just an uncommonly juicy roast-beef sandwich with a gooey Swiss-cheese topping, subtle enough with the seasoning that you can still taste the caraway seeds in the rye. A call to Arby's confirmed that the butter is on the toasted bread, not the meat.
Will I miss the Limited Edition Patty Melts when they're gone? The last rose of summer they ain't. But they beat Arby's previous attempts at premium sandwiches. If I have 15 minutes and two bucks to get lunch, they trounce the fare at midtown gutbomb squads such as Taco Bell, White Castle and (ulp) Jack-in-the-Box.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled writing about food.