Reality Check »

Reviews of fast food burgers and a look at how the real life version compares to the advertised beauty shot.

Reality Check: Carl's Jr./Hardee's Southwest Patty Melt

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[Photograph: CKE Restaurants, Inc.]

So have you seen the new Hardee's/Carl's Jr. commercial with Kate Upton? Well, after six or seven viewings (there are three versions, after all: a 30-second TV spot, a 60-second director's cut, and a behind-the-scenes video), it turns out that the softcore food porn is actually promoting a new burger creation, the Southwest Patty Melt. (An easy message to miss, what with all the undressing, sweating, and writhing.) Don't get me wrong; I have no problems with a scantily-clad swimsuit model. And the chain freely admits in their PR verbiage that they're targeting "young, hungry guys," so mission accomplished. But obviously, it takes more than a sexy commercial to make a smokin' sandwich. So SI cover girl aside, how does the Southwest Patty Melt itself stack up?

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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

My first impression was surprisingly positive. Right out of the box, the burger (hold the outrage, patty melt purists, that's what it is), it compared favorably to the professionally-primped version. Not as much cheese peeking out from under the bun, a little less ooze from the Santa Fe sauce, fewer jalapeños readily visible, and no onions in sight. But still, that's not a bad-looking fast food burger.

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A closer inspection revealed some flaws. The Black Angus beef had that dull, dry, grayish-brown hue of most commercial/industrial patties. The overall shape reminded me of the faux-homestyle look I saw most recently on the BK Toppers, and those charbroiled "grill marks" looked a little suspect. The onions, swimming in melted cheese below the burg, weren't at all like the ones in the ad. The PR shot makes it look like the burger's sitting on fried onion tanglers or straws. The company propaganda claims they're "grilled." Mine looked simply "diced." There wasn't the preponderance of jalapeño slices I expected to find. (What was here looked decent enough, though, not those slimy slivers out of a jar of pickling juice.) The "toasted sourdough" sure had the classic griddled look, but was spongy and squishy to the touch, with absolutely no crispness to that outermost golden brown surface.

But I'll be damned if the Southwest Patty Melt didn't win me over. There's an initial burst of onion, even some crunch...although not quite the ear-shattering sound effects from the TV spot. And while I didn't find myself scrambling to unsnap my uncomfortably-stifling garters or mopping at my perspiration-misted cleavage à la Miss Upton, the burger's jalapeños do bring a mild, mellow heat that lingers for a good while. Think slow burn, not raging inferno. The cheese and Santa Fe sauce combine for a rich creaminess that envelops everything and tones down the spiciness, with the buttery sourdough finishing things off nicely. My third-pounder was very satisfying, with a proportionate amount of beef, albeit just fast-food quality. (Quarter-pound and Six Dollar models are also available.)

I'd love a smidge more crispness to the outer crust of that sourdough bun, but that's a relatively minor complaint. In all, though, the Southwest Patty Melt is absolutely one I'd order again. Kate Upton can do all the making out she wants to with hers, but I'll be eating mine.

About the author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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