Reality Check

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

We Try the New Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger from Hardee's & Carl's Jr.

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[This photo: CKE Restaurants; All others: Todd Brock]

Granted, pretty much all fast food burgers live in that narrow spectrum between "that's not terrible...for a fast food burger" and "that sucks donkey balls." But when you desperately need a quick fix, there's usually a numbered value meal or two at a megachain outpost that you can count on to be up to snuff. Hardee's has traditionally been one of those places for me, with better-than-you-might-expect burgers that certainly don't compete with a legit product from a sit-down joint, but don't stray into lewd-acts-with-livestock territory either.

If I'm being honest, though, their limited-time-offering burgers are starting to, uh, drift a bit south as of late.

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That's their new(ish) Buffalo Blue Cheese Thickburger, which Hardee's and Carl's Jr. both rolled out at the end of August. Looks decent, and you know what you're getting right up front, based on the name. Pretty straightforward, but the CKE brass are under the impression that they're breaking revolutionary new ground here. Here's an excerpt from the official press release:

...we began playing around with the unique flavors of Buffalo wings on a burger and found that the combination tasted great... It really is the best of both all-American classics coming together for the first time.

Yes, my carnivorous ladies and gents, according to chief marketing officer Brad Haley, the crack R&D teams at Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have just now invented putting hot wing sauce and blue cheese on a burger.

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Planting your flag in someone else's backyard aside, somebody should tell Hardee's and Carl's Jr. to ease up a bit on their execution. This was the sight that greeted me upon opening my burger. Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce is literally flooded onto the burger—both upstairs and downstairs—in massive squirts from a squeeze bottle, enough so that mine was running off in a gush of Day-Glo orange before I'd even picked the sandwich up.

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I'd advise you to not pry up the bun and peek under the hood. I believe I may have jokingly/snarkily referred to a burger once or twice in my AHT tenure as a "crime scene," but this actually looked like one. I love blue cheese, but could tell at a glance that this would be way too much of a good thing and almost certainly overpower the burger.

Turns out I was wrong. Oh, it was overpowered, all right. But the overpowering came from what seemed like a gallon of wing sauce. As hot sauces go, Frank's is quite tasty, palatable even to non-hotheads. But this was like doing a shot of straight wing sauce and then chasing it with an otherwise-nondescript-but-still-too-blue-cheesy fast-food burger. There's so much lubrication from the hot sauce and the now-melted blue cheese that one bite in, every slicked-up component of the burger makes a compete jailbreak.

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Again, that's after one bite. I could have actually tried to get every ingredient to shoot off in a totally different direction for that photo op, but I'm positive that I couldn't have staged more of a barely-held-together mess with a Hollywood special-effects team.

Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are on thin ice with me. The "Superman" burger with its "bacon nest" wasn't terrible, but hardly lived up to its moniker. The one with Jim Beam bourbon sauce, the JalapeƱo Turkey nightmare, and the one with Memphis barbecue sauce were all disasters. You'd have to go back to the Southwest Patty Melt to find an LTO from the chains that I enjoyed. (And to be perfectly honest, I have a feeling Kate Upton had something to do with that.)

[Video: Hardees on YouTube]

Yes, it wouldn't be a Hardee's/Carl's Jr. burger without a borderline-NSFW commercial to go with it. For the Buffalo Blue Cheese Thickburger, whose unveiling coincided with college football season, they turned to Katherine Webb. Yes, she's Miss Alabama 2012 and a model in her own right, but the real reason anyone knows her is because sportscaster Brent Musburger ogled her on live TV back in January. Webb was sitting in the stands at the BCS National Championship Game as her boyfriend played quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide when CBS cameras found her...and play-by-play man Musburger suddenly turned into your creepy grandpa who gets eleventy-seven kinds of inappropriate every time a 20-something co-ed is brought home for Thanksgiving dinner.

A little bit goes a long way, Hardee's. And I'm not just talking about the (admittedly) spot-on Musburgeresque leering and the gratuitous T & A in your commercial. It's the burger that ad is selling, too. I like wing sauce. I like blue cheese. But if you put them on a burger (even one that you "invented"), I should to be able to taste that, too.

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, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, 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 The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.

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