Buckling up for KFC’s Double Down

For some time now I had been planning this for fodder in a piece of stunt journalism. I mapped out my route to 14th Street between Second and Third Avenue, and much like I might for an interview with a celebrity, I brought my trusty Fisher Space Pen and black Moleskine flip notepad to document the experience. It was 12 April, opening day for the new KFC Double Down, and I was going to nom, nom, nom my way through pop-culture’s newest, most-talked about fast food creation.

Instead of stringing you along for a few hundred words, I’ll admit straight away that it didn’t happen. Not really. I hit the KFC right at lunch time and even ordered the “sandwich”, but when I held it aloft for the first bite, I kind of punked out.

I wanted to feel like a poor man’s Andrew Zimmern, and a poorer man’s Anthony Bourdain, about to embark on an edible adventure. Yet as I eyed this bizarre food – a breadless contraption of two fried slabs of Original Recipe chicken holding together, barely, two slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese, bacon and a squirt of the mayo-esque “Colonel’s Sauce” – it felt somehow heavy in my hands.

What stared back at me was every one of the 540 calories and 32 grams of fat inside this frankenfood. Although Nadja Popovich of NPR’s Shots Health Blog astutely points out that the McDonald’s Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich actually has more calories in it, this, with a texture both somehow greasy yet absorbent, felt like it could be much worse for me.

My tongue shot out for a reptilian taste test and informed my brain of too much salt. I followed up with the teensiest of Smurf-like bites and swallowed my nibble. It wasn’t a good bite.

How many calories had I just eaten? This is the equivalent of how many meals? I’ve not really considered such caloric questions before but for rare times, when I’d wondered how much my lifespan was affected by street meats imbibed from within third world countries. Although I tried to wash out the taste of the Double Down with syrupy Diet Pepsi, and seriously considered following it up with a shot of Purell, it honestly wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever eaten.

In fact, the small bite of Double Down provided a modicum of enlightenment to my life. I learned, for instance, that I’m either not as adventurous as I previously thought, or I’ve simply grown old enough to care on some level about what I ingest.

Plus, it made me envision a world without bread where all sandwiches are encased in meat which holds more meat in between. I felt joy in knowing Web sites such as ThisIsWhyYoureFat.com would have a long road ahead in chronicling the garbage shoved down our gullets. Finally, I experienced a series of deep thoughts about whether KFC was actively trying to provide comedian Patton Oswalt with material, and if he could define the Double Down with the same “failure pile in a sadness bowl” accuracy he applied to the Famous Bowls.

Above all else, however, my small bite of the Double Down instilled in me an enormous amount of respect for KFC. When every other fast food and restaurant chain fears the day when nutritional information and calorie counts must be listed on menus nationwide, KFC says, “Bring it on.”

Instead of rolling out healthier alternatives to fried food, it rebels like a rascally Kentucky colonel and practically flashes its chubby anti-balanced-diet buns at the American Heart Association, the American Diabitis Association, et. al, with this bunless sandwich. In a way, KFC wins big here — even the American battle against obesity loses. Though satisfaction won’t come after eating these things, the chicken chain can be satisfied in knowing that the Double Down is a hit. While I set my chicken slabs down after the first bite, I witnessed order after order of the Double Down take place.

On Monday, 12 April 2010, the word “sandwich” became outdated and gave way to, what? The meatwich? A new era in eating has begun in America, and I for one am in awe — and not a litle bit fearful — of the next wave of Double Double Downs or Double Ups.

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