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    The 30-Day Challenge

  • Sharon Olson, president of Olson Communications, tests her will and waistline in a month-long experiment in which she only eats food from the top quick serves in the nation.

    I also learned the difference that premium condiments can make. Not all mustard has to be bright yellow or mayonnaise based, and I was delighted to find lots more flavors to add to my sandwiches today than five years ago. Not that I have anything against yellow mustard, which is great on a Chicago hot dog, but there are none of those in the QSR 50.

    For hot breakfast, the Egg McMuffin has become a time-honored favorite, although I do remove half of the muffin. Egg whites have become all the rage, and there were some terrific ones. Starbucks and Einstein stood out since they both executed those particularly well. Others were a bit too much of a stretch and did not measure up. When I went to Dunkin’ Donuts I really wanted a fresh, indulgent, I-am-worth-the-splurge doughnut and some good coffee; everything else was unnecessary to me.

    Let’s talk entrée salads. When operations pretossed the salad, I found the huge amount of dressing universally overshadowed the quality ingredients in the salad. In a few places, when the chicken was served cold, there was a gelatinous layer of seasoning that could be peeled off, and that eliminated all of the appeal. By and large my favorite salads were the simple fresh side salads with good dressing I could apply myself.

    Flatbread is another hot trend, and when it was done right, it was really delicious. But some operations insisted on calling a square, puffy perforated cold piece of white bread flatbread. A plain old bun would have been more honest.

    Even though there were some terrific fresh breads within the QSR 50, there seemed to be way too many carbohydrates overall. No matter how good the bread was, I found myself taking off half the bread, scooping out the inside of a bun or pulling off half the wrap that had no filling. There were enough places that found the perfect balance, so I knew it could be done.

    I was impressed with all of the new healthier offerings that allowed me to choose a more balanced selection from day to day. I enjoyed almost all of them and only a few forgot that no one wants to sacrifice taste for healthfulness. But I was just as impressed with the right portion sizes of uncompromised favorites that made them so enjoyable. No matter where I ate, I always wanted a little splurge that hit the mark. Mostly it was french fries, ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies. Even when they were not the best I ever had, they were still really good. For over-the-top indulgence, Cold Stone Creamery is in a class of its own. But I was pleasantly surprised at Carl’s Jr. when I had to go back to the counter and ask for a spoon for my shake because it was too thick to drink with a straw. Wow!

    By the end of this great culinary adventure I had eaten at 29 of the top 50 chains in the QSR 50. I took a break and returned to my old favorite restaurants with table service and great wine and approached the Green City market like a true believer at the end of a pilgrimage. But this culinary adventure reminded me of some of my old favorites and helped me discover some new places that I happily returned to the very next week for something I craved.