Considering the fight against fat in the U.S., you’d figure the writing was on the wall: “Go healthy or go home.”
But despite a rush to health-consciousness spurred by a country with a nearly 33% obesity rate and an 8% diabetes rate, not every company is being forced to follow the transformational trail embarked upon by companies like McDonald’s (MCD) and its Egg White Delight McMuffin, or Taco Bell and its Cantina Bell menu.
Some are still thriving by pushing the caloric boundaries — and the elastic around our pants — in the other direction.
A couple of America’s quickest-growing fast-food chains are exploding on savory fare. Californian grilled cheese chain The Melt sports a mac-and-cheese sandwich, among others, and then there’s the Asian-inspired Unami Burger, whose “Manly Burger” is topped with beer cheddar and bacon lardon. The duo boast growth rates of 150% and 100%, respectively, according to Technomic.
But perhaps my favorite example of indulgence gone right is another grilled cheese shop, Melt Bar & Grilled (no relation). This renowned, independently owned shop is located in the Cleveland area, and while it’s best known for slapping cheese between several slices of bread, it also features one of the better beer rails I’ve seen, as well as specialty sodas and desserts fit for a county fair.
Finding calorie counts for its menu items is a chore, but probably also unnecessary. Why? Because I’m going to show you a picture and an excerpt from Melt’s Bar & Grilled’s “Melt Challenge” page, and you’ll get the idea.
Granted, that’s Melt’s challenge sandwich, but many of its other offerings will test your belt’s mettle, too. Its current summer dessert promotion? “Peanut butter flavored bread pudding full of Reese’s peanut butter morsels and chopped Reese’s cups.”
And that delicious fatty — but always fresh — fare has helped the shop expand from its original Lakewood home to three more locations, the last two coming in consecutive years (2011 and 2012).
Of course, there are other, more familiar restaurants adopting the “bulgier is better” mantra to push the needle:
- Taco Bell: Despite launching Cantina Bell, the Mexican fast-food purveyor hasn’t completely buckled to the svelte horde. It’s also updating its Beefy Crunch Burrito just a couple years after it came out of retirement. Rather than tortilla chips, Fritos — the greasy snack of school cafeteria lunch lore — will provide the burrito’s crunch. The Beefy Crunch Burrito thus joins the Doritos Locos Tacos as products brought to you by Yum Brands’ (YUM) partnership with PepsiCo (PEP) and its Frito-Lay division.
- Dairy Queen: DQ is adding a new summer-themed dairy treat to a sugar-licious Blizzard shelf that already includes Oreos and Heath bars. Now, the new a S’mores blizzard pairs marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker with its traditional soft-serve.
- Long John Silver’s: The fast-food seafood shop — in a possible homage to Patton Oswalt’s “KFC Megaleg” bit — is plunking down a fish plank fit for Triton. The Big Catch is a slab of haddock “more than three times the size in weight of their whitefish.”
- Red Lobster: The nautical branch of Darden Restaurants (DRI) is taking its pellets of joy, the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, and using them for the crust of a new Shrimp & Lobster Pot Pie through early July.
- Huddle House: The Southern diner chain is going full pork this summer, offering up the pig-happy Bacon’Que Sandwich Platter, which includes BBQ-covered pulled smoke pork garnished with bacon, as well as the heart-busting homestyle dish Chicken Fried Chicken.
Funnily enough, two recent, highly publicized menu additions that sounded indulgent at first blush turned out to be healthier than their makers’ close alternatives. McDonald’s recently replaced its specialty Angus burgers with quarter-pounder versions sporting the same toppings — like bacon and cheese — though the QPC actually has less beef and 250 fewer calories than the Angus Deluxe. (But don’t worry, Angus lovers — Carl’s Jr. has your back!)
Of course, “healthier option” aside, neither are really playing to the thin seats.
And that’s OK by me.
Kyle Woodley is the Deputy Managing Editor of InvestorPlace and just knows the comment section is going to devolve into diatribes about American health. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.