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Taste Test

That sandwich may taste great, but how’s its ‘eat-in-carability’?


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Breakfast sandwiches

A. McDonald’s Steak Egg & Cheese B. Taco Bell Waffle Taco C. Burger King Croissandwich D. Bruegger’s Riviera Egg Sandwich E. Caribou Coffee Chicken Apple Sausage F. Subway Sunrise Melt G. Panera Bread Mediterranean Egg White H. Hardee’s Frisco Breakfast Sandwich

In search of a delicious breakfast sandwich that can easily be consumed  in the car, our intrepid restaurant reporter tried eight, from the Waffle Taco on down, and gives this review. (On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 is the best.)Next stop: to the pharmacy to refill his Lipitor.

Sandwiches aren’t just for lunch anymore. In the intense battle for the breakfast customer, sandwiches have become the centerpiece—with franchises using just about any form of carbohydrate as a bun: muffins, bagels, croissants, flatbreads, tortillas and now even waffles and doughnuts.

Why sandwiches in the morning? Simple: They can be easily eaten on the go, preferably in a car. After taste and price, convenience rules the morning, so quick-service restaurants have discovered that breakfast sells better when it can be consumed without causing a 10-car pileup.

Portability—or, as we’ve decided to call it, “eat-in-carability”—is vital for any breakfast sandwich. So that was the biggest thing we looked for during our recent taste test of breakfast sandwiches at eight franchise restaurant chains that have locations near Franchise Times World Headquarters in suburban Minneapolis.  

Make no mistake, though, breakfast is important for restaurant franchises. It is the only real daypart that is growing. According to the market research firm NPD Group, traffic grew 3 percent at breakfast last year, and fell at both lunch and dinner. The Chicago-based firm also predicted breakfast traffic would grow 9 percent at quick-service restaurants over the next nine years. 

The key element in a good breakfast strategy is convenience, and that’s why sandwiches are so important in the morning. Consumers will sit down and use a fork and a knife to eat a lunch. They don’t do that as much at breakfast. You can’t exactly eat pancakes or scrambled eggs while driving down the interstate … Unless those eggs are rolled up in a pancake-like bun and is called a sandwich. We believe this eat-in-carability is the reason McDonald’s breakfast has been so successful. Nothing is easier to eat on the go than an Egg McMuffin. 

Jonathan Maze

Caught in the act: Franchise Times’ Jonathan Maze on hard duty.

For the most part, the sandwiches we ate succeeded at this basic function. One big exception was McDonald’s Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel. We avoided the McMuffin and the McGriddle because we knew they were portable. Instead we went with this premium option, which had steak, egg, cheese and fried onions on a bagel. It was one of the best sandwiches we tried during this food fest. But it was also messy. 

The company should take a lesson from Bruegger’s, which supplied a nicely wrapped Riviera Egg Sandwich, with egg, brie and prosciutto on a rosemary and olive oil bagel. It was good, to be sure, but it might have been the easiest of the eight sandwiches we consumed. 

Similarly, Caribou’s Chicken Apple Sausage sandwich, on a brioche roll, was easily devoured on our two-mile drive between the coffee shop and home, although the flavor wasn’t as impressive as the Riviera’s.

Taco Bell’s new offerings are all designed to be portable. The A.M. Crunchwrap is easy to eat, but we found the Waffle Taco to be somewhat difficult in a car setting—not as messy as, say that McDonald’s bagel, but a bit more work than the neat crunchwrap or Bruegger’s Riviera. I had the Waffle Taco with sausage and the syrup they provided. We enjoyed the taste, but you have to like the combination of syrup and sausage for that to work. Plus, syrup generates sticky fingers. And that gets on your steering wheel.

The surprise in our taste test was how easy it was to eat a Subway flatbread breakfast sandwich—the Sunrise Subway Melt, with turkey, ham, bacon and egg on a folded-over flatbread. I enjoyed the availability of vegetables. After all of these eggs and sausage and bacon, it was nice to eat a few plants, too. 

My need for healthier fare also led me to order the Mediterranean Egg White sandwich at Panera—sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and feta, with egg white on a ciabatta roll. It was delicious, the best sandwich we’d tried during our foray into fast breakfast. But it’s not quite designed for travel. We had a terrible time keeping the egg white in the bun. In Panera’s defense, the chain doesn’t target travelers, but it is worth noting as the concept adds more drive-thru windows.

We ended our week-long breakfast odyssey with a Frisco Breakfast Sandwich from Hardee’s, which we also liked, albeit not as much as many other sandwiches. It had ham, American, Swiss and egg on a toasted sourdough bun. It was generally easy to handle, but its size made for some slight difficulty. 

Overall, we’d say the chains got the eat-in-carability right, except for McDonald’s bagel sandwich. Yet, given that company’s superb track record at enabling us to eat their sandwiches while accomplishing all sorts of other tasks, we should probably give that one a pass. Only the next time we have to get breakfast on the run from McDonald’s we’re getting a McGriddle. 

 

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