Get this, hon, there's a burger, but no bun

December 22, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE ARE only about 14 people in this country currently not on a low-carb diet, as Americans embrace the latest fad that promises they can lose weight while still stuffing their fat little faces and getting no exercise.

This accounts for all the low-carb breads and low-carb pizzas and low-carb cookies on the market now, along with the low-carb beers, which have all the taste of tap water and promise even less of a buzz.

Now there's this: the first low-carb fast-food burger.

A burger without the bun.

A burger with everything else - 1/3 -pound beef patty, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, cheese, blah, blah, blah.

But no bun.

The new bun-less burger, which is called the Low Carb Thickburger and contains just 5 grams of carbohydrates, was just introduced by Hardee's.

But you can bet those weasels at McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's will be coming out with their own low-carb burgers any day now.

This is because the Cult of Low-Carb is taking over the food world - more than 30 million Americans are said to be on some kind of low-carb kick now.

(Personal disclaimer: The intent here is not to shill for Hardee's. I am not a regular Hardee's customer. Until the other day, I hadn't stepped foot in a Hardee's in 15 years. But if it's Hardee's that is offering the kind of cutting-edge, reduced-carbohydrate fare my readers clamor for, then, by God, it's off to Hardee's we go.)

In this case, I drove to the Hardee's in Pasadena to sample the new bun-less burger.

And when I say Pasadena, I am not talking about where they have the Rose Bowl Parade and Kathie Lee Gifford and Erik Estrada drone on and on for a national TV audience about which float is passing by and what the Rose Bowl queen is wearing.

No, I'm talking about Pasadena, Md., otherwise known as the "Gateway to Gibson Island!" the proud Anne Arundel County community that sits off Route 100 and ...

OK, fine. We're not here to blabber about geography. Back to the Low Carb Thickburger.

Here is my snap impression of it, based on a highly scientific taste consisting of three bites because I was stuffed from the office Christmas party that afternoon: looks weird, tastes great.

Let's address the looks-weird part first.

Hardee's says its bun-less burger came about as a direct result of consumer demand, spurred by the new national philosophy that carbohydrates are the devil's tool.

"We were getting so many people coming in saying, "Give me a burger and hold the bun,'" Paul A. Cato, who owns a number of Hardee's in Maryland, told me.

And the customers who did order a bun-less burger would eat it with a knife and fork.

Anyway, to eliminate the knife and fork business, the Low Carb Thickburger, which sells for $2.99, comes tucked inside leaves of lettuce instead of a bun.

And it's served in a paper "half-wrap," so you can pick the thing up and stuff it in your yap without lettuce and onions and pickles flying all over the place.

Still, as tasty as it is, there's something jarring about eating a burger with all the fixings wrapped in lettuce. It has something to do with your lips hitting the lettuce before they hit the burger, I guess.

When I mentioned this to Cato, he smiled and said: "Times are changing."

Which, come to think of it, is probably what they said the first time someone proposed eating sushi. ("Let me get this straight. You're saying raw fish and rice stuffed in seaweed sounds appetizing?")

If you're one of the six people left in this country still doing Weight Watchers and monitoring your fat intake, though, you'll probably give the Low Carb Thickburger a pass.

That's because it has 32 grams of fat, nearly half the daily amount recommended for adults. After all, this is a third of a pound of Angus beef we're talking about here. That's what - half the steer?

"We're not saying it's diet food," said Cato. "We're saying: `If you're on a low-carb diet, we have something for you.'"

So far, Cato said, the bun-less burger has been a big hit for Hardee's, even though it has only been on the menu a few days.

And the fact that it was introduced just before the new year was not exactly a coincidence either, you should know.

No, the crack marketing specialists at Hardee's know that the New Year's resolution of millions of Americans is to lose weight.

Which means that come Jan. 1, millions of tubbies will be starting new diets - probably low-carb diets, since it's practically the law now.

And Hardee's restaurants are open New Year's Day - isn't that convenient?

A lot of gyms are open, too.

But who wants to talk about that?

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