Confession…I have not eaten McDonald’s in a while. It was roughly six years ago, during the Lenten season, that I designated 40 days of no fast food. The season ended, but the fasting did not. I would get coffee or ice cream treats from time to time, but never again ordered any of their staples – burgers and fries. When I heard about the new McDonald’s Global Restaurant, I was intrigued. American food chains have long catered to local customers by offering regional food on their menus. For instance, while visiting Hawaii, I learned it’s the only McDonald’s on Earth where you can find spam, eggs, and rice – a breakfast favorite on the island.
The Global Restaurant is on the ground floor of the new McDonald’s headquarters, in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The headquarter’s architecture is clean, modern and quite impressive. Marking a very clear expansion of Randolph Street’s “Restaurant Row,” the burger giant has taken over the former Harper Studios building (best known for being the home of The Oprah Winfrey Show). The two-centuries-old area, once comprised of meat packing plants and produce markets, is now made anew by some of the city’s best, and foodie-approved restaurants featuring visionary cuisine. This trendy food cove is the perfect location for a 78-year-old food chain – the very definition of old versus new.
The interior design is very intuitive. Butterscotch colored vinyl armchair seating and long communal tables give off cozy coffee shop vibes; a distinct difference from the McDonald’s of my childhood. The restaurant’s music: subtle and random. I was seated before I actually noticed Prince singing “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton rounded off this eclectic mix; an odd collection of good songs.
I placed my order at a kiosk near the main entrance. The menus are segmented making it easier to choose from the global specialty items, which rotate bi-monthly. Once my order was placed, I took a number from the kiosk, and my meal was brought directly to the table. The customer service was good and the staff was pretty patient with all my questions. Like, “where are the napkins?” I’m not sure if it is to reduce waste or control consumption, but you are given your napkins, utensils, and condiments with your order. Long gone are the days of taking handfuls of ketchup. Everything is tucked away neatly and must be given to you.
Now to the food…
I wanted to try every global item, but some of the foods are so popular, they run out quickly. (I missed the Canadian Poutine!). I ate a lot of food in a very short period of time; my stomach was not happy, but I had a job to do, right?
What I Ate
Canada’s Keep Calm, Caesar On
This salad had a few surprises. If you are a salad lover like me, you’ll appreciate the hearty and healthy base of baby kale and spring mix lettuce. A contrast to the traditional American romaine-only Caesar, the leafy greens were sturdy, giving every bite lots of crunch. I chose grilled chicken, but there is the option of crispy fried chicken as well. The addition of bacon was different, but definitely welcomed, and most likely the culprit of the saltiness I kept tasting. I would try this salad again. It’s a nice lunch option.
Netherlands’ Maestro Angus Burger
Let me reiterate, I have not had McDonald’s meats in years. As a self-proclaimed burger connoisseur (my friends and I started a burger club!), I was a bit skeptical. Imagine my surprise upon the first bite – this burger was juicy, fresh and flavorful. Two Angus beef patties, topped with red onion, cheddar cheese, and bacon make up this selection from the Netherlands. It seems so simple, yet I swore I tasted some additional flavors. Is that horseradish sauce? It’s a good burger, which should be a given since burgers are their thing.
Brazil’s Top Sundae
The same hot fudge sundae that I have always enjoyed, but now with pirouette cookies added. McDonald’s just took something good and made it fancier. Perhaps better.
What I Thought
I thought I would experience some exotic and unique flavors, taste some curious foods. Instead, I had a few jolts to my taste buds; nothing that left me with a strong impression of love or hate. These were the foods we, Americans, love with a touch of something extra. I wanted the odd but got predictable. However, I like what they are doing. Some of these “global” items, could easily rejuvenate a menu that has not made many changes over its nearly eight decades. They are on to something, and I hope it doesn’t end here.