Another day, another cool sandwich contest. This time, TLC has paired with Panera Bread for a “create your own sandwich” event, with a bunch of cool prizes. First place is $10,000 cash, a $500 Panera gift card, free Panera bagels for a year, and your creation will be featured at Panera Bread locations nationwide. All entries will be judged (on a meticulous scoring system, with “taste appeal” and “creativity of sandwich” being the main factors) and twenty finalists will be submitted to the public for voting.

“DO NOT STEAL”

It’s a fun idea, and it’s worth trying if only to see how many cool ingredients Panera offers. Like the People’s Burger at Red Robin, I’ve thrown my hat into the ring with the Fusion Chicken Satay Focaccia. I tried to translate some of my favorite Thai food into a grilled sandwich, with a blend of Eastern and Western vegetables. Obviously, the very concept of a sandwich is somewhat rare in Pacific Asian cuisine (the Bahn Mi notwithstanding), but I feel like I did it justice.

I’d encourage everyone to enter, and be sure to post your recipes in the comments here. Voting starts Oct. 22, I’ll be sure to remind everyone. A lot. Too much, probably.

The newspaper I write for, The Kalamazoo Gazette, was part of an ongoing project last week by reporters throughout the state to find the best Coney dog in Michigan.  As a sandwich aficionado, I’m all for this.  A lot of people don’t realize that Coney Island hot dogs originated in Michigan, rather than New York.  Throwing chili, onions and mustard on a hot dog is one of the best things you can do with it (in my humble but correct opinion), and there are places throughout the state which do a great job.

A Polish and Chicago dog from Dogs with Style. I've tried (and enjoyed) their Coney as well, I'll probably be posting a review soon.

The full archive is available here.  I’ve also included a link to my thoughts on some of the non-Coney offerings at Dogs with Style, one of the Kalamazoo spots the team visited.

According to research firm Technomic, Wendy’s has dethroned Burger King as the world’s number two fast food chain.  While Wendy’s narrowly edged out BK in terms of annual sales, both were still far behind McDonald’s, with an enormous $34.2 billion in sales.

There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on, invoking everything from mascots to health food trends.  Some of it’s on point, and some of it (in my opinion) is way off.  To me, I think this is an indicator of Wendy’s hard work at managing their image as a higher quality, healthier alternative to McDonald’s.  They’re not going after Burger King or anyone else specifically, they’re just presenting themselves as a niche market, a drive-thru burger place with leaf lettuce and fresh(er) tomatoes.  McDonald’s is always going to be on top, because they’ve found the ideal point of convergence between price and quality, but Wendy’s can pick up the more discerning crowd, which lacks in volume but (hopefully) is loyal.

Winter is coming.

Remember, I’m not saying Wendy’s actually is a healthier, higher-quality alternative.  I don’t have any nutritional values in front of me, but it feels like if you’re health-conscious, any place with a drive-thru probably isn’t the best bet.  But through their advertising campaigns, Wendy’s has managed to project an air of quality, which seems to have caught on.  People know they can go there and pick up a salad instead of a burger in they so choose.  For their part, Burger King seems to be in a bit of a tailspin.  They’ve been trying a couple of different brand concepts and menu items, but nothing so far seems to have caught on.  They’ve relied on being a household name for too long, and now they’re going to have to work to stay in the game.

When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.

The thing to keep in mind about this is that when chain restaurants compete, you win.  Prices drop, and franchises begin offering more creative, bold options in an effort to redefine their brand.  As long as Burger King puts in work and doesn’t thrash around, we should be in for some interesting sandwiches over the next year or so.

As part of a marketing push for the re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, French fast food chain Quick is offering a couple of Star Wars-themed burgers.  They have a Jedi burger with onions and a spicy-looking Darth Maul burger, but the sandwich which has attracted the most attention is the “Darth Vador Burger,” a hamburger which includes cheese, Thousand Island-style dressing and from the looks of it, some kind of hot peppers, all on a jet-black bun.

"I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

The bun is apparently just dyed, and not new flavors have been added to go along with the coloring.  Adding strange colors to fast food isn’t a new gimmick; I remember about twelve years ago Burger King ran a promotion about green ketchup and barbeque sauce.  But dying your bun a color normally associated with burnt food may not be the best decision, Star Wars be damned.  Since it’s exclusive to the French/Belgian chain, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to try this burger, which is a shame.  But if any French Sandwichtalk readers come across it and decide to give it a try, be sure to post your thoughts in the comments.  May the Force be with you.

The reign of the Burger King has ended.  As reported by TIME Newsfeed and USA Today, Burger King is retiring their King mascot as part of a new campaign which emphasizes their “healthy options.”  The change comes after a buyout of the company and a contract with a new advertising agency, so it’s not surprising that BK is throwing out the old to make way for the new.  Still, the creepy awkwardness of the King’s ads was right up my alley, and I for one will mourn the loss of America’s greatest monarch.  Sandwichtalk has not received any comments yet from long-time rival Ronald McDonald, but we’ll keep you posted.

Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet King, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Having conquered breakfast, paninis, and “healthy” fare, Hot Pockets are expanding their empire into more snack-based offerings.  Though their “Snackers” line falls just outside of my purview, the recent “Sideshots” line is somewhat more sandwichy.  You may recognize them from this horrifying TV ad:

Seriously, what the hell?  Anyway, I tried the Cheeseburger and Buffalo Chicken versions, mainly because they didn’t have the Sloppy Joes at Target.  They’re actually pretty good.  Unlike regular Hot Pockets, Sideshots don’t include crisping sleeves, but they manage to keep the bread soft and flaky.  The Cheeseburger Sideshot tastes EXACTLY like a fast food cheeseburger you’d get from McDonald’s or Burger King.  It’s uncanny, and somewhat reminiscent of the cheeseburger-flavored Doritos, although less creepy.  I was a little less crazy about the Buffalo Chicken, but it was still pretty decent quality chicken meat.  Dipping it in Ranch dressing helped a lot, and the shape and style of the bun made dipping an easy and fun option.

I'm honestly slightly surprised they don't have a picture of one with a hat and glasses cowering in terror.

Hot Pockets Sideshots come four to a box, packaged in pairs.  In my experience, it takes about four to make a satisfying meal, but two could be a nice quick snack option.  They cost about $2 per box, which is a pretty good deal.  I wouldn’t get them every time, but the Sideshots are a nice change of pace from the usual Hot Pockets.

SONIC is a sometimes elusive drive-in fast food chain.  I say this because for years, there wasn’t a location in the state of Michigan, so the only time I could try one was on vacation in Biloxi, Mississippi.  They’ve since expanded and are a bit easier to find.  SONIC (as stylized on their website) is a bit of a novelty restaurant, in that you order from your car and are served there by wait staff on roller skates.  They serve a variety of burgers and hot dogs with tater tots as a side option in addition to french fries, as well as ice cream.  I decided to review one of their new Loaded Burgers, the Ring Leader.

When a franchise called Sonic releases a burger named Ring Leader, the 90s video game jokes write themselves.

 The Ring Leader is named for the inclusion an onion ring in addition to the usual burger, bacon, cheese, veggies (lettuce, tomato, more onion) and mayo.  It’s an interesting idea, but there’s not really a lot there.  I would’ve liked a more interesting sauce or something else to differentiate it from an average deluxe burger.  The onion ring is pretty forgettable and the burger doesn’t taste very oniony while you eat.  Afterwards, however, is a different story.  The burger leaves an onion taste for hours, unless you wash it down with something potent.

The Ring Leader runs for about $5-6 as a combo, which isn’t terrible.  However, there are a lot of better, cheaper options available at SONIC.  I would definitely recommend going for the experience, but get something else.  The Ring Leader does have a hilarious TV spot though, which I’ve linked to below for your enjoyment.

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