Things I Have Put in My Mouth Lately(ish): the Schwifty Steak

By now, we’ve all heard about last weekend’s Szechuan Sauce debacle. Many a hot take has been written over the past few days about the confusing attempt at marketing by McDonald’s, as well as the behavior of a bewilderingly large segment of the Rick and Morty fandom that seems to be missing the point.

I’m going to take this as an excuse to write about a related limited-edition dish that I got to eat myself back in June. During this year’s Wizard World Philadelphia, two Reading Terminal Market vendors teamed up to make a Schwifty Steak; that is, a cheesesteak with the infamous “Mulan sauce.” They probably reckoned they’d make bank off of the influx of geeks, and I can’t imagine they were wrong. Hell, they got my money.

It should be noted here that I’ve never even seen a full episode of Rick and Morty. The extent of my viewing is pretty much Gazorpazorpfield, “get your shit together,” and the scene that started this whole mess. Oh, and learning the awful truth behind “wubba lubba dub dub.”

Nevertheless, I was curious. When my then-partner mentioned the Schwifty Steak, I thought that if nothing else, it sounded delicious. That Sunday, I took the walk to RTM to try it for myself. (It also happened to be my 30th birthday. Oh yeah, I’m 30 now. Time is a ceaseless horror and that seems very on-brand for this whole experience.)

The Schwifty Steak was created by Spataro’s Cheesesteaks, with an assist from Condiment, who created the Schwifty Sauce that was slathered on each sandwich. (They also make a transcendent lime curd, and I’ve eaten truly embarrassing amounts of their toum.)

I say that it was slathered on each sandwich. I should have said “each sandwich but mine.” I waited in the long lunchtime line and got my sandwich all the way to Dilworth Park to eat in the sunshine, only to open it and find a regular non-Schwifty steak. Disappointment seems like an essential part of this whole experience.

Usually I just resign myself to eating whatever’s in front of me when this happens, unless it’s something I can’t stomach. But, damn it, it was my birthday and this was a curiosity, so I made the walk back and awkwardly stood in line waiting to get someone’s attention. Thankfully, Spataro’s was great and sent me off with not only a fresh Schwifty Steak, but the original sandwich as well. Two cheesesteaks for $13 means you aspiring financial planners can cool it.

Gazorpazorp blorp

Not a tremendously photogenic sandwich. Also, there’s a reason I haven’t used Instagram in ages.

But how was it? It was: fine. Tasty. The sauce was appealing with a decent spicy kick, though nothing overpowering. I can’t speak to the nostalgic “accuracy” of the Szechuan sauce, as I missed the boat on the original stuff back in 1998, having been a spice-averse tween. (I’m willing to bet this stuff was spicier than the original and my 11-year-old fears were overblown to begin with.) The fried onions were great and always welcome. The American cheese felt like a weird choice, except as a McDonald’s pastiche.

Was it worth it? I mean… sure. It was a good sandwich, as was its cousin, devoured the next day. I only had to wait in a long-but-not-more-so-than-normal lunch line 1.25 times, rather than clamoring to a nearby franchise to battle over a few handfuls of sauce packets. As gimmicks go, you could have it a lot worse, but gimmick it was. 1998 isn’t coming back. Your favorite show won’t save you from what’s coming around the bend. There’s no escape.

Wubba lubba dub dub!

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Things I Have Put in My Mouth Lately: 7-11’s New Jones Sodas

On Sunday I found myself at 7-11 buying cat food, because that’s what happens when you forget to stock up at the grocery store and then find yourself in the throes of a Meowing Emergency State. I’ve been trying to cut way back on my soda consumption, so of course I made the mistake of looking at the beverage coolers. My eyes were drawn, as they so often are, to the most x-treme ‘90s looking stuff in the case. The black-and-white photos on the labels looked awfully familiar. Sure enough, a closer look revealed a familiar name: Jones.

Jones Soda is a smallish soda company based out of Seattle, known for unusual flavors (approach their holiday packs with caution) and featuring customer-submitted photos on their labels. In my preteen and early teen years, a bottle of Jones was a regular treat on nights my brother and I spent with our dad. I have particularly vivid memories of selecting a flavor and suitably cool label picture on our runs to the supermarket on the way home. I have Ideas about kids of divorce and our weird food attachments, but that will be for a later entry.

Anyway, Jones has been tapped by 7-11 for a line of store-brand sodas. There are five flavors, including unusual-in-the-U.S. fruits like lilikoi and rambutan. I bought them all, because I have no self-control. In my defense, I brought them to a Fiasco session that night to share with friends, thinking a group taste test would be fun. However, my friends are smarter than I am and drank almost none of the soda, leaving me to play Drink Roulette while stabbing everyone in the back and getting off almost scot-free. Jones Soda makes you a character in a Coen brothers movie; pass it on.

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Things I Have Put in My Mouth Lately: Malört and Irn-Bru

This past weekend was one for the ages as far as swallowing strange liquids is concerned. Top three for me, at least.

For the uninitiated (i.e. most folks outside the Chicago area, where it was formerly produced and is primarily distributed), Jeppson’s Malört is a type of bäsk, or Swedish wormwood schnapps. You may recognize wormwood as “that stuff in absinthe that’s supposed to make you trip balls,” if you’re a teenager or an ill-informed, pearl-clutching moral guardian. Neither absinthe nor Malört contain anywhere near enough thujone to make you hallucinate and/or die. The one time I tried absinthe, all I got was a mild buzz followed by a faux-consumptive cough that lasted for a week afterward. I guess you could say the experience was historically accurate in that sense.

Anyway, the worst you can say about wormwood in distilled alcohol is that it’s super gross. Not long after I first came to Chicagoland in the summer of 2005, I saw the famed Malört face for the first time. I don’t have a funny story to tell about the circumstances because my long-term memory is a sieve that strains out virtually everything that isn’t personal humiliation or obscure trivia, but suffice it to say that I was not the one making the face. My friends who were native to the area filled me in and, like the true champions they are, never tried to subject me to that particular rite of passage.

As the years passed, I started to consider it something of a point of pride to have dodged the Malört hazing for so long. Every time I missed a round of shots for the out-of-towners, I gloated a bit. I confided in others that, despite all my years in Chicago, the stuff had never crossed my lips. More than once, I was told I was tempting fate.

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