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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The Rip [short story]

The first hole opened up on a day so hot and bright you didn’t know where to aim your eyes. Even looking down at the sun-baked pavement was painful; looking up was out of the question. The only sensible approach was to squint straight ahead at what was in front of you. Maybe that was what it was counting on.

The five of us had finally all reached the age where our respective parents were ready to send us off to the pool by ourselves. Kendra had been showing up by herself practically since she was old enough to get in alone, while Toby’s protective parents hadn’t cleared him until that summer, with high school just around the corner. At ten years old, Blake’s little sister Melanie was the wild card. She’d been begging and ingratiating herself for weeks, and their parents had finally insisted that Blake bring her along, much to his dismay.

We’d been swimming for most of the afternoon, and the heat and the splashing had worn holes through all of us. There’s a peculiar exhaustion you feel after enough time in the water, when you step on land and feel your full weight once again. We were chlorine-sapped, feeling what little breeze there was on our strange new bodies. Melanie had reached the point of complaining about how hot it was, how hungry she was, how she didn’t want to leave yet, somehow all at once. Blake had already snapped at her twice, as the rest of us swapped glances and tried not to interfere.

All of this is to say: we were just young and hazy enough not to be as alarmed as we should have been when we rounded the corner, our minds vaguely set on the promise of milkshakes and air conditioning.

In the center of the parking lot, a perfect circle stood on end, about seven feet around.

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