Commentary: Cheesy delight

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Just 2 minutes and 51 seconds recorded nearly 35 years ago (yikes!) and initially released on a 45 rpm record, the song has become part of our cultural history.

“Cheeseburger in Paradise,” one of pop icon Jimmy Buffet’s most memorable hits, not only became a signature anthem for his large and loyal following, the phrase morphed into a gourmet burger chain 10 years ago that now features a couple dozen locations in 16 states (mostly on the East Coast and in the South).

Along with a “beach party atmosphere,”Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants offer a slew of high-end burgers, such as the Beach Burger (American cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes—h-m-m-m . . . sound familiar?); the Turkey Burger (promoted with the description “can be substituted at no additional cost”—could you make it any less appetizing?); the Bacon Cheddar Burger, which needs no further description; and the chain’s newest item, the Braveheart Black Angus Beef Burger.

The latter is described on the restaurant menu as consisting of a beef patty “made to order, fresh, never frozen from small Midwestern farms, which guarantee (sic) superior quality from farm to table.”

Of course, most restaurant menus go overboard in hyping entrees that often turn out to be rather pedestrian fare. The characterization of the Braveheart Black Angus Beef Burger, however, sounds suspiciously like some hack in corporate marketing dreamed up what was supposed to be a wholesome-sounding turn of phrase appealing to people concerned about eating a cheeseburger that might not be viewed as a healthy choice for one’s “beach party” luncheon.

Criticism aside, credit is due to Buffet for creating a phrase that not only anchored a great sing-a-long tune but captured the culinary enjoyment embodied in what many would argue is the quintessential American entrée—even more so than hot dogs, french fries or apple pie, generally considered the other contenders: grilled beef-and-cheese-on-a-bun with whatever fixins fit your fancy.

Such is the appeal of the classic sandwich that today is officially designated as National Cheeseburger Day. Well, “officially” meaning that the Cattlemen’s Beef Board decided that seeing as how summer’s over across much of the country and school’s back in session, wouldn’t it be a great idea to encourage Americans to grill out on a Wednesday night in the middle of the work week?

I’m not knocking the concept, only the timing of it—and the rather limp promotional support the board provides (example: Want ideas on “helpful entertaining tips?” the website asks. How about “fresh summer specialties like corn on the cob, juicy tomatoes, crisp green beans and cool salads?” Really? Like we couldn’t have figured that out on our own?).

The only problem with celebrating cheeseburgers as a main menu item is its nutritional profile. Consider some of the gourmet cheeseburgers being marketed at foodservice (keep in mind that USDA recommends no more than 30% of calories from fat daily):

  • Ruby Tuesday’s Bacon Cheeseburger: 85 grams of fat, with 63% of calories from fat
  • Red Robin Cheeseburger: 70 grams of fat, with 61% of calories from fat
  • Sonic’s Super Cheeseburger: 63 grams of fat, with 57% of calories from fat
  • Bob Evans Cheeseburger: 41 grams of fat, with 56% of calories from fat

Even the plain old Burger King “regular” cheeseburger contains 16 grams of fat, with 43% of calories coming from that fat content, which is better than all the gourmet specials, but still way outside the recommended dietary limits.

That means that despite its appetizing appeal, the cheeseburger can’t be considered as anything other than an occasional luxury, nutritionally speaking. ÿ

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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