Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we have the craziest stories to ever grace a fast-food counter. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
"My then-fiancé and I were waiting in line at our hometown McDonald's. We were up next behind a gray-haired, kind of grizzly-looking guy in his 50s or 60s and everything was moving along until he got to the front of the line. The cashier asked him what he wanted and he asked, 'Which of your sandwiches are fat-free?'
"The cashier looked understandably puzzled. 'The lower-fat sandwiches? Like the grilled chicken?'
"'No,' the old guy said, irritated, placing his hands on his hips and raising his voice a little. 'I didn't ask for the low-fat sandwiches, I asked for the NO-fat sandwiches.'
"The cashier turned away, consulted a few co-workers, then went off to the side where there were a bunch of those 'nutritional facts' sheets in a clear plastic folder on the wall. She glanced at it a minute, and then set it on the counter in front of the guy, pointing down one of the columns.
"'This lists our entire menu, sir,' she said. 'Everything has fat, except maybe the water and the Diet Coke. Look, even the light salad dressing has fat.'
"This did not placate the guy, who apparently was convinced he was being taken for a ride. 'Unbelievable,' he said, half-raising his hands in the air. He glanced behind him at the line, which was getting fairly long now that he was tying up one of the registers. I don't know what he was expecting -- a mob to rally with him, maybe, demanding mythical fat-free cheeseburgers? Since we didn't all band behind him, he turned back to the cashier, raising his voice again.
"'I didn't ask about your salads. I don't want to eat a salad, I want to eat a sandwich. A burger -- or a chicken sandwich at the very least -- that has no fat. I can't have ANY FAT.'
"Another customer in line, maybe trying to be helpful, said, 'No fat at all? That sounds pretty strict.'
"The guy did not look happy. His nostrils flared and his face started to turn red. 'You would want to be strict too if all that fat was going to YOUR heart!'
"At this point, I realized it was cholesterol he was talking about, even though he kept saying fat, but since he was practically steaming out of the ears and I just wanted my hangover burger, I didn't speak up.
"'This place,' the guy said, now addressing the whole crowd of customers waiting to order our own little bundles of fat, cholesterol, and self-loathing on a sesame seed bun, 'is just getting WORSE. AND. WORSE. It's unbelievable! They're trying to kill me! There's fat in EVERYTHING!'
"'Well,' the same helpful customer said, 'it's McDonald's. Maybe you should try somewhere else?'
"'I guess I will,' the guy said, and he picked up the nutritional facts sheet. He took it with him and stormed out, yelling the whole way out: 'I can't believe this! How hard is it to just get a FAT-FREE BURGER that's not going to kill me?'" -- Caroline McDonough
The Hardee's angels
"I worked for a couple years in a Hardee's while in high school. I pretty quickly got to the point of working the busiest times.
"When I came home from college one time, I went to a football game and ran into a buddy that I had worked with, so we decided to go back to the Hardee's for a drink and to see if anyone we knew was still there. It was all strangers, but we got some drinks and sat down to catch up.
"While we were talking, a couple school buses pulled into the lot. Buses are always crazy and it was 11 or so at night, so the place was not remotely prepared for that kind of mob. We watched them panic for a few minutes as people poured in.
"We'd both been 'senior' cooks who were used to working the busiest times, so I looked over at him and said, 'Let's give them a hand.' We went in the back, grabbed hats, and washed up. He took the side line and I took over the grill. We just dove in and started slinging food, but it was immediately clear we knew what we were doing. No one there had a clue who we were or where we came from, but we were saving their butts, so no one even asked. Even the manager, who was helping the front line, just looked at us funny and tried to keep up. Everyone was just scrambling to get food out. As soon as it started to slow down, we both dashed out the door without ever introducing ourselves or giving any explanation whatsoever.
"Somewhere, there are a few people who might recall a strange story about these two mystery cooks who showed up out of nowhere and then vanished into the night." -- Paul Sorensen
The chicken sandwich with just cheese
"The first year my dad and I attended San Diego Comic-Con, we had the brilliant idea to stop by Subway beforehand and get sandwiches to stow in our backpacks for later. It'd be something we could eat quickly anywhere in the convention hall and we'd avoid the crappy overpriced Con food. Perfect.
"So we head to the nearest Subway. It was off-hours in terms of lunch or dinner, so there were no other customers and only two employees, both teenage girls around my age. Dad made his order, I requested my usual: a chicken sandwich on wheat with just cheese.
"The girl at the register hesitated for a second before ringing that up, but I thought nothing of it. Dad and I chatted about our convention plans while the sandwiches were made, not paying attention at all.
"Once we got in the car, we divvied up the sandwiches to pack away and I noticed mine was weirdly lightweight, even for something with almost no toppings. I unwrapped the sub. Wheat bread with just melted cheese. No chicken.
"'Yeah, I thought that sounded pretty weird,' the girl said cheerfully when we went back in to correct the order. She'd charged us for a chicken sandwich, by the way.
"In a way, I guess that was a 'chicken sandwich with just cheese,' but still." -- Margaret Lee
"My nephew and I ordered hamburger meals at McDonald's. They gave us cheeseburgers. I handed them back to the cashier and explained the mistake. She took the cheeseburgers, rewrapped them in hamburger wrappers, and tried to give them back to me.
"Did she think the wrappers were magic paper that negated the existence of cheese?" -- Sarah Pell
The revenge of Grimace
"One of my very good friends was a manager at a local McDonald's. Being a corporate store, the place was always having large events where the various mascot characters would show up. When it was something slightly larger or more publicized than average, corporate HQ would send one of the 'professional' costumes to the store for use.
"Well, one summer day, THE Grimace costume showed up. My friend's husband and I were loitering around the store waiting for the end of her shift (about 4pm).
"We were all bored, as it was unusually slow, and we were all sharing a flask of good whiskey. She was well past the point of giving a fuck, having dealt with mouth-breathing rednecks and snobby soccer moms all day. So she piped up with, 'Hey, you wanna see the costume?'
"She proceeded to bring what can only be described as a body bag out from the back. Sure enough, it was exactly what she said it was. We all looked at each other, grinned evilly, and had the same thought at the same moment…
"Her husband pulled his car around to the back of the store. Out the back door and into the backseat of the car went one 6' black zipper bag. Flash to two hours later, we had successfully smuggled the costume home, managed to get her husband into it, and began taking photos.
"On that evening, we documented the secret life of Grimace. Beginning in their living room, Grimace began an all-night, crosstown bender of debauchery, from whiskey to guns to porn and attempted sodomy. At one point, he even robbed (with full consent from the clerk, once he stopped laughing) a liquor store. All of this was documented with over 100 wonderful photos. [Editor's Note: Brett sent me the photos, because occasionally the universe is a wonderful place where dreams really do come true. To date, this is the only story I've had documented with photo evidence.] At the end of the night, the costume was packed up and returned several hours before the scheduled event, with no evidence that it had ever been gone.
"To this day, the photos remain one of our more precious mementos of our days of utter willingness to go to any length for a laugh. Nothing brings us as much of a fondness for the past as 'Project Purple.'"[Editor's Note: I have a personal rule that any time I get a story that includes the words "attempted sodomy" and "Grimace costume," I have to publish it.] -- Brett Raynor
Do you have a restaurant, home-cooking, or any other food-adjacent story you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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