Fast Food Review: Carl’s Jr. Charbroiled Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich

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Ah yes, fast food fish. It always comes in squares. This is presumably to distinguish it from chicken, which comes in circles, and burgers, which come round everywhere except Wendy’s, where they arbitrarily make them square to stand out. We only need McRib to go triangular, and two fries laying across each other, to get the complete PlayStation symbol string. Because if you can’t play with your fast food, what are you going to do? Eat it? That comes with consequences far greater than playing, my friends.

Carl’s is the first major chain I know of to do a non-breaded fish sandwich, part of their sleight-of-hand to make you think they’re not one of the most unhealthy chains in America. It’s all summed up rather well by one of their unique sides: fried zucchini. You think, “Hey, green vegetable. Go me!” without realizing you’re dipping it in buttermilk sauce after it’s been greasily breaded.

Biting into this fish sandwich, I understood why fish sandwiches are breaded. It’s not a flavor thing; it’s a structure thing. Fish has to be tender enough not to taste too rigidly flaky, yet firm enough to withstand the pressure of a bitedown without smooshing flat in the middle and having fish splooge out the sides of the bun. This particular item lasted about halfway through the eating process before falling victim to The Flattening. So that’s not so bad.

Like every other sandwich that they’re trying to pitch as healthy (charbroiled chicken, turkey burger), it comes on a wheat bun, and then has the addition of lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. No cheese. Mistake. The fish patty is heavily seasoned in pepper, of which I approve, but the overall effect is one of eating black pepper-flavored textures of varying degree. Not enough flavor. Long John Silver’s used to put banana peppers on their fish sandwich; Carl, ever fond of jalapenos, should have considered something similar. But then, Carl’s dead. Not unlike the taste sensors in my tongue appeared to be while consuming his company’s fish.

The trick here is, I guess, to compare it to the fried fish sandwich, which, truth be told, was a bit of a joke – take a couple pieces from the “fish and chips” set, throw them on a bun, and call it a sandwich. That thing fell apart in seconds. So this looks more like proper food, and stays that way. What I wouldn’t give, though, for the company to have made it a “Southwest” fish sandwich, with chipotle sauce and peppers. I know those aren’t flavors that normally go together – every time I’ve had fish served spicy, it’s been in a tomato-based sauce.

But fast food isn’t real food, so it need not obey the laws of reality. I think it comes from a David Lynchian parallel dimension, developed by dwarves who speak backwards, served by perennial teens who’ve had frontal lobes removed. Just a theory. Or a pitch for a revisionist “Keebler Elves” movie, which you KNOW some misguided studio has actually purchased the rights to at some point.

Anyway, if you get the fish sandwich, get extra sauces. You’ll need them.