I get it. It’s hard to forgo food snobbery. Food from chains is inferior, chock full of calories and rife with all sorts of junk. But it’s okay for us to indulge in those comforting, calorie-rich dishes every once in a while, right? Sometimes for the sake of sanity we just need to throw our food inhibitions to the wind and satiate our visceral cravings, no matter if it adds a little girth to your waist for the day.
Here are some secret indulgences. What are yours?
Cheddar Bay Biscuits!—they are the first, and best part, of any meal at Red Lobster. Cheesy, warm, melt-in-your-mouth om-nom-numminess with an addicting garlic butter, it’s the biscuit at its best. We are all blessed now that Costco carries the boxed biscuit mix so you can make them as you crave them at home.
I long for Olive Garden’s Steak Gorgonozola-Alfredo—the wide fettuccine noodles tossed in gooey, creamy Alfredo sauce and topped with chewy strips of steak, pleasantly pungent Gorgonzola cheese and bits of sweet tomatoes and spinach. The pillowly garlic breadsticks and what seems to be a bottomless salad are an added bonus.
When I was a kid, my mom used to refer to the Aussie Cheese Fries as “a heart-attack on a plate,” every time my brother insisted on ordering the cholesterol-raising, artery-clogging, tummy-hugging appetizer. At 1,935 calories (1,221 calories from fat), mom was right. But the melty mess of Monterey Jack and cheddar, bacon bits and vessel of sublime spicy ranch sauce make these fries intoxicating.
Chipotle reigns supreme in the world of South of the Border fast food. Portions make you feel like you are bulking up for game day, and flavors feel as authentic as they can get for Americanized Mexican. The burrito bowl topped with smoky, spicy Sofritas (organic tofu cooked with roasted tomatoes, onions, peppers) and your favorite fixings will entice even the most die-hard meat-eaters. For the omnivorous folks, the braised carnitas and barbacoa are winners too.
Back in the day (seven years ago), I remember Noodles & Company’s basic, yet yummy pasta selection (Pesto Cavatappi, Mac & Cheese, and Penne Rosa). Then something happened; the company used its noodle and got the wild idea to add some Asian flair (udon in sweet soy sauce with veggies and rice noodles stir-fried in a spicy peanut sauce). The Bangkok Curry includes rice noodles served with cabbage, broccoli, carrots, red bell pepper, onion and mushrooms in a sweet coconut curry sauce dotted with nutty, black sesame seeds.
Hiding out in Starbucks’ bakery case, among the hot breakfast sandwiches and buttery croissants, is the Spinach & Feta wrap. While the Bacon & Gouda roll may be calling your name, think again. There’s more to the simple breakfast-in-a-blankie. Cage-free eggs, soy, spinach, tomato and feta are bundled in a warm and gooey wheat wrap that is only 290 calories, making the Spinach & Feta wrap a guilt-free morning munchie.
Marissa Hermanson is a freelance writer and editor in Richmond, Virginia. Her stories have been featured in Cosmopolitan, Forbes Travel Guide, Ski, and Southern Living. When not writing, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen with glass of wine in hand.