The pancake chain pulled quite the publicity stunt the other day, and if it was attention they wanted, they got it—but will America actually show up for those burgers? We tried some of them, and here are our findings.
The market may be saturated with flailing restaurant chains in need of a reboot, but did anyone besides the analysts know that IHOP was one of them? It's IHOP, bro. Everybody knows you go there for pancakes. The clue's in the name—International House of Pancakes. Who doesn't love pancakes, or breakfast in general, any time of day or night?
Of course, it has been well documented that we love all of that just fine, us Americans, but apparently, lately, we've been busily getting it elsewhere. After delivering great results a few years back, IHOP's traffic has now taken a tumble; according to reports, the numbers have been down for over two years now, and that's not good, not at a time when it's pretty much sink or swim in the dicey waters of Chain Restaurant Land.
What happened the other day, clearly, was a shameless play for our attention, and boy, did America sit up and swivel around. If IHOP was looking to be noticed again, the company got what it paid for, but noticed for what? After slipping our collective minds for some time, IHOP decided not to refresh our memories about all the things we've always found them wonderful for, instead choosing to charge back into our lives and make us start asking the question: Really, guy?
No, seriously, IHOP—we haven't hung out in ages, and now you want to talk about burgers? At a pancake house? Apparently, yes—out with the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity, in with something you can get everywhere else.
Okay, fine, you asked for it. After all that buildup, after all the press, after all the backlash, the celebrities and competing brands making fun of them on social media, there was no way I wasn't headed straight to my closest IHOP, to find out exactly what was going on. I hadn't been to one in over two years, so really, the campaign was already paying off—they'd gotten me through the door.
Well, the virtual door, anyway—turns out, IHOP has a pretty great mobile ordering set-up, which I happily used. Fifteen minutes before showing up, I placed an order for two of the entries on this new-fangled, Ultimate Steakburger menu we'd all been hearing so much about. IHOP has always served burgers, but they weren't something most people noticed, when they went there—now, with the improved and expanded offerings, and all that money behind them, try not noticing.
Because this was IHOP, and they should know from such things, I went first for the Big Brunch burger, which looked, I have to admit, pretty great. The construction of the thing was pretty impressive. Soft brioche bun spread with special sauce, then a freshly-made hash brown patty, then that Black Angus burger, nicely charred, American cheese, hickory-smoked bacon, and, voila, a fried egg, over-easy. This attractive little monster came served with a side—I chose unlimited French fries—and a drink for $10.99.
Looked great, and—big surprise—tasted great. With America already being burger-ed near to death, of course the talking heads are asking, just how is IHOP going to stand out from the pack? Answer: With things like this Big Brunch burger, that's how.
The whole thing was, well, it was nice. The bun was well crafted, just pliable enough, the meat tasted great, like real meat, good meat, and the idea to breakfast the whole thing up was right on brand. I liked this burger. I would order this burger again, and I think a lot of other people would too, if they could see their way toward letting IHOP burgers into their life. Let's throw another chain under the bus, for comparison's sake—I ate, not that long ago and probably for the last time, at Red Robin. Brand-wise, they are to burgers what IHOP is/was to pancakes. I'd rather have this burger, and you know why?
It tasted like food, rather than defrosted cardboard, and they cost about the same. No contest.
The fries, unfortunately, were standard issue sadness, so the offer of unlimited access wasn't as appealing as one might think, but that turned out to be okay, because the second burger I tried came with onion rings, and those were terrific. Thick, meaty, crispy—and a heap of them, too.
But I'm jumping ahead. The second burger was the Jalapeño Kick, and it promised a spicy time: "This one will kick you back." The topping was advertised as a "spicy blend of sautéed jalapeños, Serranos and onion," and they weren't kidding—this one packed a punch. In the mix as well, you had more of that bacon—great bacon, which of course it should be—and a generous amount of pepper jack cheese, and again, that bun, spread with a nice jalapeño mayo. This burger cost $10.49, and, once again, came with a side and a drink—I didn't know it at the time, but I could have gone with two pancakes as my side. That would have been, well, a little bit insane. I'll probably do that next time.
What I might not do next time, however, is order the Jalapeno Kick burger—next to the Big Brunch offering, it didn't quite measure up. First of all, the promised lettuce and tomato had gone missing, making the thing seem a little bit beige, not to mention a touch anemic for the price.
The flavor, that was fine, impressive, actually—seriously, these burgers, even if a touch overcooked on the day I tried them, are pretty tasty; the idea of a mountain of spicy but also flavorful peppers, not to mention good jack cheese, is a very good one, indeed—the Jalapeno Kick was almost like a more general riff on New Mexico's green chile numbers. On balance, however, all quibbling aside, IHOP is for sure in the ballpark, with these new burgers, no doubt about that—now they've just got to make sure they hit a home run.