Does McDonald’s brand-new “fancy” restaurant stack up with the best of its neighbors on Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row?
That’s a clown question, bro.
Or it would be if anyone could track down Ronald McDonald. The fast-food giant’s mascot is conspicuously missing from the cafe-style joint that opened last month inside its massive nine-story West Loop headquarters at 110 N. Carpenter. If this 6,000-square-foot flagship restaurant is the “McDonald’s Experience of the Future,” as advertised, it means the future is looking very sleek, dreadfully sober, but—well—not all that much different in the end.
Perhaps the most startling part of this upscale Mickey D’s is the entryway. You walk up to the entrance and a red-tinted translucent glass door that slides open to allow you in. The interior is certainly un-McDonald’s-like, classy, spacious, full of mid-century-style furniture, minimalistic light fixtures hanging overhead, and wood-paneled walls—but in a bland, nondescript way. Throw in a half-dozen touch-screen kiosks you can order from (though you can still order from a traditional counter if you choose) and a large world map on one wall illuminated with McDonald’s golden arches and it’s hard not to feel like you’re dining at a middlebrow coffee shop inside a placeless airport terminal.
The actual food? It takes you right back to nearly every other fast-food joint on earth. The menu is chock-full of woefully standard burgers, fries, shakes, and salads with some pastries and other coffee shop-ish items thrown in. Yes, this mothership McDonald’s brags about its one-of-a-kind international menu that includes a Brazilian McFlurry, with strawberry sauce and chocolate-covered coconut candies as mix-ins, and a “French” pasta salad. But we’re not exactly talking exotic foodstuffs. Hilariously, the Cheese-and-Bacon Loaded Fries are somehow listed as Australian (sounds pretty goddamned midwestern to me) and the standard side salad is branded as Canadian—though perhaps that’s a metacommentary on how averse we are to veggies in America.
Ordering from a touch screen and getting table service at a McDonald’s is certainly an amusing novelty, and the chairs are cozy, but I was disappointed to find that my meal wasn’t gussied up to match the more upscale digs. As usual, it’s paper everywhere—paper wrapping your sandwich, holding your fries and drink, covering your plastic tray, and there in napkin for you to wipe the grease from your fingers. My McSpicy Chicken Sandwich, labeled as a special menu item from Hong Kong, turned out to be a glorified McChicken—with no spiciness to be found.
In other words, don’t expect a Michelin star here anytime soon. But maybe that’s okay. Restaurant Row is full—probably too full—of fine dining experiences in what was once a working class, lunch pail kind of neighborhood. In a pinch, it’s nice to have an option that doesn’t require a reservation, a long and doesn’t break your bank. And maybe, just maybe, it will convince Au Cheval to adopt a Dollar Menu.