Anyone who thinks there's nothing new to plop atop a burger need only taste the latest topping Carl's Jr. is testing: mashed potatoes.
Not as a side dish on the burger between the buns.
The sandwiches are called Mashers and include a scoop of garlic mashed potatoes with brown, truffle gravy atop a burger or chicken. Besides the hearty scoop of mashed potatoes, the sandwiches also are sprinkled with crispy onion strings.
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For the moment, it's only in eight Southern California locations, but if the test takes off, it could show up at Carl's and Hardee's restaurants coast to coast. This, of course, is the chain that gave the world the Monster ThickBurger, the Philly Cheesesteak Burger and the Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Big Chicken Masher, at $4.49, comes stuffed with 900 calories and 47 grams of fat. The Burger Masher ThickBurger, at $4.99, weighs in at 790 calories and 42 grams of fat. By comparison, a Big Mac at McDonald's has 550 calories and 29 grams of fat.
'It's an indulgent, decadent way to eat a burger or chicken sandwich,' understates Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl's and Hardee's.
'We're always trying to think of innovative things to put on a burger that others haven't done,' he says. The mashed potatoes are made with dehydrated Idaho potatoes with garlic and herbs.
Mashers are clearly aimed at the Carl's and Hardee's target customer: young guys hungry for volume and offbeat taste. Perhaps that helps to explain the recent success of other, offbeat fast-food items, such as Taco Bell's Waffle Taco and the Jack in the Box late-night Munchie Meals.
But one word of warning: 'The history of the fast-food industry has plenty of examples of novel menu items that never took off,' advises Sam Oches, editor at QSR Magazine, a restaurant industry trade publication.
But he concedes that the messiness of Mashers could actually be a plus. 'The messiness plays into the experience factor,' he says.
Haley says it's not as messy as you'd think. 'I've eaten one. I don't remember it being overly sloppy.'
The sandwiches don't drip much because they're so thick, he says. In fact, the mashed potatoes and gravy 'kind of hold everything in place.'
Mashers will be tested for six weeks or so; then the chains will decide whether to expand them to new markets.
The key to success, says Oches, may be the social media buzz that Mashers earn. Taco Bell, for example, has made each new Doritos Locos Taco a social media event. Carl's may want to do the same with Mashers, he says.
But Mashers are so new, and in such a small test, they don't even have a Facebook page yet.
Asked if there are plans for a Thanksgiving-themed Masher, with cranberry sauce, Haley thought hard.
'We'll take a look at it. And get back to you.'