Butteryjack baby1e

It's better than it looks.

Image: Alice Levitt

I have to admit, I've been avoiding this one. Butter-topped burgers? Signature curly fries, my least favorite of all fry varieties? Jack in the Box sounded, well, abhorrent.

My earliest awareness of the chain stemmed from a rash of E. coli deaths in the early '90s. But I'm older, more soul-dead and less concerned about my well-being than ever before. Over Thanksgiving weekend, it was time to throw caution to the wind and order that burger.

It was lucky that I already had my mind made up, because the motley menu is overwhelming. It's perfectly possible, nay, reasonable, to pair an egg roll with a taco and finished off with a plate of mini pancakes. The horrifying late night Munchie Meals essentially do that for you, with repasts that combine, say, a cheese-and-ranch-topped fried-chicken-and-hash-brown sandwich on a croissant with two tacos, fries and a drink.

But my goal was to keep it simple: A Bacon & Swiss Buttery Jack, seasoned curly fries and a Jumpin' Jack Splash. The two young women, babbling incoherently to each other when I entered, snapped into cheerful duty when I told them I was new to the chain. They guided me through the fry selection and got me a Jumpin' Jack Splash when the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine told me it was unavailable. I have to admit, I don't understand the fuss surrounding the fruit drink. It's advertised as lemonade blended with cherry, lime and raspberry ("0% fruit," the sign declares defiantly), but the result tasted to me like a mellowed-out red Kool-Aid.

But Jack had more surprises in his box. The fries were mostly thin shards, broken off their coils with a seasoning that betrayed little beside salt. They were basically baby-sized bistro frites. And that terrifying burger was delicious. The bacon was crisp, the Swiss actually tasted like Swiss. I wasn't able to distinguish between the garlic-herb butter and bacon mayo. As a unit, it amounted to liquefied aioli pleasantly tangy enough to enliven the rest of the fatty flavors. It was one of the best fast-food burgers I've had, similar to, but an improvement upon, the BK Stacker.

Best of all, the E. coli hasn't taken me down yet. But there are always more chances.

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