I used to work near the Flatiron Building in New York City. It's an iconic neighborhood, full of history. It's also not bad in terms of quick, quasi-affordable lunch options.
(Affordable by New York City standards, mind you. If you live almost anywhere else in the country, you'd be shocked by what we pay for a sandwich or a salad here.)
Somehow, I missed an obvious lunch place to try: the Chipotle NEXT Kitchen, where they test out new menu items. It's about nine blocks south of my old office. So, when I was back in the neighborhood recently with an hour to kill, I figured I'd give it a shot.
Just $2.25 later, my mind was blown.
Okay, the total bill for a burrito bowl and a bottle of iced tea came to just shy of $18. (Again: New York, man.) But it was the $2.25 add-on that provided me with an unusual insight.
I actually wrote about part of this last August ---- although I sort of forgot about the whole thing. (I write so many articles for Inc.com that it's often hard to recall them immediately.)
It's about how Chipotle is still recovering from the E. coli outbreak it suffered back at the end of 2015 and 2016. One of its new strategies had to do with a menu revamp, and that in turn involved inviting customers to add applewood smoked bacon to their orders.
It was limited to a pilot program in eight Chipotle restaurants in California, plus, apparently, the experimental NEXT Kitchen in New York.
Now, I love bacon, but I was skeptical. As I wrote last year: Um, does Mexican food usually come with bacon? Like, isn't it already salty enough?
Now, I found myself staring at the $2.25 add-on. For journalistic integrity, I had to give it a try.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've always liked Chipotle. And when Chipotle rolled this test out last year, its chief marketing officer assured America that "consumers have always said 'everything tastes better with bacon."
But I have reached an astonishing conclusion. There is at least one type of cuisine that is not improved by adding bacon to it.
At least by the standards of my palate -- admittedly perhaps not the most sophisticated when it comes to Mexican food, since I come from an Irish background, and grew up in New England - adding bacon to a burrito bowl just makes the whole thing seem like a sad attempt at trying too hard.
I wondered if Chipotle had come to that conclusion too, after running the test for six months. Sure enough, a Chipotle spokeswoman, Erin Wolford, confirmed that Chipotle had "concluded the test and are reviewing customer insights to determine next steps."
Which is fine. It'll be counter to the trend in fast food, if Chipotle quits bacon, since McDonald's, Wendy's and other chains have been doubling down on it.
It probably doesn't hurt that trend that in the wake of the trade war with China--which resulted in the Chinese slapping a 62 percent tariff on U.S. pork products, bacon is cheaper than it's ever been in the United States.
But "low costs" doesn't mean "tastes great."
So, despite the fact that we live in a country that can support bacon ice cream, bacon-infused vodka, and even bacon chocolate, soap, cologne, and lip balm, I think we've found our "bacon Waterloo"--the moment at which we realize we can go no further with bacon.
But good for Chipotle for giving it a try. As Wolfrod told me separately, "Menu innovation is crucial to our success."
And that makes sense. It also reminds me, I noticed that there was another new menu item I haven't seen elsewhere at the NEXT Kitchen: frozen alcoholic cocktails that looked like they'd fit right in on Spirit Airlines.
I was visiting at about 11:30 in the morning before a business meeting, so I didn't imbibe. But ladies and gentlemen, I'd be willing to go back and try. All in the name of professional journalism, of course.