Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

I came across it by chance.

Walking along the street, I saw something I'd never seen before.

A brand new Rustic Beef Burger.

This novelty was being presented as having "fresh ingredients," all sourced locally. 

The biggest novelty, of course, was that it was McDonald's making this exalted promise.

My wife and I wandered in.

We were confronted by something that didn't look like a McDonald's at all. Or, at least, not like our local McDonald's.

Here were very few people are the cash desk.

It looked more like a very modern cafe, where hanging out might really be a pleasure.

Moreover, you were encouraged to order from a large video screen that confronted you as soon as you walked in. 

The Rustic Burger was there. It had a large "New" above it. I had to try it. 

I should explain that all this happened last week in Lisbon, Portugal and the burger was actually called the Rústico Burger.

Still, I was convinced that I was about to experience something truly revolutionary. And, as the marketing promised, something that tasted homemade.

Just imagine. Fresh local ingredients. 

I tapped at the screen, ordered my burger, fries and lemonade and was overcome with excitement. (Well, I wanted to be.)

This place had a lofty ceiling. It looked extremely modern and thoughtfully put together. It was also extremely noisy. 

Still, my Rustic Burger was prepared very quickly. I took the tray, grabbed some ketchup and we went to find a seat.

This wasn't easy. The place was packed with teenage people who were creating all the noise. 

Could it be because they all loved the new Rústico Burger?

We found a table for two -- but not before I'd accidentally knocked over a teen's skateboard -- and I slowly unwrapped what was sure to be one of the delicacies of the trip.

The bun looked like something out of Whole Foods. Brown and covered with seeds, I thought this was going to be a culinary joy.

After all, the bread apparently came from a local bakery called Panike.

Inside, so I'd been led to understand, were "100 percent beef, spinach, Emmental cheese, mushrooms, grilled onion and mayonnaise and Dijon mustard sauce. All this in grain bread."

And everything was fresh? Who could resist?

I eagerly took a bite. My wife took the second bite.

Then we stopped, looked at each other and my wife, her face a touch blank, said: "So, what do you think?"

"It tastes like paper. Or, you know, nothing at all," I replied.

She rather felt the same. 

On the positive side, it didn't taste like your usual McDonald's burger, all sauce and grease, but it wasn't good either.

Then we opened up the Rustic Burger for inspection.

There were indeed mushrooms -- that we couldn't taste. There were little bits of what seemed like arugula. Yes, the cheese was there. All the other promised things, too.

But perhaps the true, painful culprit stared right back at us.

This may have been 100 percent beef. But this wasn't 100 percent fresh beef. 

I was sure of it. It tasted of absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. Which, in my world, means tofu.

This patty was drier than a blow-dried grain of sand.

I sat there perplexed, robbed of what had promised to be a truly sensory experience.

So I contacted McDonald's Portugal to ask about the 100 percent beef.

"In Portugal we only use frozen beef," Inês Lima, McDonald's marketing and communications director, told me.

No, no. But I was told these were fresh ingredients.

It seems that everything is, save for the star of the show.

"I hope you enjoyed our Rústico Burger and overall experience," Lima added. 

Well, yes. Everything except the food was quite an experience. But this burger tasted about as rustic as a parking meter. 

I adore Portugal. It is by far the most civilized and tasteful country in the world. 

Each individual Portuguese person has more soul than most Anglo-Saxon countries I can think of.

I would walk on a broken leg just to eat the red beans and pork belly dish at the extraordinary Restaurante Raízes

Origens restaurant in Évora serves fresh ingredients in an immensely imaginative manner.

Why, then, would the promise of freshness be so wrecked by this pre-frozen slab in the middle of a burger?

There was only one thing for it. 

I had to return to the U.S. and seek out one of McDonald's new fresh beef burgers. 

That report, coming up.

Published on: May 13, 2018