If you are familiar with the city of Sydney you will know that Bateau Bay is nowhere near it.
Found 90 minutes north of the city on the quiet Central Coast, Bateau Bay is known as a popular surf and holiday destination with little to no 4G coverage, and a lot of roundabouts and Toyota Hiluxs.
But now, Bateau Bay can add ‘Home of Australia’s First Carl’s Jr’ to its Wikipedia page.
Started in the early 1940s, Carl’s Jr is an American fast food chain specialising in serving burgers and enraging feminists. It has caused a stir by using graphic images of mostly naked women holding burgers provocatively in its advertising campaigns.
Essentially, Carl’s Jr is the lovechild of In-N-Out Burger and Zoo Magazine, and now it’s made the sleepy town of Bateau Bay the Holy City of fast food in Australia.
Being a homosexual, I was not embarking on this hour-and-a-half-long odyssey up the Pacific Motorway because I was enticed by the half-naked women in the Carl’s Jr ads.
Instead, I had to try and compare a Carl’s Jr burger in the context of its already-established competition: McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks and a humble fish and chips shop.
Thus began a marathon of eating. My personal Burger Olympics. Trial by charbroiled burger.
If I was Dorothy, clicking my heels together and uttering ‘there’s no place like home’, I would end up in the line of my local McDonald’s restaurant, not the dustbowl of Kansas.
Eating a McDonald’s Big Mac is as familiar as my mother’s cooking, if not more. Bateau Bay’s Big Mac was on the better end of the spectrum of Big Macs I have eaten.
Beef Patty: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5
Arriving at Carl’s Jr, it seems I was not the only person making the holy pilgrimage to the fast food promised land. There was a line 15 people deep at midday.
A mixed bag of local teens in crop tops, tradies and Sydney hipsters were waiting to enter Carl’s cool interior.
Once inside, service was fast and friendly, I had my Thickburger in minutes. It was pretty sensational. Carl’s Jr’s brioche bun was sweet but not sickly, nor overpowering.
Despite a tough patty, the perfect blend and measure of mustard, ketchup and aioli, coupled with the melted cheese, moistened the burger a lot. The salad was noticeable but not overpowering.
Carl’s Jr really lived up to its reputation. When I left, the line had doubled.
Beef Patty: 3/5
Value for money: 4/5
A short drive from Bateau Bay led me to a takeaway shop in nearby Toowoon Bay.
According to Google reviews, this store had the ‘best food in the whole area’ so I wasn’t planning on missing out.
The PVC door strips were as uninviting as the deadpan staff. The patty was cold, the bread could have been days old and the beetroot soggy. The saving grace was the bacon.
The ‘burger with the lot’ is perhaps better renamed the ‘burger with a lot of average ingredients’. Quality over quantity, friends.
Beef Patty: 2/5
Value for money: 2/5
Indigestion got the better of me as I made for my final destination. West Gosford’s Hungry Jack’s was empty save for two homeless men who were arguing loudly in a corner.
I ordered and sat down quickly, sharp lower abdomen pains starting to get the better of me. Burger was starting to exit via my pores.
The Double Whopper Cheese was a surprisingly nice ending to this burger medley. A definite cut below Carl’s or McDonald’s but an acceptable end with a moist patty and delicious sauce.
Beef Patty: 4/5
Value for money: 3/5
And the winner is…
Having always loyally served Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar, I am now struggling with the inner turmoil of turning to a new deity, Carl.
Carl’s Jr exceeded expectations, yet still only scraped in a close first in front of McDonald’s. For fast food chains, both displayed high-quality ingredients, short wait times and good customer service.
Despite poor public image and bad press thanks to its racy ad campaigns, Carl’s Jr was pleasurable and its flagship restaurant seemed family-friendly enough. No stripper poles or topless waitresses to be seen.
For me, the real controversy is not Carl’s Jr distasteful or somewhat offensive advertisements, but rather that it has opened so far away from me.