There’s been no shortage of high-profile targets that have earned a special place on Anthony Bourdain’s shit list: Paula Deen, vegetarians... Last week, during Bourdain's Reddit AMA, a new enemy emerged:
"If you treat me like an idiot though and serve me crap with utter contempt. I can spiral into a serious depression for days and I will not be nice about it. This means you, Johnny Rockets."
Well, that was harsh! I haven’t been to a Johnny Rockets in maybe 10 years — entirely because I lived nowhere near one — but from what I can remember, it was pretty damn great for a chain restaurant. The burgers were decent, the onion rings were spectacular and, best of all, they made a serious chocolate malted.
I am an aficionado of sorts on chocolate malteds, with few I’ve tried up to my standard, yet even under my intense scrutiny, Johnny Rockets' held up. They were thick, didn’t skimp on the malt and came in a tall, frosted glass with the metal blender cup full of leftovers served alongside. They were indeed nowhere close to the “crap” Bourdain described.
The agony of being a malted aficionado — which made the Johnny Rockets quip even more cutting — is that it is nearly impossible to find not only a superlative chocolate malted but even a half-decent one. Making this even more remarkable is that it takes barely any skill to make one. For all you ice cream scoopers and soda jerks out there, this is how it’s done:
Bourdain is a man in the know, so surely he feels my pain in this situation. Then why the very public takedown of one of the malted community's only proper chain restaurant outlets? Why jeopardize its business and potentially leave us in a world where we should suffer nothing but the horrors of Chocolate Frostys? Was there something rotten in the state of Johnny Rockets? I had no choice but to put on my reporter hat do some very serious and very important investigative journalism.
My husband and I visited Johnny Rockets for a midweek “lunch date.” My code name was Sasha; I called him François. He didn’t understand why we had to have fake names, because he is absolutely no fun. He wouldn’t even wear a special “reporter hat.”
The place was appropriately kitschy, with older ladies waiting on us and calling us “hon” and “sweetie pie.” I was grateful they didn’t do any of the singing or dancing I recalled Johnny Rockets had — not because I doubted their talent, but because I have a mild phobia of singing-and-dancing servers. You know that terrible, sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re embarrassed for someone else? You want nothing more than to reach out and grab them out of their personal hell, from the sheer indignity of being forced by their employer to jump onto a counter and do the Electric Slide while a room full of strangers looks on, begging you with their eyes to stop. I’d say that’s worse than being embarrassed yourself. It’s probably in the top 10 worst emotions ever. If abolishing this practice is one of the changes the Johnny Rockets corporation has made in the decade since my last visit, then kudos to them!
You know what doesn’t get kudos though? Its abomination of a chocolate malted.
Johnny Rockets, what have you done? You had an item of beauty, of near perfection, and you’ve destroyed it. Gone is the chocolate ice cream, replaced by artificial-tasting vanilla and chocolate syrup. This is not even a basic chocolate milkshake — it is a Brown Cow. At the core of its being, it is very, very wrong.
Also gone: the malt. And I saw the malt! I saw a big ol’ tin of Carnation Malted Milk powder on the counter, which I can only assume is now just for show and filled with the spare change and errant sewing supplies that always mysteriously end up inhabiting empty tins.
Johnny Rockets, I am begging you: Please bring back your original recipe. Restore your chocolate malteds — and your milkshake menu as a whole — to its former excellence. Where you had once been a titan — dare I say, the standard — of the milkshake industry, you have fallen far. You have broken my heart, Anthony Bourdain’s heart and who knows how many millions more. Please, for the good of humanity, bring back our milkshakes. We have seen your gift, and we know you still have it in you.
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