Jack in the Box, Nashville TN

I have readers in other states who no doubt are raising an eyebrow to see a junky fast food place like this show up in their RSS reader. Hear me out, though. In the Atlanta area, Jack in the Box is a complete novelty, because this chain has very oddly chosen a curious path in its coast-to-coast expansion. Somehow, and I’m not sure this was an accident, they’ve hopped right over the entire I-75 corridor. Ubiquitous in California and the southwest, they expanded as far east as Murfreesboro, and then there’s not a thing until you get to the Carolinas. Our friend Samantha suggests that the nearest to us is in Anderson. They haven’t touched anyplace in Virginia or points north, nor Florida. It’s very weird.

The other really odd thing is that they’ve completely upgraded their logo and appearance but the restaurants and stores in the southeast still have the older, square logo with the capital letters. Their advertising and ancillary products like take-out bags and sandwich wrappers have a new logo with a fancy J, lower case letters, and the square has become a fake cube with a solid “shadow.” It’s an oddly elegant design choice for food so… inelegant. It’s also very weird to see multiple branding on one product. I was speaking with somebody who works in marketing a few weeks ago, and she reminded me of the confused example of Hardee’s, shortly after they were bought by Carl’s Jr., maintaining the old logo on some stores with their modern menu, and the new logo on stores that still used the old menu, sometimes just one interstate exit apart from each other. Jack in the Box feels like that.

I took the photos below at night, with apologies for the poor lighting. It is appropriate in its own smug way, because the best time, perhaps, to enjoy Jack in the Box is at three in the morning, drunk. This is food for alcoholics and teenagers.

Well, I wasn’t drunk when I made my late-night run to the Jack in the Box across the street from our hotel in Nashville, but I did wake around three, horribly dehydrated and feeling awful. I had two cups of water, but decided that I really needed something carbonated and a little food. Fortunately, Jack in the Box stores are open 24 hours. This just goes back to what I’ve said all along about when and where to eat. When you’re at home, never eat anything that you can find someplace else. When you’re someplace else, never eat anything that you can find at home. So Jack in the Box is a curious novelty for us. I’ve only eaten here maybe seven or eight times and found them perfectly serviceable fast food burgers. I imagine that I might have found a better meal somewhere else, but at three in the morning, I can’t tell McGavock Pike from Gallatin Pike from any other Pike in this city full of sprawling pikes and have no idea where any better three in the morning meal can be found.

While I’m familiar with Jack in the Box’s serviceable burgers, I had a simply terrific one at Pied Piper six or seven hours previously and didn’t wish to follow that up with a fast food imitation, so I had a spicy chicken sandwich. One amusing thing about the fast food industry is that nothing exceeds like success. Whichever chain first came up with a spicy chicken – it was possibly Wendy’s – did not find themselves in the driver’s seat for long, because they all have spicy chicken now. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve had enough habanero sauce to have burned away certain receptors on my tongue, because I have only Jack in the Box’s word that the sandwich that I ordered was spicy.

The other thing I had was something that has not been imitated elsewhere. Jack in the Box’s ultimate drunk food is on their value menu. Two tacos for ninety-nine cents. These are, I assure you, quite unlike anybody else’s tacos. They’re curious and intrigue me in much the same way that my fascination with the really disgusting “Redpop” flavor of Faygo leads me to sample it every so often, and encourage others in my company to do the same, just so I can see their eyeballs sink back six inches. These tacos can’t be considered good, and not even serviceable in the way that their sandwiches are. I’m not even sure what the heck sort of meat they think they’re putting in these shells, nor what they’ve done to the shells to make them impossible to accidentally crack in the wrapper like will happen at with a Taco Bell taco, but I imagine the whole affair must have been assembled to absorb alcohol in the stomach. If you’ve never had the dubious, oddball pleasure of these tacos, always two, always ninety-nine cents, just imagine deep-fried catfood with lettuce.

Every so often, when I’m visiting with friends and the subject of out-of-town fast food comes up, one or more of us will occasionally wish for some of these interlopers to move in. Wouldn’t it be nice if that Burger King down the road would shutter, and a Jack in the Box, a Whataburger, a Culver’s, a Roy Rogers, open in its place? We have more than enough Burger Kings in Atlanta, and no Skyline Chilis or Moby Dicks or Arctic Circles. But that would kill the novelty, and quickly. All that would be left is some place we can avoid at any time and any place.

But I’ll tell you what, dehydrated and woozy at three in the morning and no pantry with food of my own, that spicy chicken was pretty darn good. Even the taco. But only one of them. Not two.

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