I did something I hadn’t done in decades on Tuesday. I walked into my neighborhood IHOP. I can’t recall the last time I had been in an International House of Pancakes — perhaps never while sober — so in that regard the chain’s publicity stunt temporarily rebranding itself IHOb, International House of Burgers, was a success.
It got a curiosity seeker in the door. But once through the door, I remembered why it had been so long. There was an unpleasant odor — of old frying oil mixed with evaporated hopes — and a patina of sadness. The wood paneling and faded burnt-orange paint on the walls looked like something from my family’s den, or the family station wagon, from the 1970s. It was just past noon, and it was not very busy.
The gimmick did not appear to have its desired impact, not in the digital world (where hordes of haters on social media have pounced) and not at the corner of South Federal Highway and Stirling Road in Dania Beach. Turns out IHOP is not really IHOb, after all. The sign, the menus, the coffee mugs — they all remained emblazoned with IHOP’s tired and true logo.
But I was here to taste the burgers, and I was willing to keep an open mind. After all, I was pleasantly surprised by McDonald’s recent revamp of its signature burgers. Perhaps the steak burger relaunch at IHOP/IHOb would be just as splendid.
Alas, it was not to be. Before I get to the nitty-gritty (or the gray, gristly overcooked Big Brunch burger, a 1,040-calorie, $8.79 monstrosity that had shoe-leather meat with a fried egg, American cheese and greasy bacon above and a nearly burnt potato pancake below), let me just say that IHOP’s marketing gambit reeked of desperation.
It caused a splash but also ridicule and backlash. Pancakes are IHOP’s reason for being — not that they are any good, but they are what the blue, slope-roofed brand is built on. To be willing to ditch that, even momentarily, for the sake of some cheap buzz undermines the whole enterprise.
It would be as if Coke started dispensing java from vending machines and called itself Coca-Coffee, or if Colonel Sanders started selling seafood items and rebranded as Kentucky Fried Clams. Americans do not take lightly to the toppling of the established order of things.
As for the other burgers, they were edible. The mushroom Swiss burger ($8.59) at least was juicier than the brunch burger, but it was slathered with too much mayonnaise. The “jalapeno kick” burger ($8.79), topped with bacon and pepper jack cheese, had good heat and sharpness from chopped, sauteed bits of jalapenos and Serrano chilis.
At these prices, there are better burgers to be had around town. Given a choice, I’d take Shake Shack or BurgerFi any day.
If IHOP really is intent on becoming the International House of Burgers, I think I’d rather remain homeless.