We all have them: guilty food pleasures. Things that make others arch eyebrows in disbelief and disgust. Things that I am not supposed to like, or admit to liking, as an award-winning arbiter of good taste and fine dining.
“Ugh, you like Skyline chili?” an editor groaned recently when I mentioned my inexplicable fondness for the weirdly spiced, brownish-crimson, minced-beef gravy that’s ladled atop precooked, starchy spaghetti and blanketed with a mountain of shredded cheddar. Yes, I do. And make it a wet four-way with onions, please (that’s the Ohio-based chain’s slang for a plate of chili spaghetti with cheese, diced onions and an extra ladling of chili.)
I began thinking about my other uncultured cravings when I found myself at Taco Bell after a recent review meal gone wrong. I took a few bites of a chicken Quesarito (a hybrid quesadilla-burrito) and took it home. When I ate it cold from the fridge the next morning, shame enveloped me. I kind of liked it. But not enough to land on this list.
Here, now, is my first (and perhaps only) Hate-Myself Eight, the food items I sometimes enjoy with a tall side helping of guilt. Feel free to send me your favorites at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts: There was a time when the opening of a new Krispy Kreme store was a big event and when dozens of cars would line up every time the neon “Hot Now” sign began flashing, signaling the arrival of a new batch of warm and sugary glazed doughnuts. They are no longer as trendy, and they were never healthy, but they are still melt-in-your-mouth addictive. Fancy, “artisinal” doughnut shops from pedigreed pastry chefs featuring gourmet ingredients have sprouted throughout South Florida, but nothing beats the sinful simplicity of a “Hot Now” fresh from the fryer. I took my daughter for her first tasting the other day, and she devoured four in roughly a minute. KrispyKreme.com, multiple locations.
Chick-fil-A sandwich: After a recent taste test involving Chick-fil-A, a reader chided me for not mentioning the chain’s prodigious use of MSG (monosodium glutamate), whose side effects have been hotly debated for decades. I don’t care. I also don’t care about the politics of its owners (I’m pro-choice when it comes to food, marriage equality and family planning). All I know is that I love the classic Chick-fil-A fried-chicken sandwich. The crunchy filet. Those sliced pickles. That toasted, buttered bun. Smear a little mayonnaise on top and you have a crispy, salty, sweet and creamy treat. Forget the waffle fries — I’ll have a second sandwich, please. Chick-fil-A.com, multiple locations.
Skyline Chili four-way chili spaghetti: It didn’t make any sense, at least not to a Brooklyn boy like me. Mushy spaghetti topped with Greek-style chili (flavored with spices such as cinnamon) and then covered with onions and cheddar cheese? That’s a far cry from al dente fettucine Bolognese with fresh Parmesan. Or is it? The first time I was dragged to Skyline, in Cincinnati during a 1989 Miami Dolphins road trip by Brian White, one of my sports writing colleagues (and later boss) who hailed from Ohio, I was deeply skeptical. But I was hooked after one bite. I’ve been going to the South Florida locations ever since. Squirt some Skyline hot sauce on top and scatter oyster crackers for crunch. And ignore the snickers from those who think it’s gross. Skylinechili.com, 2590 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-566-1541, or 2834 N. University Drive, Sunrise, 954-741-3929.
Dairy Queen blizzard: Ice cream is one of those comfort foods getting all fussified by foodies, but on a hot summer day the unpretentious joy of a Dairy Queen blizzard, preferably from an old-fashioned stand like the ones found on Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors or on State Road 7 in Miramar, cannot be beat. A blizzard is DQ’s version of a Midwestern “concrete,” a thick custard that can double as caulking. At Dairy Queen, it is made from soft-serve ice cream, has sundae toppings mixed in, and if your server does not flip it upside-down before handing it to you (proving its thickness), you will get a coupon for your next one free. I flip for the chocolate-brownie and banana-split blizzards. DairyQueen.com, multiple locations.
Popeyes Cajun rice: Many chefs (including the late Anthony Bourdain) have professed their weakness for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, famed for its spicy fried chicken, biscuits and macaroni and cheese. I also like Popeyes, but what drives me there is the Cajun rice, an aromatic blend of spices with ground beef. I’ll take Publix for fried chicken and PDQ for chicken tenders, but for the overall fried-chicken-with-sides experience, there are times when only Popeyes will do. Popeyes.com, multiple locations.
Red Lobster cheddar biscuits: Forget Lobsterfest, Shrimpfest, Crabfest or whatever promotion the seafood chain restaurant is offering. To paraphrase the former Dos Equis guy, I don’t often go to Red Lobster, but when I do I prefer to order a simple piece of grilled fish and devour as many Cheddar Bay Biscuits as the house will allow. Those things are seriously good. RedLobster.com, multiple locations.
Waffle House hash browns: The first Waffle House in Miami-Dade County recently opened, and Broward and Palm Beach counties have had their share forever. The 24-hour chain is a Southern thing (and an inebriated thing), and I got turned on to Waffle House after working in South Carolina for a year. Many people love the pecan waffles, but I don’t like sweets for breakfast. My standard order is eggs over easy with two “Papa Joe’s” pork chops and the famed hash browns. The add-on options abound: I get mine scattered, smothered (with grilled onions) and covered (with a slice of melted American cheese). WaffleHouse.com, multiple locations.
Bad pizza: I ate a lot of great pizza growing up in New York, but curiously, I also enjoyed eating bad pizza. For some reason, I could not get enough of Ellio’s frozen, square-pizza slices as a kid, with its overly sweet sauce, inferior cheese droplets and cardboardlike crust. It was so bad it was good. Partly out of nostalgia, I still like to eat terrible pizza on occasion, particularly at sports and entertainment venues (such as minor-league baseball parks, jai-alai frontons and bowling alleys), where slices with congealed and burnt cheese and hard crust sit for hours in rotating warmers. Is there a 1-800 help line for this?