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Hot and Battered over KFC

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Earlier this month KFC unveiled the latest addition to its menu: the Double Down. The instant classic includes slices of pepperjack and Swiss cheeses, the Colonel's secret sauce and bacon wrapped not in bread, but between two slices of boneless KFC original recipe fried chicken. At present there are no plans to add Wet-Naps moist towelettes or Pravachol as condiments.

Only epicures in Rhode Island and Nebraska are privy to the Double Down at the moment, but the response has been so overwhelming that it's expected to hit KFCs nationwide shortly.

With the fast-food industry one of the few that hasn't seen a nosedive in revenue during the recession, KFC's competitors are scrambling to create an answer to the Double Down in order to keep their menus relevant and exciting to cash-strapped consumers. One rival in particular is scrambling more literally than others.

Popeyes, the 37-year-old Louisiana-based fried chicken chain, has long bemoaned its lack of a breakfast business because of its fears of going up against such morning food giants as IHOP and Denny's. However, its breakfast bête noire will come to a screeching halt when it debut its new a.m. menu the day after Labor Day.

Instead of several items, Popeyes will only make one available before lunch. Deep fried scrambled eggs wrapped in thrice-dipped French toast with a crispy hash brown crust and a 360 degree layer of bacon prepared three ways (skillet fried, microwaved and raw) smothered in white gravy with sausage bits is expected to provide a little bit of something for everyone. Orange juice and Oreo Milk Shake-uccinos© will be the beverage selections.

"All the calories you'll need in two days are in just one bite of our breakfast meal," gloated a Popeyes spokesman. "It's our way of thanking our customers and their wallets for frequenting our establishment. Oh, and our lawyers have asked me to mention that, calorically speaking, people who partake in our breakfast meal won't need to -- and probably shouldn't, according to some leading cardiologists -- eat anything else for at least 48 hours afterwards."

With their Quad Stacker (quadruple-stacked layers of beef and cheese topped with bacon and sauce for a whopping 1,010 calories and 70 grams of fat), Burger King thought it had achieved the Holy Grail of fast food sandwiches. But to stay in the game, it will add fried butter sticks as a Side Item in all North American restaurants this fall. Available in four sizes -- Small, Medium, Large and I Have an Inexplicable Pain in My Left Arm -- it'll come with a choice of dipping sauces, including Pan Drippings and Surprise Me With What's At the Bottom of the Deep Fryer.

Never one to let Burger King hold an uncontested spotlight, McDonald's plans to roll out a new side dish, too. Deep Fried Crisco Wedges© will not only rival Burger King's fried butter sticks, but in an apparent nod to the growing environmental movement, the containers will be edible, too (packaging will vary by location).

McDonald's, which in recent years has also made efforts to promote more health-conscious dishes, has added an alternative to the caramel sauce that comes with their Apple Dippers.

"If we're pairing apples with a sugary dipping sauce, then let's give kids a sugary but preservative-free alternative," McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner told shareholders at the company's annual meeting last week. "Now parents can choose between apples and caramel or apples and just plain sugar for their kids. That's right. Apples straight from the tree by way of a processing plant and sugar straight from the cane. The way God and dentists intended it."

Wendy's, eager to remain part of the conversation, is said to be in the final stages of adding Fried Coca-Cola to its beverage menu. (In a nod to the low caloric needs of some of their customers, Fried Diet Coca-Cola and Fried Coke Zero will not be available in the Biggie Size.)

In an attempt to appeal to both the health conscious and the guilty pleasure seekers, Arby's has added more vegetables to its fare. Diners can now load up their roast beef sandwiches with fried tomatoes, fried lettuce and fried onions. "Three servings of vegetables in every meal," boasts the menu above the cash registers in their restaurants across the country. "Four, if you get fries and count the vegetable oil."

And as part of their effort to continually think outside the bun, a Mexican food institution is teaming with an ice cream legend to create a new flavor. The Taco Bell Gordita Supreme Sundae is expected to be among the 31 offerings in Baskin-Robbins stores next spring.

KFC hasn't commented on any of its upcoming competition other than to say it is confident the Double Down will succeed. The makers of Pravachol said they're counting on it.


Meredith C. Carroll writes a weekly column for The Aspen Times, Summit Daily News and Santa Monica Daily Press.