The world's most popular fast food restaurant does many things wrong.
Every day McDonald's serves up hundreds of thousands of sandwiches that are little more than fat stacked with fat coated in fat. They attempt to replace true happiness with oil-soaked paper sleeves filled with once-healthy vegetables and meats battered beyond recognition. They created the McDLT, the famous sandwich with a hot side that stayed hot and a cold side that also stayed hot.
There are too many transgressions and tragedies to count, but shovel through the sludge and you'll find one gleaming triumph.
The McDonald's Cone is ice cream in its most perfect form.
The world of ice cream is often a world of disappointment, especially for the snackologist that's counting calories (the saddest sort of snackologist). Take Ben and Jerry's, for instance. A pint of Cherry Garcia, one of my favorite flavors, bears a nutrition label that proudly displays 250 calories per serving. That's not very much at all, in the grand scheme of things. Read closer, however, and you'll discover that the serving size is half a cup, and that each pint contains four servings. That's 1,000 calories in one tiny package.
Readers with ridiculous amounts of willpower might not see what the big deal is. The other readers — the truthful ones — are feeling a little bloated right about now.
And while I love Ben and Jerry's and Hagen Daas, those additive-packed concoctions are to pure ice cream what a chef salad is to lettuce, so far removed from the point of origin that they become something else entirely.
When I think ice cream, I envision something much simpler. I see a pale beige cone with swirls of creamy white on top. I taste shocking cold sweetness that gradually joins with a subtle crunch. My fingers reflexively pinch, prepared to tear off that paper wrapper to get to the good stuff.
I'm thinking of the cone so famous it has its own transforming robot toy.
I'm thinking McDonald's.
The origins of McDonald's reduced fat ice cream cone are shrouded in a mystery so dense that only one with the power of the world's most popular search engine could ever hope to unravel it.
So instead of the inception we'll focus on the construction of this fabulous frozen desert.
First, we have the cone.
If you've ever tried McDonald's ice cream in a plastic cup, then you know the power of this cone. By itself the ice cream is a fine treat, but nothing to write a lengthy review about. Coupled with this so-called 'kiddie cup' it becomes the champion of the summer snacks.
The Dipped Cone
Recently McDonald's has gone wide with the Dipped Cone, the traditional treat that trades perfection for a fine layer of chocolate. The best time to buy Dipped Cones is when you're the only person at the drive-thru. That way you can watch the employees turn the cones upside-down, dip them in the chocolate, and then come up with a completely topless cone. I've had one drop the top in four times before getting it right. That's entertainment.
The secret is in the base. The traditional cone-shaped pastry ice cream container gradually removes the sweet dairy product from the equation. At the end of the experience you're left with a solid point completely devoid of ice cream.
The 'kiddie cup' configuration, on the other hand, marries the experience expertly from the moment your mouth reaches cone to the very last bite.
No two McDonald's cones are the same. Every employee, from corporate bigwigs to the lowliest sandwich slinger, has their own method of crafting this masterpiece. Some go for three loops and a swirl on top. Some start with the nozzle deep in the cone. Others pile it high and let gravity do its work.
The ice cream itself differs in consistency and color as well. At certain stores you'll find more of a pale yellow frozen treat with slightly more of a bite to it than normal. Other stores will excel at providing the perfect mix of milk and ice, all other colors completely absent from its gleaming white.
I've found the very best cone-craftspeople are capable of making the napkin they wrap about the cone completely unnecessary. The cream comes to the edge of the pastry but doesn't fall, a defiant precipice of subtle flavor urgently calling for your eager tongue.
There are many ways to start eating a McDonald's Cone, but only one way to finish it.
First off, never practice what is popularly known as cone-ing. This is a complete and utter waste of $.99. Every time someone does this a child cries and a kitten loses a limb.
While I tend to go straight for the swirl, for me it really all comes down to getting to where the cone meets the cream as soon as humanly possible. The urge to mindlessly devour is strong, but I resist it in favor of a more strategic eating process that results in a more rewarding finisher.
As I lick the ice cream I am constantly pressing it down into the base of the cone. That wondrous 'kiddie cup' is reinforced at the base with a lattice of waffle-like compartments. Filling these compartments with cream is of paramount importance.
When I reach the cone I begin a downward spiral. First I eat the tiny compartments that make up the top rim, a delicious taste of things to come. Then I work my way down along the flaky exterior, alternating between ice cream and conal wall until I reach the final bite.
That glorious final bite.
With the waffle compartments packed with sweet ice cream, the final bite of a McDonald's cone is the very essence of what an ice cream cone should be. It's the perfect ratio of cone to cream. This is the essence of the ice cream cone experience.
To eat a McDonald's Cone is to taste perfection. This is everything an ice cream cone should be, and at a mere $.99 and a paltry 170 calories (approximately) per serving, it's a snack no one need shy away from.
The key is in that final bite. The McDonald's Cone starts strong and only gets better as you descend, culminating in a final bite that leaves the eater completely and utterly satisfied.
Years from now, when all of America is grotesquely obese from eating the rest of McDonald's menu, I'll drag myself up to the counter and order one last cone for the road. Then I'll have a massive coronary. A massive coronary and a smile.