What Is America’s Worst Restaurant Chain?

Is recently bankrupted Sbarro America's least essential (chain) restaurant? Justin Peters, writing at Slate, makes a very strong case for the affirmative. He cites:

1. The lack of a distinctive signature food item.

2. The fact that it's expensive, relatively speaking—a slice of pizza ran him $3.49. And of course:

3. Pizza that's doughy and overly sweet, and mediocre by-the-book Americanized pasta. (In Sbarro's defense, the genre-defining Fat Boys video "All You Can Eat" was filmed there.)

Fat Boys aside, Peters makes a plausible argument. Speaking personally, I'd make two counternominations for the least essential chain.

White Castle gets my first big no-vote. Why?

1. The burgers are nigh inedible. Yes, they're very affordable, and have a cute form-factor, and are distinctive-looking. But just try choking one down, even while intoxicated: They're mealy, greasy, often mushy, and lack much flavor beyond salt and onions. Even the sterile, borderline inorganic burgers of McDonald's are preferable to these rank little pucks of sadness.

2. Clam strips. White Castle sells clam strips. Those poor clams! Who thought this was a good idea? I've tried some dodgy things over the course of my career as a mass-market food critic, but there isn't enough money in the world to get me to eat these. Well. OK. $250. But it would need to be stacked up, in cash, in front of me next to the clam strips.

3. Have you tried the burgers?

A brilliant new franchise could be started up—call it Black Castle or White Palace or whatever you'd like—simply premised on making small square sliders that are maybe 150 percent the price of White Castle's, but taste somewhere between serviceable and delicious: the In-N-Out of tiny burgers. It would kill.

KFC gets my second vote. Yeah, I'll go there. One bullet point:

1. The fried chicken is lousy. If other chains (I'm looking at you, Pollo Campero) can pull off the straightforward and naturally ravishing dish of fried chicken with aplomb, KFC could, in theory. Yet KFC manages to turn one of the most delicious foods known to humanity into a humdrum, almost depressing experience.

Taking other nominations right now, in the comments section.

UPDATE: A reader writes in and notes that there is, in fact, a burger joint called Black Castle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The more you know ...

Image source: Flickr member The Pizza Review under Creative Commons