McSweeney's Egg O'Biscuit Review

May 2, 2012

I wrote a piece a long time ago about my favorite college dining hall food, the Egg O’Biscuit. McSweeney’s published it in the Reviews of New Food! The piece is also included below:

If any meal can redeem cafeteria giant Sodexo’s much-maligned cuisine, it’s the Egg O’Biscuit. Ah, Egg O’Biscuit, so splendid, yet so simple; so simple in its splendor, like the Fibonacci sequence, or a Philip Glass composition. I doubt I will ever encounter another breakfast food whose splendid-simple ratio (SSR) even begins to approach that of the Egg O’Biscuit. And though its sisters (the Egg O’Muffin, the Egg O’Bagel, and the Egg O’Croissant) have tried their hardest, none can outshine the intrepid Egg O’Biscuit.

The Egg O’Muffin was arguably Sodexo’s answer to the genre-defining Egg McMuffin of 1972. The two sandwiches, nearly identical in composition, differ only in the egg: instead of unidentifiable, circular, vaguely egg-like slurry, the Egg O’Muffin’s Christian-namesake is, in fact, a fresh, whole fried egg with unbroken yolk. Aside from the egg, the two sandwiches bear one other important difference: the prefixes to their surnames. In their 1998 paper on patronymics in food marketing, Kowalsky et al. famously surmised that…

…[t]hough breakfasters have enjoyed the morning combination of bread, egg, and cheese for centuries, Sodexho…used one of two possible rationales in naming the sandwich: a) they felt obliged to credit their inspiration, or b) they believed in the questionably honest profitability of a generic brand name. With McDonald’s Corporation holding the rights to both the food prefixes ‘Mc’ and likely ‘Mac,’ Sodexho was left with few options for assigning their sandwich a name similarly within Irish patronymic tradition… While the Egg McMuffin’s name literally means ‘egg, son of muffin,’ the Egg O’Muffin’s moniker denotes that it, in fact, bears a grandfilial relationship to the muffin. (264-5)

Following their success with the Egg O’Muffin, Sodexo introduced the similar yet bulkier Egg O’Bagel, which, though no longer modeled after an existing fast-food item, retained the starch-based nomenclature of its kinsman. Egg O’Biscuit came third to the party, followed by the Egg O’Croissant, which enjoyed due popularity though the naming scheme applied to it rather poorly. This formidable lineup offers a sampling of popular breakfast starches of various cultural origins (intracultural implications of each are explored by McGibbon and Francis, 2003): the Anglo Egg O’Muffin, the Jewish Egg O’Bagel, the French Egg O’Croissant, and, hailing from the banjo-picking, tractor-pulling, Bible-thumping American South, the Egg O’Biscuit.

Like most Southern cuisine, the Egg O’Biscuit is rich—380 calories and 21g fat rich, to be precise. Though it is produced in bulk cafeteria batches, the biscuit is still as flaky and delicious as anything your shotgun-toting Mee-Maw from the backwoods Georgia wetlands could cook up. It will grease-spot your napkin and leave you wiping your hands on your jeans, but it will certainly power anyone, even the anemic lunch-skippers, through the work or school day. It samples three of the four food groups, but its size is quite manageable, so it’s possible to one-hand an Egg O’Biscuit on the run while still enjoying a “complete” breakfast. Toucan Sam, eat your heart out.

However, every rose has its thorn; every Achilles has his heel; every supermodel has her coke habit; and every Egg O’Biscuit has its yolk. When engineering the Egg McMuffin, McDonald’s, with their infinite appreciation for efficiency, effectively eliminated the troublesome vitellus by blending it with the albumen. However, it is this very efficiency, this cold, calculated corporate convenience, that makes the Egg O’Biscuit’s fresh unblended egg appeal to us that much more. Where the McMuffin’s egg-disc undoubtedly turns out to be less than the sum of its parts, the O’Biscuit’s yolk and white are somehow more, despite the yolk’s tendency to explode out the back of the sandwich, between one’s fingers, or all over the front of one’s shirt. Like a game of Russian roulette or a mentally unsound lover, it’s an exhilarating risk “of yolk explosion… [at] odds of 2.136:1 against” for an irresistible reward (Rogers, 186).

And so, Egg O’Biscuit, as a fellow American, I salute you. Like Falstaff, Ignatius J. Reilly, or Homer Simpson, you are flawed, you are fat, you are coarse and low-born, but your picaresque spirit soldiers on. And it is this spirit, this solid persistence, that will live on forever in your devotees’ hearts. Primarily in the form of cholesterol.