Go anywhere, from high-dollar sit-downs to drive-thrus and you'll find restaurants digging into seasonal fare. Right now, pumpkin gets the honors. So I drove around town checking out grab-and-go treats that showcase pumpkin's autumnal flavor. On into December, I'll look into gingerbread, cranberry, peppermint and more stocking-related goodies, but with Thanksgiving tomorrow, I'm going gourd.
Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte: This little guy should come with a warning: Watch out for serious nutmeg on the first sip. As my food-savvy friend offered on her first taste, "Yeah, that's sort of...um...meaty." She was dead on--I felt as if I should have been ladling this over lamb. But the drink isn't a total loss. Just rip the lid off and stir the hell out of it before drinking and the flavor profile is much more balanced. The latte doesn't, so much, taste of espresso or pumpkin, but of generic spice. It conveys a feeling of fall, but isn't necessarily en pointe with the pumpkin.
Jack In The Box's Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream Shake: It's obviously vanilla with a liquid pumpkin mix-in, but I was still surprised at the flavor. For around three bucks, you can get a rich shake that tastes pretty damned close to liquid pie filling...not that I've ever eaten pie filling with a spoon or anything. That being said, idling in the drive-thru, one still must decide whether to choose an uber-rich dessert over the majestically so-bad-for-you-it's-good JITB taco. And even I won't tell you to do that when you have a case of the munchies.
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Einstein Bros. Bagels' Pumpkin Shmear/Pumpkin Bagel: First off, I wouldn't normally recommend combining two pumpkin items, but the bagel is so subtle it seems more like just a slightly spiced version of the store's wheat version. So you could actually put pumpkin on pumpkin. The shmear, however, is a stronger contender. Whipping the cream cheese adds fluff, and the shmear is lighter on the savory than the sweet, without falling into the "sticky" realm. Slather it on and feel decadent without succumbing to a crazy sugar rush and falling flat on the desk before noon.
Whataburger's Pumpkin Pie: The winner. Yes, it's fried. Yes, it's horrible for you. Yes, it's amazing, as fried foods tend to be. Hand-held and laden with oil, it's oddly not very greasy. Perhaps that's because all that fat soaked into the paper sleeve while I dined on my burger entree, but I'm not one to quibble. This treat is basic--hot pumpkin pie filling in a fried pocket totaling fewer calories than several items in our vending machine (I'll let you look up the actual number). When you need a cheap guilty pleasure and pumpkin's your game, head toward those 24-hour orange and white stripes...but for your arteries' sake, don't make a repeat pass through the drive-thru until next year.
I've also heard props for 7-Eleven's pumpkin muffin, but that was approximately 15.83 seconds before this was to post, so I guess we'll have to take my neighbor's word on it. (And, yeah, that totally means I'm going to eat one before the week's out.) Now, before I turn into a pumpkin...