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We Taste-Tested IHOP’s New Burger Offerings v. Four Other Fast-Casual Burgers

Our conference room hasn’t smelled the same since

The International House of Pancakes flipped from “IHOP” to “IHOb” last week and urged customers to check back yesterday to find out what the “b” stood for.

What could it be?

Biscuits?

Bacon?

Beer?

Beyoncé?

Beyoncé with a side of biscuits and bacon and some beer?

Image all of those Bs — IHObbbb.

Alas, it was a resounding no to all of the above. It turns out the B was for “burgers,” leading to widespread Twitter burns from the likes of Whataburger:

And A&W:

Even sweet little Wendy got in on the fun:

Some noted the timing of the promotion coincided with a national dip in the price of beef chuck, while others raised their eyebrows at the new logo’s tamponic resemblance:

All kidding aside, according to a press release, the new IHOb is moving all-in on lunch and dinner as it rolls out a menu of seven new “ultimate steakburgers,” including “The Classic”; “Classic with Bacon”; “Mega Monster”; “Big Brunch”; “Cowboy BBQ”; “Jalapeno Kick”; and the “Mushroom & Swiss” — all intended to “satisfy burger cravings morning, noon and night.”

Curiously skeptical of burgers from a chain best known for A-frame pancake houses with a blue roof (and, of course, pancakes and/or other typical breakfast options), I conducted a blind taste-test at the MEL office yesterday featuring IHOb’s “Classic” ($6.99), alongside comparable offerings from four other fast-casual establishments — Denny’s ($9.99); Islands ($12.20); Red Robin ($9.69) ;and Five Guys ($7.69). (Okay, Five Guys is more high-end fast food than fast casual, but we had a lot of Five Guys fans on staff who clamored for the D.C.-based chain’s inclusion.)

All the meat we put inside of ourselves yesterday

Miraculously, IHOb was the definitive favorite. “Shockingly more appetizing than a Five Guys burger,” reported Salim Lemelle, a writer/producer on MEL’s daily Facebook series, TL;DR. (Our founder/editor-in-chief Josh Schollmeyer, in fact, lamented that the real outcome of taste-test was that Five Guys could no longer be considered a marquee burger as it was nearly indistinguishable from all the rest — aside from the Saharan Denny’s offering, which was universally loathed and went largely uneaten. Full disclosure: He did devour everything keto style, sans bun.)

Bryan Jones, our junior designer, says IHOb clearly surpassed his low expectations and offered “golf claps.” Senior Editor Nick Leftley was slightly less bullish, finding IHOb’s burger to be “perfectly fine” in that he could barely tell it apart from the others, adding that, if anything, “It was a bit nicer because it was slightly less overdone.” (It’s illegal for fast-casual restaurants to serve anything but medium-well burgers in California, probably accounting for the sawdust-like dryness of almost all the patties.) Most importantly, the fresh toppings and well-cooked patty impressed fellow features writer (and the staff’s resident foodie) Eddie Kim, but he added they’re hardly worth a designated trip to IHOP.

Obviously, wacky menu options and social media stunts are all the rage these days. Remember Starbucks’ bright pink and purple Unicorn Frappuccino people freaked out about last year? How about Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa (which we also taste-tested as a group) or McDonald’s Frork, the french fry-style stunt cutlery? And for Christ’s sake, last month, I had JetBlue deliver me New York slices of pizza I ordered from 3,000 miles away.

Such marketing tactics seem to be working, too: Shares of IHOP’s parent company Dine Brands were up more than 2.5 percent Monday.

IHOP, however, insists the inversion of its bilabial plosive is about burgers, not bucks. “We felt like it was time to focus on lunch, dinner and overnight options,” IHOP’s Stephanie Peterson tells me, adding that burgers are the country’s most ordered item and customers have been pining for them for years. While it may seem like a blind leap into uncharted ground chuck, burgers have actually been on the IHOP menu since 1958 when the brand was founded. It’s just been hard to compete with the likes of Bacon Temptation Omelettes and Rooty Tooty Fresh ’n’ Fruity Pancakes. (Rest assured, pancakes still dominate the menu and can even substitute for fries — gratis, too.)

Beat that meat!

For me, it was all about the IHOb Classic’s toasted buttered brioche bun — and seemingly fresh veggies — which combined for a handsome presentation that felt strangely un-fast food. Sure, that may be due to a first-day-of-school attention to detail, but it sure looked more appetizing than the competition, making it almost easier to swallow than a stack of pancakes (fresh ’n’ fruity or not).