BOLINGBROOK, Ill. - A frozen Sour Cherry Energy Burst hits different when it feels like minus-14 degrees out.
I’m sure McDonald’s new fruity drinks and frozen coffees are best enjoyed outside on a summer day and not locked in your car in a suburban shopping center parking lot, hiding from the frigid Midwest winter. But I had my assignment, and I was going to see it through.
About 30 miles southwest of Hamburger University (for employee training) and McDonald’s global headquarters in Chicago, the company last month opened CosMc’s here in Bolingbrook, Ill. - its first spinoff restaurant. Named for a six-armed alien in the McDonald’s character universe, the mostly beverage-focused concept is an obvious answer to Starbucks. McDonald’s plans to open 10 more pilot locations by the end of the year in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas.
At lunchtime on a frigid mid-January Tuesday, CosMc’s was bustling, with cars spilling over into the parking lot. The restaurant is drive-through only, a trend that follows other fast-food operators. You order through an intercom in one of four lanes, pay by card through a reader attached to a pole and pull up to the next windows to retrieve your drink. There appeared to be no way to enter the building, say, if you really needed to use the restroom after you’d tried many, many drinks.
There are 41 original beverages on the menu, including frappés, sour-ades, lattes, plus a few familiar food items and small bites (but no burgers or fries). Many include boosts, bobas and “shots,” so we went to try some of the wackiest items. As someone who never finishes a beverage, I was uniquely qualified for the task.
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Sour Cherry Energy Burst
Part of CosMc’s “Signature Galactic Boosts” section of the menu, this drink intrigued me the most, so it was first up. It’s served with an “energy shot” (caffeine syrup, it appears) - maybe a Panera Lemonade cousin? The guy at the window handed me cherry-flavored juice and only the top half was frozen. I took one slurp and several “fruity popping boba” came up the straw. They burst like a gelatinous, cold mango Gusher. A few sips and I had enough. It might have been more enjoyable if it was fully slushed like the photo on the menu, which looked like a 7-Eleven Slurpee.
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Berry Hibiscus Sour-ade
Another supercharged item from the Galactic menu. There were no exploding fruity boba, which I appreciated. There was also something comforting about it that I couldn’t place at first. Then I realized it reminded me of the strawberry lemonade from Auntie Anne’s Pretzels at the mall - where I spent many of my adolescent years in New Jersey - but like they forgot to add water to the concentrated mixture. I later read on the menu that there was kombucha powder in the drink. Sure, there are 75 grams of sugar in a medium, but at least my gut will be happy?
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Island Pick-Me-Up Punch
The punch felt like the closest thing to actual fruit; there were real floating strawberries at the top and it tasted like something that would exist in nature. This would be even better with some rum, maybe poolside at some all-inclusive. I found myself sipping this one on the ride home. And with a “pre workout shot” included, I was ready to hit the gym.
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Blueberry Ginger Burst
This one felt out of place on the Galactic menu. Did they forget the sweetener? I asked our photographer to try his to compare. Same. While I appreciated the fresh blueberries, green tea and less sugar, you know, for health, it tasted like water with a hint of ginger. They went too far in the other direction.
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Churro Cold Brew Frappé
Is this coffee? Is this a milkshake? Either way, I was into it - maybe because churros are my favorite dessert. I was enjoying the cinnamon-y shake when I sucked up and bit into a surprise boba. I winced. There are no boba advertised in the drink, but it seems like someone got overzealous with the boba. I felt guilty drinking it before my “lunch,” so I took few sips and said I’d return to it as dessert.
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S’mores Cold Brew
I’m an all-seasons iced coffee drinker, so even in subzero temperatures, I was looking forward to this one. The cold brew had a toasted marshmallow flavor, but like coffee with too much creamer (and I take my coffee on the sweeter side). Yet under it all, you could tell it was decent coffee. This is the one drink I’d order again - but with half the flavoring.
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Chai Latte (Hot)
This tastes like hot milk, I thought. Something is missing here. Did they forget the chai? I opened the cup. They forgot the chai. It was indeed just a half-filled cup of hot milk. Fail.
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Turmeric Spiced Latte (Hot)
Is this what turmeric tastes like? I started to question if I’ve ever had turmeric before. Surely I have, I told myself. I don’t remember it tasting like this, though. The latte had a chemically, off-putting taste. But at least they remembered the key component this time.
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Spicy Queso Sandwich
The CosMc’s menu includes several classic McMuffins and two dressed-up versions: the Creamy Avocado Tomatillo Sandwich and the Spicy Queso Sandwich. The spicy version has a scrambled egg round, sausage, cheese, fried jalapeños and a “spicy queso sauce” that was more like an aioli. Its downfall is the brioche, which ended up soggy and mushed in the bag. It would hold up better on a sturdy, craggy English muffin. I ate half, and strangely, I found myself thinking about it later in the day.
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Hash Brown Bites
Few would argue with the assertion that McDonald’s hash browns are their star. They’re always hot, crispy and you can inhale multiple in a single road trip, so I had high hopes for these. The hash brown bites are mini, herbier versions of the original but not as hot and crispy. Maybe I got a cold batch, maybe the weather zapped them too fast. I’m willing to give them another chance.
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I finished my 11 courses with the bag of mini mixed doughnuts - cinnamon apple, cookie butter and chocolate hazelnut - which paired nicely with the churro coffee. It was a good way to end the meal, or whatever you’d call this odyssey.
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If you’re a McDonald’s fan, you probably love it for its classics: burgers, fries, McMuffins, superior fountain sodas. And even if you don’t frequent the chain, there’s a sense of nostalgia when you do visit. Everything on the CosMc’s menu felt like it was trying too hard - McDonald’s trying to be something it’s not.
By the end of my culinary journey, my hands and car were covered in a sticky film. I was on sugar overload. Still, it didn’t stop me from going to the McDonald’s next door for a french fry palate cleanser.