- Sonic is an American fast-food institution.
- On Tuesday, Arby’s parent company Inspire Brands announced it would be acquiring Sonic in a $US2.3 billion deal.
- While the Oklahoma City-based chain has millions of loyal customers, neither of us had ever visited the drive-in chain before.
- We visited Sonic for the first time while in its home state, and we saw firsthand why fans love the chain.
Pretty much everyone has heard or seen a Sonic commercial.
And with more than 3,600 Sonic locations in 45 states, the majority of Americans have likely eaten at one as well. However, despite our vast experience and best intentions, Sonic has remained a gaping hole in our fast-food repertoire. Never had the neon-blue waves of the famous Ocean Water slush lapped our lips, nor had we dined on the intimidating Footlong Chilli Cheese Coney hot dog.
On Tuesday, Arby’s parent company Inspire Brands announced it would be acquiring Sonic in a $US2.3 billion deal.
During a recent road trip to the chain’s base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, we decided to end our ignorance once and for all. Here’s what we discovered on our lofty culinary quest:
Sonic’s iconic drive-up layout is a common sight in the Midwest and South — but this was a first for us. However, it’s pretty straightforward: drive up to the individual ordering kiosk, choose what you want, and voilà, your order is brought to your car by a smiling carhop.
There’s also some seating available for those who want to enjoy their food “en plein air,” but in-car eating seems to be the preferred choice. Plus, the food is engineered to be convenient and handheld for on-the-go ease.
Sonic has a pretty extensive menu, so it’s hard to get a concise crosscut of the chain’s most popular items. On our original trip to Sonic, we followed the recommendations of our editor, a native Oklahoman.
We were told the Ocean Water slush was a mandatory choice, upon risk of termination — and we can see why. It’s no sickeningly salty gulp of the Atlantic; it’s an alluring, pleasantly confusing flavour of lemon-lime soda and mellow coconut.
Weeks later, we’re still craving this refreshing seaside sipper. The mellow, tropical vibe can best be described as tasting like how sunscreen smells, but … delicious.
Sonic is well-known for its drink options and the variety therein. Its most recent bizarre beverage experiment is the plutonium-green Pickle Juice slush. The process of drinking this drink only ends in the loss of one’s faith in one’s own judgement.
- Assume the drink will taste weird, like pickle juice.
- Take a sip, and have one’s assumptions confirmed. It does, indeed taste like pickle juice, only slightly sweeter.
- Take another sip, and wonder why you are taking another sip.
- Repeat step No. 3 until the drink is gone.
- Realise that you in fact enjoyed the drink, wonder why, and leave feeling deeply unsettled yet satisfied.
We slurped down the chain’s iconic cherry limeade — perfectly tart and sweet. There’s a reason this is a legend; it’s the crown jewel of the slush menu.
Another pleasantly confusing experience comes with the chain’s onion rings. They’re perfectly crispy, avoiding sliminess and sogginess. Yet there’s a subtle sweetness to them that confounds and tantalizes the taste buds.
We found, in discussion with Sonic’s culinary brain trust, that this sweetness originally derived from mixing the batter in the same tubs as the chain’s ice cream. Later on, this sweetness was kept to ensure fans wouldn’t miss the distinct taste of these delicious rings.
The chain is also known for its hot dogs — something that is surprisingly rare amongst the fast-food competition. Our busy gastronomic schedule didn’t allow for the full footlong size, so we opted for the half-size version of the chilli cheese Coney.
The hot dog itself is standard fare, but when topped with cheese and chilli it ascends to the stable, satiating reliability and comfort of a childhood favourite fresh from the local hot dog stand.
Our editor suggested the double bacon cheeseburger as an entry point to the chain’s burger collection. It falls precisely in the middle on the scale of burgerdom: not disappointingly shoddy, yet not revolutionary.
It’s large and flat, with two thin patties topped with bacon and the expected burger garb of lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheese. It’s an upstanding young burger in the prime of its life — it’s the quality burger that Burger King’s Whopper wishes it were.
Another item we had a chance to try was Sonic’s new crispy chicken strips. We liked these — they’re a solid example of the shift from the super crunchy fast-food chicken of the ’90s to the Chick-fil-A-influenced breading of now.
The chicken is juicy, and the breading is light — the star here is the white meat. They pair particularly well with the baffling pickle slush; fried chicken and pickles are a match made in heaven.
Sonic started testing some pretzels — both savoury and sweet — earlier this year. This sweet treat is definitely a guilty pleasure on the menu, with both a sugary coating and a decadent cream-cheese frosting dip.
Sonic represents the platonic ideal of the old-school American fast-food chain; even its more flashy experiments harken back to the bold and pioneering leadership of the chains of yore.
We left Sonic full, but forever craving more. Having finally experienced the chain’s fast-food glory, we’re eager to return.
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