“Sure, shit’s bleak, but remember: we’re all going to be so fucking dead soon. None of this matters.”
Those words were written by Nihilist Arby’s, a Twitter account started and maintained by Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms. Since 2015, Nihilist Arby’s has used the fast food franchise’s polarizing cuisine as a means of stressing the abject meaningless of existence. Harsh as the vast majority of the account’s 687 tweets (and counting) are, utilizing widely criticized roast beef and “Horsey Sauce” to highlight the pain, disappointment, and dissatisfaction that permeates the brief (but somehow still too long) window of a human’s lifespan can actually be oddly inspiring. Life is short. Life is cruel. Life is hard. Enjoy Arby’s…or don’t. It literally does not matter.
Of course, Nihilist Arby’s is just one of the most well-known, most poignant, and best-executed examples of what has become an all-too-common practice: making fun of Arby’s. The Simpsons‘ ode to Lord Of The Flies features the line “I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s.” Jon Stewart routinely filled time on The Daily Show with fake Arby’s ads, each less flattering than the one before it. Over the last 10-15 years, Arby’s has become a lazy punchline and a go-to reference that’s routinely relied upon when discussing intestinal distress or lowbrow dining options. Strangely, the endless string of negative PR doesn’t appear to be impacting business.
Arby’s reported $3.6 billion in sales last year and has shown steady growth for close to four years. More locations are popping up every year and those locations are serving weird and heavily meated new items the restaurant continually rolls out. The Venison Sandwich is just the latest edible oddity Arby’s has tried because, to quote Nihilist Arby’s, “none of this matters.” Arby’s tested the Venison Sandwich in select markets last fall, including Superior, Wisconsin. Apparently, it earned high enough marks to pass on to Arby’s menus throughout the country…but only for one day.
On Saturday, October 21, Arby’s offered customers the Venison Sandwich. The limited time offering was a $7 cut of venison steak that was marinated in spices, topped with crispy fried onion pieces and a juniper berry Cabernet steak sauce placed between a bun. The narrow window it could be obtained, the comedic possibilities the Arby’s element presented, and the safe assumption that no fast food establishment had ever sold deer meat before (and no franchise ever would again) left us with no option but to try it.
We’re far from being the only media outlet to be struck with enough curiosity to seek the sandwich out, but after scoring the third-to-last Venison Sandwich sold at a northeast Wisconsin Arby’s, it appears we left the universally panned meat retailer with a strikingly different assessment of the menu rarity than most writers seemed to have. It feels weird to type this, but the Venison Sandwich was actually pretty goddamn awesome.
Underwhelming appearance aside, the Venison Sandwich was a perfectly tender (at least by fast food standards) steak with a notable punch provided by black pepper and garlic. As convoluted as the juniper berry-infused wine sauce sounded on paper, it elevated the juicy filet and left us wondering if it was featured in other Arby’s menu items and, if not, when it would be implemented. By the time our order reached us, the battered onion pieces weren’t as crunchy as advertised, but they didn’t hurt the sandwich by any means. Sauteed onions and mushrooms would’ve been better toppings. Even the “star top” bun was good.
Having successfully avoided Arby’s for the entirety of our adult life, this rare pilgrimage there to hunt for a rare sandwich left us with many questions: Could The Simpsons and a member of one of our favorite bands both be wrong about Arby’s? Could Arby’s actually be okay? Will the Venison Sandwich ever come back?
It took a limited gimmick and an opportunity to eat deer before hunting season to bring us to the flagellated fast food franchise on a Saturday afternoon. After stepping in line and basically saying “fuck it” with a nihilist’s shrug, we can say that as internally confusing as it is to admit, we’re re-thinking Arby’s. Nothing matters.
Someday you and every single thing you’ve ever known or loved will cease to exist.
— Nihilist Arby’s (@nihilist_arbys) July 9, 2017