Fast food maniac Jon Hein thinks inside the bun

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By his own admission, Jon Hein is an irresponsible, overweight diabetic who is quite likely killing himself slowly by consuming fast food with voracious gusto.

He’s also refreshingly forthright about it.

“I am here to praise fast food, not condemn it,” Hein writes in the introduction to “Fast Food Maniac,” an unapologetic, exhaustively researched, consistently entertaining guide to more than 100 national and regional fast food chains, from A&W to KFC, from Roy Rogers to White Castle, from Taco Tico to Whataburger.

This is the Zagat, the Michelin, of artery-clogging mega-burgers and nap-inducing milkshakes, bathroom-inducing tacos and pizza pies promising a morning of regret.

Hein is a likable and smart everyman who presides over “The Wrap-Up Show” on SiriusXM radio, a daily recap of Howard Stern’s morning program. He is also known to pop-culture aficionados as the man behind “Jump the Shark,” the website that pinpointed the moment when a TV show hit the wall. (In 2006, Hein sold the website to Gemstar-TV Guide for a reported seven figures.)

In “Fast Food Maniac,” Hein shares his unbridled passion for the food, the history, the slogans, the specialty items, even the slogans and toy giveaways of the giants such as McDonald’s and Domino’s, as well as the perennial but still-standing also-rans, e.g. Long John Silver’s and Jack in the Box. Each entry features a menu-style graphic telling us when and where the chain was founded; the name of the mascot when applicable; specialty items, and seasonal offerings.

We then get a quick review from Hein, written in a breezy, conversational style, often incorporating his memories of his first visit to a particular establishment. (He also shared his experiences at various places while hosting a TV show called “Fast Food Mania.”) Reading about his personal experiences consuming burgers, hot dogs, pizza, fries, shakes, fried chicken, etc., etc., you wonder how Hein isn’t the size of a small dirigible.

“You can always tell the difference in a fresh, handspun milkshake, and Steak ‘n Shake has a ton of different combinations to choose from,” writes Hein of the legendary, Illinois-born franchise that was a personal favorite of Roger Ebert, who in 2009 published a love letter to Steak ‘n Shake that included a reminiscence of a commercial-break conversation Ebert once had with David Letterman about slogans such as, “In Sight, It Must Be Right.”

Hein takes fast food so seriously he has an In Memoriam section, in which he “fondly remember[s] these fine fast food establishments that left us too soon,” including Burger Chef. (Remember the “Mad Men” story arc about Burger Chef?)

He also provides rankings of the best fast food franchises for burgers, French fries, logos, sweepstakes, even ice. And we even get a glimpse into the near-mythic Secret Menu items, which officially don’t exist and are never advertised — but if you know to request said items, they WILL make them for you.

Tell ‘em Jon Hein sent you.

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