CosMc’s has certainly made headlines since opening last week in Chicago’s suburbs. SNL’s Weekend Update even took the bait on the McDonald’s spinoff, cracking a joke that “Cosby McDonald” was the restaurant’s spokesperson.
The fast-food giant plans to open 10 CosMc’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and San Antonio in 2024. The Bolingbrook location, 285 N. Weber Road, replaces a Boston Market, which was once part of the McDonald’s family (the company hung onto the real estate).
There’s a misconception that CosMc’s is a specialty coffee shop, and while there are coffee drinks (like a s’mores cold brew), CosMc’s — a drive-thru-only restaurant with four lanes — is not trying to compete with the glut of drive-thru Starbucks that have legitimized so many suburban strip malls over the years. Instead, it takes inspiration from boba tea cafes where teens hang out after school and enjoy sweet drinks with tapioca pearls. Another apt comparison would be Dutch Bros, a beverage-focused Pacific Northwest chain apparently run by huge Rage Against the Machine fans with nearly 900 stores in 17 states.
In Bolingbrook, which can be a 45-minute or 2-hour drive from Chicago, last Friday, CosMc’s was humming along with customers waiting in their cars for more than three hours for the privilege of being one of the first to try the menu. Although there are drinks with Asian flavors including dragonfruit, boba, turmeric, and chai, the red-headed clown doesn’t know the meaning of “not too sweet.” Folks can’t customize their drinks or the sugar level — it’s all about the rush; these drinks would appeal to gamers trying to survive long late-night sessions or folks trying to power through an entire season of a beloved TV show in one sitting. The Popping Pear Smash comes topped with Pop Rocks. Nerds are once again denied.
So, are they any good? I brought the sugary drinks home with me, where my wife sampled them. I woke up the next morning and saw that she stuck them in the fridge. When I opened the fridge door, it made me feel like I was in college, waking up to a barrage of empty red Solo cups from the previous night’s activities. I didn’t need additional sips — I don’t need to remember any of my mistakes from yesterday.
The restaurant only sold out of two items during my Friday visit: the hazelnut-filled McPops, and the lemon-blueberry cookie. There are no burgers on the menu — customers can go next door to the corporate-owned McDonald’s, which flashes a small digital screen announcing that the McRib is back. But with these drinks, excessive sweetness aside, it appears McDonald’s has found something that can actually upstage boneless pork delicacy.
Read on for a rundown of some of the restaurant’s key items — $35 worth of CosMc’s.
Chai Frappe Burst
Okay, for a guy who just spent two weeks in India in November and wrote a story about masala chai’s evolution in America, this drink never stood a chance. This is no United Colors of Benetton moment. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and caramel flavors come out the strongest, absolutely trampling any sign of masala chai — whether it’s supposed to be the weak tea concentrate most chains pour or legit spiced Indian black tea. That doesn’t make this an awful creation. It’s sweet and creamy, but it’s an ice cream confection, not tea. The boba at the bottom had the texture of overripe grapes. The authenticity police aren’t needed, but perhaps you’ll need an A1C test after a few sips.
Turmeric Spiced Latte
If CosMc’s is an alien, an entity to represent the future, this drink complies. Imagine a sci-fi show from the ’80s with the following intro: “It is the year 2023 and McDonald’s has managed to crack the code to synthesize turmeric, the golden spice that will become an essential part of the modern global pantry and hailed for its health benefits by Instagram influencers everywhere.” This drink is a cosplay of a $14 turmeric tonic that would be served at a trendy big-city coffee house. It’s the lightest drink of all that I tried, and probably the one I’d order if I needed a jolt during a road trip and saw a CosMc’s at a road stop. It only vaguely tastes like turmeric, so don’t expect to reduce any swelling in your joints. A McDonald’s spokesperson didn’t say where the Golden Arches sourced its turmeric — and it’s not actually listed among the drink’s ingredients.
Sour Cherry Energy Burst
The packaging is slick, but not as extreme as lovers of canned energy drinks may like. There are orange bubbles that burst. But this drink is too sweet to endure any of those theatrics. This feels like a grown-up red Wyler’s and will take kids of a certain age back to days of summer camp. CosMc’s should give out an award to anyone who actually finishes this drink.
These are McDonald’s answer to Dunkin’s Munchkins — doughnut holes filled with one of three flavors. They also come in a combo, which is how I scored the hazelnut flavor that was sold out as an individual pack. It’s more or less a Nutella clone, and with a mild sweetness, it was surprisingly a welcome break from the rest of the sugary menu that was making my teeth chatter. The cookie dough variety was forgettable. After I took a bite, I had no idea what this was supposed to taste like. Was it vanilla? Was it cream?
But then there’s the success story of the apple-cinnamon variety. McDonald’s apple pie is an all-time classic, and this McPop brought back memories of those hand pies. There are no apple chunks, but it appears to be the same filling. These McPops beg to be warmed up, which should be an option. Evidently, these morsels are also available at the McDonald’s attached to its Randolph Street headquarters in the West Loop.
Sometimes, you just need a low-stakes snack. These bites aren’t anything special. They vaguely remind you of a stadium pretzel, which also has its charms. A worker successfully upsold me and suggested the hot mustard as a dipping sauce: “You won’t regret it!” he declared.
And you know what? The mustard wasn’t bad. It’s sweeter (shocker), not hot at all — I’m guessing it would barely register on the Scoville scale — but it was solid. To dial up the heat, you’d need spices, and good spices are expensive, something to note when controlling prices at a fast-food chain.
Hash Brown Bites
A cousin of McDonald’s hash brown patties, these went well with ranch and didn’t feel as greasy as the original. I had a hard time detecting it, but these bites are seasoned a little differently than the original. There’s a faint Southwestern-style flavor going on, but not too much that could ruin the crispy potatoes.
Creamy Avocado Tomatillo Sandwich
After enjoying the gifts of Chicago’s new egg sandwich renaissance, morning fast-food offerings have a lot of catching up to do. CosMc’s has a pair of breakfast sandwiches (as well as a spicy queso sandwich), which arrive on brioche burger buns that McDonald’s fans should be familiar with. The egg is a holdover from the McMuffin offerings, and there’s bacon and a decent green sauce that provides a small burst of acid. For a quick breakfast, this will do the trick, especially on road trips. It could use more bacon — the thin strips are barely present.