REVIEW: Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapeño Pepper Jack

Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapen?o Pepper Jack

Like an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic or an Illuminati symbol, there’s an element of both metaphysical mystery and advanced technology suggested by the pyramidal shape of the new Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapeño Pepper Jack chips.

The obvious triple entendre of jacked certainly plays into the intrigue—Doritos wants you to know these chips aren’t just bold in flavor, they’re also studded with Pepper Jack cheese seasoning and completely “jacked up” from any type of Dorito we’ve seen previously.

As if stepping forth from a new dimension and intent on blowing our taste buds to smithereens, these new Doritos are supposed to be beyond anything we’ve been able to comprehend at this point.

Oh wait. Never mind.

Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapen?o Pepper Jack 3

Truth be told these aren’t just a clever rehashing of old Doritos concepts, which is something I’ve noticed Frito-Lay likes to try to sneak in on us every now and again. The chip’s construction really is unique, giving each crunchy corn pyramid an almost unmatched sturdiness in all of snackfooddom.

If you’re anything like me and hate buying an oversized bag of Doritos only to sob uncontrollably in disappointment over roughly one-third of your chips being broken, then you’ll appreciate the almost exclusively intact nature of the pieces.

What you may not appreciate is the taste, which leaves a lot to be desired. The intoxicating aroma and speckled seasoning immediately recalls everyone’s childhood favorite of Cool Ranch. And, yes, Cool Ranch are the *best* of the classic Doritos, but these are no worthy imitator. The seasoning is actually fairly dull.

It lacks the distinct buttermilk tang and lactic sweetness of Cool Ranch, displaying instead a bit of peppery and garlic flavor to compliment a respectable, but decidedly one-note whisper of jalapeño piquancy on the backend. Spicy enough to leave a tickle in your throat, and maybe elicit a cough or two, the taste is annoyingly persistent if only because there’s neither a cooling element associated with it or additional “hot” flavor to show an evolution in heat. For lack of a better adjective, the seasoning lacks that typical Doritos “zestiness” which makes eating an entire family size bag in one sitting such an, unfortunately, all-too-common experience.

Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapen?o Pepper Jack 2

Worse yet, the triangular pieces don’t really have much in the cheese flavor department. Jack cheese and its variants, including the jalapeño pepper jack version, should really have a mild and decidedly milky taste, but none of that comes off in the seasoning.

Each piece is saved somewhat by the strong and salty corn aftertaste, which tastes almost exactly like traditional Fritos, but with more crunch. Because I think Fritos are the most underrated of all chips, this is great news for me. But if you’re not a Fritos fan, and don’t get too crazy over the tickling heat of jalapeño, then you’ll likely find the chips a disappointment.

Unless you factor in the sturdiness of the pieces themselves, there’s nothing particularly mysterious or advanced about the rather bland and distinctively non-cheesy taste of the Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapeño Pepper Jack chips. Still, their solid crunch and salty corn base show potential to really capitalize on the Jacked namesake, but only if Doritos can apply their classic flavors to the new 3D triangular pieces.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz (about 13 pieces) – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of total fat, 1.5 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Doritos Jacked 3D Jalapeño Pepper Jack
Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 11 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Awesome crunch and sturdy construction not seen in previous versions of Doritos. Solid corn chip aftertaste will be popular amongst Fritos fans. Decent amount of jalapeño heat. Not snackable enough to eat a day’s worth of calories in flavored tortilla chips.
Cons: Seasoning is boring and not very cheesy. One-note jalapeño piquancy. Bag artwork seems stolen from Mountain Dew. Potential masonic conspiracy message engraved in a corn chip.

REVIEW: Pringles Food Truck Flavors Kickin’ Chicken Taco

Pringles Kickin Chicken Taco

Unless you were living on the planet Uranus and happened to miss the Super Bowl and all of its commercials, you no doubt know that a truck can change the way people feel about a guy. But can a truck also change the way people feel about a chicken taco-flavored crisp which is approximately only 42 percent potato?

Such is the question posed by the latest Pringles innovation, Food Truck Flavors Kickin’ Chicken Taco.

To give you some perspective, I guess I should start out by saying I like, but do not love, Pringles. I’ve always found them a serviceable crisp, but let’s be honest, anything you can buy in a can for under two bucks probably isn’t going to conjure up adjectives like “artisan” and “game-changing.” The plainer flavors tend to have an off and fake potato aftertaste, while inconsistent spice coverage always seems to leave the more inventive seasoned crisps falling short.

Yes, a chicken taco from a food truck sounds great, but could chicken taco be any more ambiguous? I mean, chicken taco encompasses quite a spectrum of possibilities; anything ranging from Taco Bell’s “grilled” chicken in a hard shell with iceberg and cheap cheddar cheese to fried and crispy breast tenderloins doused in a bulgogi-style sauce from an up-and-coming fusion chef. The vagueness of it all is enough to make a guy wonder if it’s just another variation of sour cream and onion with a dash of back heat.

Julius K. Pringle clearly had other ideas in designing these crisps because they more than lived up to the unique mashup of flavors that make food trucks such a hit. The first flavor to hit my tongue is the unmistakable taste of braised and specifically dark meat chicken. Intrepid and worldly snackers have seen chicken-flavored crisps before, but unlike Lay’s somewhat recent rendition of Chicken & Waffles, the deep, unmistakably meaty taste isn’t offensive or fowl, at least not as foul as the egregious poultry-themed pun I seamlessly worked into this review.

Pringles Kickin Chicken Taco 4

After the initial blast of braised chicken, a veritable Williams-Sonoma catalog of spices hits me. At first there’s a strong taste of cumin and coriander, with a peppery, cayenne-like back heat which slowly builds. The heat reaches a crescendo, however, and gives way to a slightly floral and acidic note. I hesitate to proclaim it cilantro (or is it parsley?), but there’s definitely an element of relief from the earthy heat of the spices in the seasoning powder. That seasoning gets good coverage overall, appearing on both sides of the crisps.

Pringles Kickin Chicken Taco 2

They end on a distinctly citrusy and curiously sour note, in this case the unmistakable association of a squirt of fresh lime or lemon juice. Maybe the best part is that overly fake potato flake taste is completely absent.

Needless to say, my taste buds have been blown away. There are multiple influences of street food at play on each crisp, ranging from the aggressive spices and slow roasting of the Middle East’s shawarma, to the classic back heat and citrusy relief of your more traditional shredded chicken tacos from Latin America. If combining those two influences in a fusion-style taco was their goal (and seriously, I can pull up a Google search of dozens of food trucks around the country doing this) then Pringles has nailed the flavor with uncanny accuracy.

In 26 years of Pringles eating, this is, unequivocally, the most complex Pringle I have ever tasted, and probably the most realistic mashup of the fusion-inspired food truck flavors a snack food could ever hope to capture. It’s definitely changed the way I feel about Pringles, but is it for the better?

Truth be told my taste buds are confused, caught off guard by flavors I probably wouldn’t seek out had I known they’d be so authentic. Whether or not you find them satisfyingly addictive or unnervingly too accurate probably will depend on your attraction to the combination of assertive Latin and Middle Eastern spices, but one thing’s for sure. This ain’t a trip through the drive-thru and it will definitely leave you with a new perspective on Pringles.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz./about 15 crisps – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, less than 1 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Item: Pringles Food Truck Flavors Kickin’ Chicken Taco
Purchased Price: $1.50
Size: 5.96 oz. can
Purchased at: Harris Teeter
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Multilayer seasoning shows evolution in flavors from meaty to earthy to piquant to cooling. Strong poultry taste reminds me of pulled adobo marinated chicken thighs. Uncanny resemblance to Middle Eastern and Latin fusion flavors in taco form. Everything’s better with a truck.
Cons: Not the most craveable flavor. Lacks broad appeal of “simpler” seasoning. Could probably be better as a Pringles Tortilla flavor. Tastes about 0.5 percent potato.

REVIEW: Subway Monterey Chicken Melt with Subway’s New Grilled Chicken Strips

Subway Monterey Chicken Melt wGrilled Chicken

I’m told that Monterey, California is a beautiful waterfront community with awesome beaches and amazing weather, but I’ve never been there so I’m forced to take the propaganda from the city’s website at its word. Likewise, I’m told Subway’s new Monterey Chicken Melt comes with improved grilled chicken strips which contain no artificial flavors or preservatives, and taste better because they are better.

Whatever that means.

Naturally suspicious of a chain which claims to have single-handedly condensed one giant man into a single pants leg, this is not a claim I can submit to without a little verification.

Subway Monterey Chicken Melt comparison

Subway likes its slogan “Eat Fresh,” but when your oven roasted chicken consists of a somewhat flabby and unnaturally opaque breast of what, presumably, was once a chicken, you’ve earned the right to be called out on the freshness front. For those of you who enjoy the slightly chewy texture and brothy flavor notes of the roasted chicken breast, I have good news. The sandwich to the left features it in all its glory, right on down to the fake black grill marks which are apparently part of the “roasting” process.

Those marks, believe it or not, look suspiciously similar to the ones on the new grilled chicken strips.

Fortunately we speak of two different breasts.

Subway Monterey Chicken Melt wGrilled Chicken 4

The grilled chicken strips on the Monterey Chicken Melt have a much less artificial and salty flavor, while also giving off a pleasant, albeit mild, char-grilled taste which could almost pass as smoky. The portion in a six-inch sub is modest, and the strips lack the proverbial if not injected juiciness of the “roasted” chicken breast, but the flavor is respectable by fast food standards.

While nowhere near as fresh or authentically chargrilled as Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Chicken, I enjoyed the new strips, and enjoyed them on Subway’s “new” sub, which is really just a combination of cheese and protein when you think about it.

Subway Monterey Chicken Melt wGrilled Chicken 2

And let me be real with you here: the new chicken is an improvement, but the Monterey Cheddar makes this sub. It melts perfectly—neither oozing oil nor turning elastic—and adds a subtle milky tanginess, lactic sweetness, and complexity to the sandwich. The vegetables—Subway’s usual combination of tomato, cucumbers, spinach, peppers, and red onion—are fresh and purpose serving, but the sub still tasted a little plain.

I get that Subway wants to keep the attention on the chicken and the cheese, but not marketing the sub with a sauce proves a blunder. At the very least, I’d recommend customizing it with your favorite from Subway’s offerings.

Subway Monterey Chicken Melt wRoasted Chicken

Subway’s Monterey Chicken Melt isn’t very revolutionary, and can more or less be ordered with a Roasted Chicken breast—fake grill marks and salty rib meat aftertaste and all—at fifty cents less than the advertised sub with the new grilled chicken. I did just that, and found it tasty in its own way, the cheese playing a more profound role in offsetting the overly chicken broth flavor of the roasted breast. Still, the flavor of the two sandwiches wasn’t substantially different given the toppings, and had I ordered the same sauce on both my subs, I imagine the flavors would be even more similar.

So does that mean the new, “expertly” prepared grilled chicken is a sham?

Does that mean Monterey’s beaches are actually full of shipwrecked catamarans and the weather is really a none-too-balmy -26 degrees?

Probably not, but what it does mean is that if you’re loading up your sub with fixings, cheese, and sauce, you probably won’t notice the modest, but authentic, grilled taste of the new strips. That’s ok with me. Sometimes less is more—a fact I know the guy they shoved into one pants leg would agree with.

(Nutrition Facts – 6-inch sub on Hearty Italian – 360 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 580 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 27 grams of protein.)

Item: Subway Monterey Chicken Melt with Subway’s New Grilled Chicken Strips
Purchased Price: $4.75
Size: 6-inch sub
Purchased at: Subway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Not the same chicken as the roasted chicken. Good, authentic, and non-artificial tasting char-grilled flavor. Clean tasting chicken strips lack the enhanced chewiness of typical fast food roasted or grilled chicken. Monterey Cheddar finally getting its due. Researching possible vacation sites amidst another East Coast polar-vortex.
Cons: Subtle grill flavor might be a little bland for some. Still not as juicy or flavorful as Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken breast. Lack of a sauce fails to make the flavors pop. Bread-to-meat ratio lags behind premium sub chains.

REVIEW: Arby’s Jalapeño Hushpuppies

Arby's Jalapeno Hushpuppies

Deep inside an underground bunker somewhere near Pocatello, Idaho, the nation’s preeminent potato growers and their army of lobbyists recently gathered. The following is an unconfirmed transcript of the meeting that followed. Names have been modified to protect the innocent.

Derek J. Russet, Chairman of the Confederacy of Potato Advocates: Ladies and gentlemen. We gather today amidst news that threatens the very existence of our industry. Reports indicate one of our longtime allies in the fast food world has threatened to disown the humble spud as a side item.

Silence

Russet: Yes, it’s true, and I’m afraid it’s not the usual challenge from the Onion Ring Hegemony again. Thankfully Burger King continues to showcase the alliance of alliums in an objectionable light, but this new threat is much greater.

Timothy L. Fingerling, CFO: Sir, surely our market share can withstand a minor blip. Our research has long indicated customers sometimes go for so-called ‘healthier options,’ but once the New Year’s Resolution high subsides, they’ll return to their french fries and chips with renewed vigor.

Russet: I do not know, Fingerling. Reports are still vague, but apparently Arby’s has introduced Jalapeño Hushpuppies as part of their limited time only, pre-Lent menu. Hushpuppies…with fish! The nerve of these people. What would our English brethren and their fish and chips say? In any event, knowing how trendy Southern food is and how customers are always begging for something to set their mouth on fire, this is a threat we cannot overlook. Dare I say it, if these are successful, we could see multiple fast food companies ditching fries for balls of fried cornmeal in no time.

Gasps!

Amanda W. Yukon, Director of Nefarious Tuber Operations: Not so fast, sir. I have firsthand reports on the quality of these hushpuppies, straight from one of my freelance field operatives. In my hands is an intelligence estimate courtesy of Lawrence Sweet, who has just eaten at Arby’s.

Fingerling: By all means, Ms. Yukon. Major Sweet is one of most trusted and objective operatives. If it weren’t for his work on those Arby’s Cheddar Pretzel Nuggets during the spring, we would have never been able to sabotage them with laxative inducing cheese sauce. Please, read the report.

Yukon: He begins as follows: “I entered Arby’s with an open mind. My love of potatoes aside, I’ve traveled to the Gulf Coast in the past and have frequently eaten, and enjoyed, hushpuppies. There’s just something so perfect about them, so distinctly Southern in their crispy outside texture, moist interior, and tangy sweetness. Given how well Arby’s has done some other regional specialties like brisket, I expected these to be a worthy rendition.”

Silence permeates the room, broken only by a few nervous clicks of someone’s pen.

Arby's Jalapeno Hushpuppies 2

Yukon: He continues: “I was pleased to find the hushpuppies crisp and non-too greasy, but an almost blackened color was cause for concern. A cornbread batter can be unforgiving for a fry cook, and the blistered craters, while perhaps making a fine 1:100,000,000 scale model for an asteroid, revealed they might’ve spent too much time in the fryer. Not surprisingly a burnt flavor was impossible to overcome on first bite, although a mild and moist cornbread filling did dissipate the burnt exterior somewhat.

Arby's Jalapeno Hushpuppies 3

Still, there was something off about the flavor. The jalapeños were immediately noticeable, but instead of a spicy bite, the small chunks carried a bitter and vegetal flavor. They tasted old and canned, while the chunks of corn also had a dulled, diluted flavor which wouldn’t win a taste test with Del Monte.”

Russet: Interesting. So they’ve not only botched the execution, but used sub-par ingredients. But everyone knows even a limp French fry can be resuscitated with Heinz or Fry Sauce. I’m still unconvinced these aren’t a threat.

Yukon:/b> I think we’re safe on that front too, sir. Sweet reports there’s no natural pairing for hushpuppies. They should have enough balance in the buttermilk tang, the corn sweetness, and the heat of the seasoning to be eaten on their own. Even ketchup can’t save them, and Sweet thinks ketchup is good on everything. Besides, he claims they’re too small to leave customers happy. And obviously, they lack the appeal of a curly fry.

Fingerling: Dare I say we’ve dodged a bullet! Once again, fast food has outthought itself.

Russet: Indeed. Send our thanks to Sweet, Yukon. Arby’s Jalapeño Hushpuppies won’t satisfy those longing for a homemade taste of the Gulf Coast, and pose little long-term threat to the supremacy of the spud.

(Nutrition Facts – 5 hushpuppies – 290 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 790 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s Jalapeno Hushpuppies
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 5 pieces
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Mainstream fast food embracing a taste of the south. Crunchy exterior and moist cornbread-like interior. Real whole kernel corn and jalapeños in batter. Moderate and building back-heat. The survival of the potato industry.
Cons: Tiny and hard as a rock. Burnt flavor overpowers the cornmeal. Bitter, vegetal-like quality to the jalapeños. Corn kernels taste dull and canned. Lacks obvious condiment pairing. Freelance work for world potato cabals.

REVIEW: French Toast Crunch Cereal (2014)

French Toast Crunch 2015 Return

Let me take you back to 1999 for a few precious moments.

My mother’s silver Ford Windstar was bumping Smashmouth’s “All Star” as she dropped me off at elementary school, where for the next seven hours I’d gloss over lessons in long division and conjunctions in order to run an illicit Pokémon “distribution” center based out of my Star Wars Episode 1 pencil box. Afternoons were spent in the basement with my Sega Genesis (I always was a few years late with the systems) seemingly set in perpetual pause mode as I tried to pass the eighth level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

In the evening, I’d cover my ears when the news came on and Tom Brokaw would tell my parents how the world would end with Y2K approaching. But I still managed to get a very solid nine hours of sleep each night with nothing but sweet, sweet dreams.

Why, you ask? Could it have been the innocence of youth? Or the absence of a soul-sucking job for which I’d have to wake up at 4 a.m. each morning?

Well, yes. But more importantly, it was because of French Toast Crunch.

Sweet, maple syrupy, and crunchy, it was for millions of us the gold standard in breakfast cereals. It might have been the single most dominant reason for relative world peace during the 1990s, and its delicious power to render slurp worthy end-milk allowed countless young Americans to partake in the bone-strengthening but otherwise insipid taste of skim milk.

French Toast Crunch 2015 Return 2

But sometime between our blissful ignorance of munching on a bowl box during marathons of ABC’s “One Saturday Morning”, a funny thing happened. The French Toast Crunch we all knew and loved changed. It wasn’t French Toast Crunch anymore. Instead it was a variation of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. As the box artwork and shape of the cereal pieces changed, so did the flavor, and before we knew it, the cereal faded into obscurity.

Until now.

Spurred on by a passionate social media campaign years in the making, General Mills has brought back French Toast Crunch in its original form from the 1990s, returning it to American store shelves after a lengthy exile in Canada.

As some of you may know, I’ve been fortunate enough to have, uh, procured Canadian French Toast Crunch in the not so distant past. I’m indebted to those Canadians who have offered to indulge my inner ten-year-old every now and again, although I’m obligated to point out it’s only fair considering we gave them the greatest cereal of all time and they gave us Nickelback. In any event, the Canadian version of French Toast Crunch is beyond delicious. The question, then, was whether or not the resurrected American version would be equally enjoyable.

Well, I have good news and bad news after tasting the returned version of French Toast Crunch. The bad news is I still don’t think we can turn back time and return Nickelback to Canada and get “One Saturday Morning” back on ABC. The good news? French Toast Crunch is even better than I remember it as a kid with all the crunchy glazed maple syrup goodness you or I could ask for.

French Toast Crunch 2015 Return 3

On the off chance you’re either A) An old fart who wouldn’t understand B) Too young to have eaten the original or C) Just have something wrong with you and have never tasted French Toast Crunch, here’s what you’re in for. Little squares of glazed “toast” with an authentic but not overpowering maple flavor, graced with a crunchy corn base with a wonderfully smooth glaze which gives each piece a lickable quality in milk.

French Toast Crunch 2015 Return 4

There are undertones of Cap’n Crunch and Quisp in the brown sugar and corn notes, while a Waffle Crisp flavor and crunch persists right down to the finish. Equally enjoyable when eaten as a snack or in a bowl of milk, it is, in two words, quite ideal. Beyond that, I’d likely exhaust the vocabulary of overused descriptive food terms before capturing the quintessence of why this cereal tastes so great.

French Toast Crunch is back, and it’s just as good as it’s ever been. It might not be able to take you physically back to 1999 (only a Flux Capacitor can do that) but set against the backdrop of a YouTube video of your favorite childhood cartoon and a lazy Saturday morning, it’s the next best thing.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup or 28 grams –110 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 150 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.).)

Item: French Toast Crunch Cereal (2014)
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 11.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Even better than I remember it. All the authentic maple qualities of Waffle Crisp with a smooth, glazed surface on each piece which is without equal in cerealdom. Wonderful Quisp-like crispness and slight corn aftertaste. Leaves delicious end-milk even in skim milk. Instantly my new favorite cereal…again.
Cons: Anxiety over sales performance in an already oversatured market. Sleepless night left wondering if this means Oreo O’s will come back too? Not being able to export Nickelback back to Canada.