REVIEW: Wendy’s Giant Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger

Wendy s Giant Jr Bacon Cheeseburger

Of the many endearing 1990’s family comedies involving sports, I tend to think Little Big League is the most underrated. Freed from the dopey animal plot lines of Air Bud, and thankfully eschewing the preposterous sports medicine that allowed Henry Rowengartner to overtake Chet Stedman in the Cubs’ rotation, Little Big League’s oxymoronic title lends itself to the story of 12-year-old Billy Heywood becoming manager of the Twins, proving he has big league ability despite his junior high stature.

This is more or less the plot line of Wendy’s new Giant Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.

From its paper wrapping to its basic bun and those adorable little fresh and never frozen hamburger patties you’ll get on any of the other five Wendy’s “Jr.” burgers, the Giant Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger overcomes the eye test and competes at a premium level.

This is a five-tool burger if I ever tasted one. Each bite hits for beefiness, smokiness, cheesy goodness, while also excelling in the value and filling departments.

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Unlike other value menu burgers, the beef flavor isn’t one of several. It dominates each bite, supplemented by the familiar milky and smoky tastes of the melted cheese and bacon. Put another way, it actually tastes like a bacon cheeseburger and not a kid’s burger that piles the minimal amount of beef, bacon, and cheese beneath a bun and calls itself a bacon cheeseburger.

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Granted, this is not a juices-running-down-your-fingers burger, but it doesn’t need to be. In some ways, it reminds me of the Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburger, except without that dried texture and chargrilled flavor of Burger King’s regular burger patties, and without the distraction of ketchup, mustard, and pickles to obscure the taste of the beef. Not usually a huge fan of mayo, but I found it a perfect match for the Giant Jr., subtly enhancing those meaty and cheesy notes.

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While the flavor is definitively big league, the burger misses hitting it out of the park. Stacking the toppings maximizes the flavor of each bite but it doesn’t lead to more bites; at the end of the day, it’s still a 5-bite burger, which means you’ll be chomping on the nuggets in your combo meal wishing you had more burger. Additionally, the bun has a tendency to fall apart, while the single tomato slice and iceberg lettuce get in the way.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this movie before. In Little Big League, Billy Heywood retires soon after his meteoric rise as manager. And the Giant Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger will only be available for a limited time. Here’s hoping it becomes a trailblazer for future little big burgers everywhere.

(Nutrition Facts – 540 calories, 38 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 1080 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 33 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.00 combo with drink, fries, and nuggets
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Unprecedented beefy flavor for a value menu burger. Double portions of crisp and smoky bacon and gooey, melted cheese. Great deal as a $5 meal with fries, nuggets, and a drink.
Cons: Too much good stuff for a small and lackluster bun. Still “eats” like a value menu burger. Non-premium toppings. Excessive use of baseball metaphors.

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Hash Brown Scramble Bowl

Chick fil A Hash Brown Scramble Bowl

The pancake platter. The breakfast sandwich. Burritos of all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of sodium. Let’s face it: None of them are anywhere near as primal as the breakfast skillet, which, thanks to the ever-increasing demand to diversify menus, has finally made it to Chick-fil-A in the form of the new Hash Brown Scramble.

This is pretty groundbreaking stuff, if you ask me. Okay, so it’s not a taco with a shell made out of a freaking egg, but considering every diner in America has some variation of layered meat, potatoes, eggs, and cheese, you might say it’s long overdue for the drive-thru. And while Taco Bell has a version of the skillet on the breakfast value menu, let’s be real: It’s a dollar and it’s from Taco Bell.

If the classic breakfast skillet inspires images of loosening your belt, then the Chick-fil-A Hash Brown Scramble will elicit a sigh of relief from cardiologists everywhere. I’m not saying it’s good for you, but considering it comes in a side salad container, it left me wondering if I should have ordered a biscuit on the side.

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I decided against it, because I thought it would defeat the purpose of building the skillet around the hash browns. And man, those hash browns are good. Even though the counter person forgot my jalapeño salsa, I thought the earthy, crispy tater tot-like rounds delivered tremendous potato flavor. It played beautifully with the saltier nuggets and buttery eggs. I had seven of them in my scramble, which contributed enough crunch and potato flavor without making me feel like I was eating a bowl of French fries.

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Even though the hash browns and chicken are good, there was something off about the whole thing. At first, I was tempted to chalk it all up to my missing salsa, but even after I added hot sauce and ketchup for sweetness and heat, I realized the culprit had less to do with an absence of flavor and more to do with a contrasting flavor.

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While cheese makes pizza, hamburgers, and basically everything else in life good, its uneasy relationship with the succulent and slightly sweet pressure-cooked nuggets is, at best, contentious. Both flavors contribute salt to the potato flavor, but the milky flavors of the slightly melted cheese dissipate the otherwise excellent taste of the chicken. What emerges are two distinct flavor profiles in the scramble, which, while good, never comes together in its entirety.

Overall, I’m glad Chick-fil-A decided to retool its breakfast options by giving the humble hash browns a place at the table. And while I’m not a fan of mixing Chick-fil-A’s chicken with cheese, the flavors of the hash browns, chicken, and eggs are enough for me to overlook the extraneous contribution from those annoying Chick-fil-A cows.

(Nutrition Facts – Full nutrition facts not available, but according to the menu board it has 450 calories.)

Purchased Price: $3.59
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Bringing the diner skillet to fast food menu boards. Hash browns have excellent potato flavor and a crispy, tater-tot like texture. Chicken is on point as always. Surprisingly filling for size.
Cons: Milky flavors of the cheese don’t play nicely with the chicken. Lacks a bit of “umph” without salsa. Hash browns have a tendency to get soggy if you wait too long to eat.

REVIEW: Doritos Mix Blazin’ Buffalo Explosion

Doritos Mix Blazin Buffalo Explosion

A good snack mix is like a finely tuned NFL offense. You’ve got a leading taste (quarterback), a solid foundation (that’s your offensive line), and a couple of dynamic flavors that actually make it worth eating (your wideouts and running backs).

Mess up those components and you’ll find yourself with a paper bag over your head in Cleveland. But nail them and you’ve got yourself a snack that has staying power for years to come.

At the very least, Doritos Mix Blazin’ Buffalo Explosion nails the eye test of a really good team. Aside from hitting us with some common football clichés in explosive and blazin’, there’s a lot going on beyond just Buffalo sauce flavor. Sure, you’ve got reliable veterans like Cool Ranch, but you’ve also got some intriguing flavors, like blue cheese and chipotle.

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And, for the most part, the flavors work really well together. Maybe it was because of the blue packaging, but I was expecting a pretty conservative playbook that added some cayenne spice to the ubiquitous Cool Ranch flavor. Instead, there’s a winning combination of textual and flavor variety that’s unique for even the over-saturated Doritos brand.

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The Blazin’ Buffalo & Ranch chips are definitely the quarterback here. Each chip has strong Buffalo sauce flavor and tingling back heat, followed by a buttermilk tang that gets some run after the catch action from the Cool Ranch triangles. Putting extra crunchy blue cheese and ranch pieces on the same team works surprisingly well.

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I like to think of the chipotle-flavored rolls as the offensive line in this metaphor. The unmistakable rising heat plays a role in every bite, and, even though the smoky aftertaste of a chipotle pepper never really comes through, the flavor hits you like a 300-pound offensive guard.

While the flavors and textures are very good — let’s call it Wild Card caliber good — there are some weak points. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Doritos Mix Blazin’ Buffalo Explosion can’t quite seal the deal, much like their namesake city’s team from the early 1990s. The explosive heat is more three yards and a cloud of dust than big-play catch and run, meaning you’re going to want to put some of Cole Beasley’s sauce on the chips to actually make them really spicy.

Also, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like the overly buttery aftertaste that certain brands of Buffalo sauce have, you probably won’t like the Blazin’ Buffalo & Ranch chips too much.

Flaws aside, Doritos Mix Blazin’ Buffalo Explosion is a serious cupboard space contender, and one I hope sticks around until the offseason.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.98
Size: 9.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good variety of flavors, with distinguishable notes of ranch, blue cheese, and chipotle. Genuine Buffalo sauce flavor. Chipotle pieces have a solid crunch.
Cons: Heat is mostly just back heat, with cayenne and chipotle blending into a single mild spiciness. Too much butter in the Buffalo sauce flavor. Aggressive use of football clichés not seen since the days of John Madden’s broadcasting career.

REVIEW: Lay’s Wavy Fried Green Tomato Potato Chips

Lay s Wavy Fried Green Tomato Potato Chips

First off, thank you Lay’s for retiring this nonsense about having at least one disgusting Do Us a Flavor finalists. It’s lovely to not have to take the proverbial summer bullet for the greater junk food community, and I couldn’t be happier with this year’s relatively normal finalists.

Everything Bagel? Okay, a bit out of left field, but they do make bagel chips, and they also make bagels out of potatoes. Besides, it sounds better than several of this year’s entries, among them kale salad, unicorn beef, and “hickory smoked horse buttholes.”

What a time to be alive!

I’m surprised it’s taken this long for fried green tomato to get the junk food treatment. It’s every bit as southern as biscuits and gravy or chicken and waffles. It also has that natural fried flavor affinity conducive to munchable snacks. That said, there’s a lot going on with fried green tomatoes, and I’m not talking about the subtexts in the 1991 movie.

Wavy is a solid template for the flavor; not flimsy like regular chips, but not as potato-ey as kettle chips often taste. Instead, Lay’s Wavy chips have a rounded, solid crunch, like you would expect from a fried green tomato.

The flavor starts with a buttermilk tang and slight bitterness, followed by notes of salt, garlic, and onion. This is, I suppose, where this review gets controversial.

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Contrary to its ubiquitous southern connotation, buttermilk is not essential for fried green tomatoes. While I don’t think it detracts from the chip, the powdered buttermilk is heavy, pushing these chips into the Sour Cream and ________ category of snacks.

Good? You bet. Innovative? Not in the least.

Fortunately, there are some nuances. A slight backheat — let’s call it tickling because everyone likes tickling — emerges with each bite, as does a bit of sweetness. The flavors are just enough to let you know you’re not dealing with your father’s sour cream and onion chip. They create a snackable quality that can stand on its own or serve as a perfect instrument for dipping.

The only thing I wished Lay’s could have worked in was an authentic cornmeal taste. Where buttermilk is optional, cornmeal is essential. Without it, you’re losing something intrinsically fried green tomato in your fried green tomato. Because the Lay’s chips hardly have any of it, they’re only good, not great.

I’ll probably vote for Lay’s Wavy Fried Green Tomato for two reasons. One, the chip’s submitter, Gregory Pope, grew up in Georgia, so he might be salty about the Super Bowl. So I want to help him out. Reason two? The flavor is solid and better than half of all the previous Do Us A Flavor finalists.

(Nutrition Facts – about 15 chips – 150 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 1 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.48
Size: 7 3/4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Wavy template fits the flavor perfectly. Nuanced flavors and spices mirror fried green tomato breading. Familiar enough taste to not be caught off guard. Lay’s marketing people taking the job back from their 5-year-olds.
Cons: Slightly heavy buttermilk flavor makes the chips taste like sour cream and onion. Very little, if any, cornmeal flavor. Knowing there’s someone alive who wants to eat potato chips that taste like “hickory smoked buttholes.”

REVIEW: Post Honey Maid S’mores Cereal

Post Honey Maid S mores Cereal

I think everything is better with a brand name.

An Oreo Blizzard beats a chocolate sandwich cookie Blizzard ten times out of ten; a Lucky Charms milkshake kicks the crap out of a marshmallow cereal milkshake; and an Arby’s sandwich on a King’s Hawaiian bun is far superior to a sandwich on a sweet enriched roll that may or may not have come from a rock in the Pacific Ocean.

Don’t ask me about the logic behind this phenomenon. It might be proprietary recipe secrets. It might be social conditioning. It might just be that you’d have to be an idiot to roll out something called a “marshmallow cereal milkshake.”

Honey Maid S’more cereal follows much of the trend, which is surprising because it’s made by Post, which previously bought Mom’s Best, which owns Malt-O-Meal, which produces both a mediocre Cocoa Puffs imitator and a pathetic Golden Grahams doppelganger.

Oh, and by the way, a s’mores cereal.

I’ve never had the Malt-O-Meal cereal with the same name, but I have had many other Malt-O-Meal cereals and consider them hastily assembled Halloween costume versions of their General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Quaker counterparts. Knowing this, I was not expecting much from this s’mores cereal.

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Sampling the pieces individually didn’t do much to change my outlook. The marshmallow pieces were okay but nothing special, like a 6-6 college football team that limps into a bowl game. Meanwhile, the chocolate cereal pieces (which look and taste like Malt-O-Meal’s Cocoa Puffs imitator Cocoa Roos) are about as dreadful as a chocolate cereal can be, with virtually no cocoa flavor and too much sweetness.

Post Honey Maid S mores Cereal 3

Eaten alone, the only redeeming element is the Honey Maid graham pieces, which have a deep graham flavor and light crunch that’s distinct from the glazed molasses sweetness of Golden Grahams.

But a funny thing happens when you shove a handful of the mix in your mouth. It starts to taste like s’mores, and out of nowhere a light cocoa flavor emerges in the background.

Post Honey Maid S mores Cereal 4

I attribute this 100 percent to a dusty coating that covers all the pieces. It’s not unlike the peanut butter coating that covers Reese’s Puffs, but instead of tasting like powdered chocolate peanut butter, it tastes like powdered S’mores. The coating is especially tasty in milk, which seems to coax more cocoa flavor out of the chocolate cereal pieces, and gives the graham pieces a delectable, milk-infused sogginess.

Even though the chocolate flavor is a letdown, Honey Maid S’mores is a slightly better than Smorz (which I gave a 6) but not as good as Krave S’mores (which I gave an 8). Is it because of the Honey Maid Graham Cracker pieces?

Well, it’s not because of some generic graham cracker pieces.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup without milk – 120 calories, 25 calories from fat, 2.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.98
Size: 21 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Authentic honey graham flavor. Campfire coating binds flavors together with a deep burnt sugar taste with hints of cocoa. Very good in milk. Correct spelling of S’mores. Avoiding the tempting Hamilton Porter S’mores reference from The Sandlot.
Cons: Less cocoa flavor than a tootsie roll. Only adequate as a snacking cereal. The reasoning behind Cocoa Roos. Brand name food collusion.