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.

REVIEW: Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas

Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas

Like a mannequin in New Era Caps or the former major league outfielder Matt Stairs, Julius Pringle might well be called a man of many hats. Between bacon and sriracha, reduced fat and diarrhea-inducing “Fat Free” crisps, he lays claim to a snack food empire with more flavor variations than a Coke Freestyle machine. And while he’s re-released his seasonal Pecan Pie Pringles in time for the holidays, he’s also donned a sombrero just in time to wish you and I a Feliz Navidad.

I speak, of course, of the new Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas. The flavor coincides with the annual need to turn savory into sweet this time each year, joining fellow new limited edition Pringles flavor, milk chocolate, on grocery store shelves.

Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas 5

Also consistent with the season: the shoddy packaging, which, much like the millions of gifts shipped in oversized containers and without proper padding, tends to leaves the Pringles battered and broken. It’s mitigated somewhat by the more sturdy nature of the tortilla base compared to regular Pringles, but it’s still annoying. Although not as annoying as waking up Christmas morning to a cracked HDTV.

If you’ve ever had the Tortilla Pringles before you know the crisps enjoy a mild corn flavor with an enjoyable but none-too-bold toasted flavor. There’s an earthy note of black beans and a moderate crunch and saltiness, but overall, it’s a crisp that’s not going to offend anyone.

To pick back up on the holiday theme, it’s the kind of crisp that talks about the weather at parties, perhaps munching on a sugar cookie in the corner while smiling pleasantly and staying as far away from the eggnog as possible. God forbid it might sing along to a Bing Crosby song, it instead hums an ambiguous classical note in the background.

Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas 3

The addition of cinnamon sugar really doesn’t deviate too much from this philosophy. Coating only the “underside” of each crisp, the cinnamon sugar is pretty tame. With no notes of toasted, caramelized sweetness it’s as one-note as cinnamon sugar comes, and feels detached from the corn crisp beneath. It’s kind of a shame, really, because for a brief moment there’s a nice salty-sweet combination that feels natural amongst the tortilla base.

The excitement dissipates quickly though, and like a kid at Christmas who’s just opened up a buttload of wrapped gifts only to find clothes, the anticipation is replaced by a functional reality. In other words? Prepared to have some kind of salsa on hand.

For some reason I thought the Pringles Tortillas Cinnamon Sugar would taste like churros, or at the very least open a new front in the ever chic line of salty-sweet combinations. It manages to hint at the latter, but completely falls short of the former. If nothing else it just provides an adequate and mildly enjoyable corn chip for your holiday get-togethers filled with weather conversations and reduced fat sugar cookies.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz./about 14 crisps – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, less than 3 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Limited Time Only Cinnamon Sugar Pringles Tortillas
Purchased Price: $1.50
Size: 6.42 oz. can
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable lightly toasted corn flavor with earthy aftertaste. Lickable cinnamon-sugar coating. Functional tortilla chip not the least bit off-putting.
Cons: Cinnamon sugar coating is only surface deep. Not as salty or bold a corn flavor as Fritos. Chips shatter easily. Aftertaste is kind boring. Christmas morning with twelve new turtlenecks.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal

Dear Nick,

First off, I hope you don’t mind me using your first name. I figure now that I’m older and no longer writing to you on a yearly basis with my egregious gift requests, we could drop the excessive formalities. Speaking of which, I want you to know I harbor no ill will about my letter dated 5 December 1998. Turns out little girls with Olympic aspirations are much more deserving of a pony than any 10-year old boy trying to recreate a scene from Indiana Jones in his backyard. Besides, horses poop. I wouldn’t have wanted to deal with that.

Anyways, I’m writing to you this year as one cookie fiend to another. You should know that when you shimmy down chimneys this year you may not find the usual assortment of gingerbread men, peanut butter Kisses, and snickerdoodles arranged neatly beside a glass of milk. What you might find is a bowl of cereal in milk.

I know. It certainly sounds like an egregious attempt to circumvent the spirit of Christmas Eve, or at the very least a cabal by concerned parents trying to teach their children a lesson about saturated fat intake. I also had many reservations. But you, Nick, are more familiar with the inexplicable magic of the season than most, so it should come as no surprise to the man who guides his sled by flying reindeer that cereals can transform into cookies.

How else can you explain a transformation that defies reason? Not to mention evidence that bakeshop-inspired cereals suck.

But this cereal doesn’t suck. Actually, it’s pretty freaking good. While looking the same as 2012’s less than memorable Frosted Toast Crunch, Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch is much better. And it’s a worthy substitute for fresh baked cookies in your Christmas Eve travels. And believe me, Nick, I’m a certified expert when it comes to sugar cookies, thanks mostly to the complimentary sugar cookies offered at the Harris Teeter store they opened on our street about a year ago. (Side note: You won’t be putting me on the naughty list for taking more than one on each visit, will you?)

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 2

But back to the cereal, or should I say the mini sugar cookies, because that’s what each one of these little squares taste like. They have a lighter texture on the tongue than the other cereals of the Toast Crunch family, but keep that delightful crisp exterior, which in this case glistens with specks of superfine sugar that mirror freshly fallen snow.

There’s a Frosted Flakes taste going on when you eat the squares dry. It’s not cloying and there isn’t any hint of the toasted richness French Toast Crunch used to have, but there’s something about the crispy texture and vanilla flavor of the sugar which inexplicably registers as sugar cookie. It’s as if, by some commutative property of Christmas magic, the essence of whatever makes a sugar cookie a sugar cookie and not, say, a snickerdoodle, has been extracted and sprinkled over each square.

Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal 4

I know you’re not one to eat cookies without milk, and the good news for you (and me) is that Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch tastes amazing in milk. The combination of sugar and milk creates an instant flavor of royal icing, and leaves a rich and sweet end milk which should be bottled and sold. Come to think of that, maybe I’ll add that to my Christmas wish list.

Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch isn’t perfect, Nick. It’s still not as great as Frosted Toast Crunch, and I personally still love Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chocolate Toast Crunch better. But when it comes to recreating a cookie taste, don’t be so quick to pass over a bowl left out this Christmas Eve. I think you’ll find it’s worth a few presents in some kid’s stocking. Oh yeah, and please send me a pony.

Sincerely,

Adam

(Nutrition Facts – 31 grams – 130 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 12.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Weis Markets
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Good representation of sugar cookie flavor. Light and crispy texture plain, with a Frosted Flakes-like aftertaste. Not too sweet. Sucks up milk like a fat man in a red suit. Better than Frosted Toast Crunch. Leaves sugar cookie end milk.
Cons: Still not French Toast Crunch. Possibly laced with Christmas magic dust. Lacks buttery crumb. Still not getting a pony.