REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips

At the risk of offending those of you who actually liked the Lay’s Chicken and Waffles Potato Chips, I’m of the mindset that the whole Do Us a Flavor competition has been one of the more impressive fails of snack food marketing over the past few years.

Why do I say that? Well, because I still cringe at the thought of 2013’s aforementioned Chicken and Waffles chips, my taste buds panic whenever I’m around mangos, and I still have a nearly full bag of the Cappuccino chips buried somewhere in my pantry.

Come to think of it, I probably haven’t made it through a full bag combined of the past Do Us a Flavor finalists I’ve tried. Meanwhile, my unquestionably brilliant idea for a chip based on the flavors of a sandwich — Buffalo’s iconic Beef on Weck — has been shot down each of the past three years.

Given my past history with Do Us a Flavor, I was ready to write this year off until I saw the finalist chips. All I can say is, “Nice job, America.” You’ve obviously outgrown your suggestions for flavors that have no business on a potato, and finally thought strategically about the chips you want to eat. You’ve even managed to get another iconic New York sandwich on there — the Reuben.

(Seriously, why don’t more chips taste like sandwiches? Sandwiches are delicious, and everyone likes them. Oh shit. Now that I’ve said that, one you is probably going to suggest we start making Peanut Butter and Jelly flavored potato chips, aren’t you?)

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips 2

The Reuben sets the bar pretty high in terms of sandwich flavors but man do these chips deliver, starting with this distinct caraway and rye smell that emanates from the bag. If you’ve ever been to a good, old-school Jewish deli than you know the smell. The taste is familiar to anyone who’s ever had a Reuben, with strong notes of all those classic pickling spices and the tangy, fermented bite of sauerkraut. It’s a great taste and not the least bit overpowering, giving way to a hint of sweet and acidic tomato and a more potent, but mellow, buttermilk and cheese aftertaste.

It’s really an impressive array of flavors, and one in which every component of the sandwich is represented in one form or another. What’s most striking is that none of the flavors dominates or overtakes another, an important element in a sandwich which such a heavy connotation. If anything, the initial taste of caraway, then sauerkraut, and finally tomato (the Russian dressing) and cheese, mirrors the progression of flavors you’d get when biting into an actual Reuben. Heck, even the crunchy chips have a sort of buttery aftertaste that can’t help bring to mind griddled bread, going a long way to create the flavor of not just sandwich components, but an actual sandwich.

Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips 3

More than anything else, these sandwiches chips are downright addictive. There’s nothing which says passing the litmus test of a potato chip’s noshability than reaching into the bag to grab another chip while writing your review, only to discover you’ve just consumed an actual Reuben’s worth of calories in potato chips. If I do have a small gripe it’s that there’s nothing really meaty about the chips. I didn’t get the flavor of the spices that make corned beef, well, corned beef.

Given my disastrous experiences with finalists from the past two years, the Do Us a Flavor promotion could’ve struck out with me this year if they didn’t give me something really good. Fortunately the New York Reuben Chips are really good, even if the Reuben may have actually been invented in Nebraska and not New York. Frankly, I could care less what the truth behind the origins of the sandwich are. I’m just glad I won’t be throwing away another full bag of Do Us a Flavor chips.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 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, 330 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor New York Reuben Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $2.48
Size: 7.75 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Finally getting a Do Us a Flavor finalist that I actually want to eat. Caraway and Rye. Awesome sauerkraut and pickling spice flavor. Distinctive taste of Russian dressing and cheese. Crunchy, buttery aftertaste mimics griddled bread. Smells like a straight up Jewish deli.
Cons: Beef flavor in the corned beef is missing. Having to supply your own over-sized kosher pickle. Someone please make me my Beef on Weck flavored potato chips!

REVIEW: Nabisco Oreo Thins Cookies

Oreo Thins

It was tenth grade.

Math.

Permutations and combinations, a late afternoon with a blood sugar dip, and time ticking down to come up with an semi-believable excuse for another day without my homework.

Sometime during the teacher’s explanation of how Jimmy has five pairs of pants and twelve pairs of shirts and blah blah blah blah blah, I think, in an act of defined desperation, I may have blurted out, “Who the fudgemuffin cares?”

Oreo cookies, for lack of a better analogy, have become like that. It’s not that the endless amount of flavors and limited time only combinations aren’t great, but at some point, yea, they aren’t great. It’s all just too much, and not only do I have a waistline to prove it, but I find myself wondering if, like Jimmy donning a classic polo and khakis every day, the standard chocolate wafer and creme filling aren’t the end all be all of Oreo experiences.

Oreo Thins 3

The new Oreo Thins go back to the basics with that premise, with the caveat that each cookie is about 18 calories less than your standard Oreo.

Like anything that’s lower calorie, there’s a catch (more on this later). Fortunately the cookies’ texture and flavor aren’t part of that catch, because you’re actually getting a cookie that tastes nearly identical to the standard Oreo.

The cookies are crisp and not crumbly, sweet but not cloying, and taste like a good old fashioned Oreo. Do you love this taste? The answer, if you’re a human being, is probably yes. Interestingly enough, the difference in the amount of creme is negligible.

Oreo Thins 4

When I weighed the creme from both the Oreos and the Thins, there was only about a half a gram difference. And even though the marketing buzz has played up the idea that the cookies should be eaten “as is,” I found the center to hold its form much better than the standard Oreo, which peeled off worse than a temporary Pac-Man tattoo on a hot day.

Oh yes, and that “sophisticated” routine of eating the cookies as-is? Don’t let it stop you from enjoying the Thins with a nice, cold glass of whole milk. You’re not missing out on the proverbial pleasures of the dunking experience, although you may want to use a smaller glass.

Oreo Thins 2

Now, the catch. Each package is just 10.1 ounces, less than both original Oreos (14.3 ounces) and the standard (not LTO) Double Stuff varieties, which clock in at 15.4 ounces. So basically, you’re getting a lot less bang for your buck. You’re also getting a less substantial cookie in terms of the chocolate flavor. There’s a definite muffin top effect going on with the thin ones. They can replicate the taste and texture pretty well, but there’s a harder to describe element of “heft” that gives you a more pronounced chocolate taste with the thicker wafers from the original Oreos.

The differences between Oreo Thins and the original Oreos are about as pronounced as the differences between college football in the ACC and in the Pac-12. Are there differences? Well, I mean yeah. North Carolina is never going to run as up-tempo as Oregon. But really, it’s college football at the end of the day. And above all, Oreo Thins are Oreo cookies at the end of the day, and a welcomed reminder that sometime the best combination takes a page from the original.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 Thins – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 5 grams of fat, 2.0 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 95 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Nabisco Oreo Thins Cookies
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 10.1 oz.
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Classic Oreo taste and texture with 18 less calories per cookie. Actual amount of creme filling is close to the standard Oreo. Wafers twist off easily.
Cons: Creme ratio can’t come close to Double Stuff. Wafer lacks substantial chocolate heft of original Oreo. Horrible price per ounce compared with other Oreo varieties.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights

When I sat down to write my review of the new Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights, I told myself I was going to avoid doing two things.

“Self,” I began with a stern but encouraging tone. “Longtime TIB readers know you have a bad habit of falling back on overstated nautical puns and maritime references when describing Cap’n Crunch and its variants. Stop being such a lazy writer and get off your crutch.”

(Lest you forget, take a look at the gem in the tenth paragraph of this review.)

“Oh, and while you’re at it,” the voice scolded. “Do not, under any circumstance, mention your theories about judging the merits of a fried product on the aftertaste of the burp you burp up two hours after eating.”

But after thinking about the Cap’n Crunch Delights and inadvertently burping up the unmistakably heavy taste of fried dough, I’ve concluded each of these goals is impossible. So I’m sorry; the Cap’n made me do it.

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights 2

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to tiny pieces of coral growing on, say, a sunken treasure ship, the delights are far from appetizing to look at. Bristling with tiny pieces of crushed up Crunch Berries cereal, they smelled unmistakably like a donut hole and little like Cap’n Crunch, while one piece had a not-so-subtle hole leaking a loose goo from its oily hull (caused from a clumsy broadside, no doubt.)

Taco Bell describes these as “light” and “fruity” but I thought they tasted heavy, oily, and remarkably synthetic. The outside coating only tasted a little like Crunch Berries; there was a vague fruity flavor but nothing remarkable or memorable, and certainly not that coconut oil aftertaste and brown sugar sweetness of Cap’n Crunch.

By far the dominant flavor was fried dough, and not in a light and airy way like a traditional donut hole. Nope, these “delights” were saturated in more surface oil than that which was left by the Exxon Valdez. The aftertaste—including that burped up aftertaste one experiences after happy hour at the Taco Bell soda machine—is strongly of fried dough; unmistakably heavy and in no way fruity at all.

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights 3

I was really looking forward to the gooey and “creamy” milk center, mostly because all the promo shots featured this really cool image of the filling suspended in midair, making it look like some grand accomplishment of food science and engineering. In actuality the filling is loose and runny, more like a melted coating of confectioner’s sugar and milk.

Frankly the warmth of the filling is off-putting. I mean who eats cereal in warm milk? Hello McFly! And the hyper-sweet flavor tastes way too much of stabilizers and not enough like something which may have, at one point or another, come from a cow. I felt like the sweetness needed some creamy richness for balance, but all the delights offer is a heavy flavor and oily texture.

I’m all for cobranding a mashups, and I get the fact that crappy cereal sales might spur the Cap’n to sail his ship with a millennial-savvy fleet like Taco Bell, but the Cap’n Crunch Delights are neither delightful nor crunchy, nor are they milky or fruity. Mostly they’re just plain bad, even by the standards of cheap fast food.

With any luck the Cap’n will be able to right his course and try the whole donut cobranding thing again, although next time I’m going to pray he doesn’t leave the helm to a Tex-Mex fast food chain.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 delights – 170 calories, 0 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 2.5 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights
Purchased Price: $1.09
Size: 2-pack
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Larger than an average donut hole. Inexpensive. Huzzah for cobranding!
Cons: Oversaturated in frying oil. Not crunchy. Poor Crunch Berry coverage. Doesn’t really taste like Crunch Berries, unless you eat your Crunch Berries in frying oil. Warm milk-like substances. My complete and utter failure as a writer.

REVIEW: Cap’n Crunch’s Caramel Popcorn Crunch Cereal

Cap’n Crunch’s Caramel Popcorn Crunch Cereal

Despite its popularity in everything from Chips Ahoy cookies to Hostess Cupcakes, caramel remains something of a third rail flavor when it comes to this unbalanced side of a complete breakfast.

We’re all fine with it mixed into our frappes and covering an ooey-gooey sticky bun, but we’re only moderately interested should it show up in our cereal bowls. Sales history speaks for itself; Kellogg’s Caramel Nut Crunch and Crunchy Nut Caramel Nut were both short-lived, while Dulce de Leche Cheerios is as elusive on supermarket shelves as Barry Sanders was in the open field of the Pontiac Silverdome.

There’s really only one conclusion to support this: cereal companies have been thinking of caramel all wrong.

Instead of trying to pair caramel with chocolate, apples, or nut flavors like past cereals, Cap’n Crunch’s Caramel Popcorn Crunch looks to the snack aisle for inspiration and gets caramel right.

Popcorn for breakfast?

Actually it’s less crazy than it sounds, and certainly on more solid footing than rainbow sherbet-flavored Fruity Pebbles. Aside from the fact most sugary cereals are made from corn, there’s actually some precedence for eating actual popcorn at the breakfast table. Even though old-timey Americans who would eventually found cereal empires ate popcorn with milk to jumpstart their day, I’d recommend keeping this latest flavor solely in the realm of a dry snack.

Oh sure it’s not bad in milk—actually the end-milk has a delicious dulce de leche sort of flavor—but the light and airy spheres don’t hold their texture as well as other Cap’n Crunch flavors. Also, the salty-sweet flavor and the molasses backnotes are, literally, drowned out.

Cap’n Crunch’s Caramel Popcorn Crunch Cereal 2

Those flavors are much more prevalent when eaten dry, where an intriguing salty-sweet flavor comes together in a flavor rarely encountered in cereal form. There’s the usual brown sugar and coconut oil aftertaste of Cap’n Crunch, but an extra burnt sugar sweetness is balanced by a salty and airy crisp that’s really enjoyable. It’s not perfect in replicating caramel popcorn—there’s something to be said for sticky hands and partially melted corn syrup to lick from your fingers—but it’s pretty accurate for what it is, and, what’s more, comes with the benefit of not having any annoying unpopped kernels. And if you’re into the whole “Chicago Mix” thing, I have great news. It pairs wonderfully with an extra salty cheesy crunch from a snack like Cheese Nips, which everyone knows is far superior to Cheez-Its.

I’m not going to endorse Caramel Popcorn Crunch as a part of a complete breakfast because I don’t want the First Lady coming after good old Cap’n Horatio again, but I will definitely give it a thumbs up as a snacking cereal with excellent mixability with other salty snacks.

Will it stick around for more than a couple of years? Probably not, but such is the lifespan of caramel-flavored cereals. If you don’t like it too, then tough. But at least we’ll have twenty million other caramel or salted caramel-flavored products to fall back on.

(Nutrition Facts – 31 grams – 120 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 60 milligrams of potassium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 14 grams of sugars, 1 grams of protein, and if you’re getting the majority of vitamins and minerals from cereal you really need to rethink your dietary choices.)

Item: Cap’n Crunch’s Caramel Popcorn Crunch Cereal
Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 16.2 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Salty-sweet flavor makes for an addictive snack. Brown sugar and molasses depth. Delicious dulce de leche type end-milk flavor. Pairs exceptionally well with Cheese Nips.
Cons: Lacks the buttered richness of caramel popcorn. Absolutely no redeeming nutritional value. Tastes horrible mixed with Cocoa Puffs. Not as crunchy as the other Cap’n Crunch flavors, and still only the fourth tastiest version of Cap’n Crunch.

REVIEW: Burger King Grilled Dogs (Classic and Chili Cheese)

Burger King Grilled Dogs 1

As far as I’m concerned there needs to be a law about the proper way to prepare a hot dog. None of this boiling or deep-frying nonsense, and unless you’re under the age of eight you should never even contemplate sticking that Oscar Meyer wiener in a microwave.

No, hot dogs were created for the grill. Whether beef or pork, skinless or natural casing, hardwood smoked or cheese stuffed; the only way I want to eat a tubular shaped piece of processed meat is hot off a grill.

Unfortunately I live far too distant from the world’s greatest char-grilled hot dog chain to get a regular taste of char-grilled dogs, and my own lack of hardware leaves me pathetically incapable of replicating the smokey, meaty, crackling taste and texture of one.

Thankfully—and I seriously never thought I’d say this—Burger King has come to the rescue in my little corner of suburbia. Currently testing in Maryland, Burger King’s Grilled Dogs were offered in two varieties at the location I stopped by — Classic and Chili Cheese.

Because I’m a complete glutton for punishment (actually just because I really like hot dogs and was really freaking hungry) I also decided to stop by my local Sonic to get their versions of the hot dogs to compare. Now, I realize Sonic may not exactly make any specialty magazine’s list of the greatest hot dog destinations in the country, but for a chain they do a solid dog which is both beefy and affordable. If Burger King wants to be the top dog when it comes to fast food hot dogs, then the chain is going to have to dethrone Sonic first. And yes, I did just drop two absolutely forced puns in the same sentence.

Burger King Grilled Dog Classic

First up is the Classic Dog. It comes with the assortment of ketchup, mustard, sweet relish, and chopped onions. The Burger King dog comes neatly dressed, a little heavy on the chopped onions, but thankfully not drowned in ketchup and mustard. Actually, when it comes to the toppings there is very good balance, so much so that none of the toppings overpower the others, and more importantly don’t overpower the hot dog itself.

Burger King Grilled Dog Grill Marks

The dog, which has grill marks and a split texture, has excellent snap for a fast food dog, with more blackening than Sonic’s All-American dog. The flavor is moderately smokey and definitely beefy, although to be honest it’s not as beefy as Sonic’s dog. I liked it…a lot. But it felt small and not quite substantial enough. The bun was a bit stale, but it did have a decent buttery-sweet flavor. The meat to bun ratio felt right; I tasted a combination of sharp and sweet toppings, the bun, and most importantly the meaty depth of the hot dog.

BK Left, Sonic right hot Dogs

Burger King (Left), Sonic (Right)

I probably favor Sonic’s dog a little more, mostly because theirs has beefier taste and the bun had a really enjoyable, pillowy quality that I happen to be a sucker for. But I’m splitting hairs here, because Burger King clearly wins for the hot dog’s texture.

Burger King Grilled Dogs Chili Cheese

The Burger King Chili Cheese Dog is definitely for you if you’re the kind person who doesn’t mind getting more chili cheese flavor than beef flavor in your dog. Here the toppings do somewhat obscure the grilled taste and the beefy dog, although it’s a tasty hot dog in its own right. Burger King actually does a nice job at presenting the perennial slobberfest, at least compared to Sonic, which just sort of steams a gooey hunk of processed cheddar over the hot dog. Here the extra support of the stiffer bun gives Burger King an edge.

Burger King Grilled Dogs Chili Cheese 2

The chili flavor is par for the course; a thick tomato paste and bean mixture fortified with beef fat, it has strong accents of garlic and cumin beneath a layer of nicely melted three cheeses. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll find out of a can, although a can that’s been doctored up by some B-List Food Network star like Sandra Lee who specializes in making you think it’s semi-homemade. I especially liked the three cheese blend, which had a milky flavor. I thought Burger King’s Chili Cheese dog was a winner over Sonic despite costing 39 cents more, if only because it’s much more presentable and a bit more complex in its use of the three cheeses.

Burger King Grilled Dogs 2

Burger King’s new Grilled Dogs aren’t exactly hot dog royalty, but they’re very good for a fast food restaurant and definitely captured that char-grilled taste and texture that comes with putting a wiener on an open flame. While they seem to lack some of the inherent beefiness that Sonic’s hot dogs have, their smokey taste and crisp texture are big step above the spinning wieners on heating trays at convenience stores, and definitely an approved substitute if your iconic hot dog dive isn’t on your daily commute.

(Nutrition Facts – Unavailable.)

Item: Burger King Grilled Dogs
Purchased Price: $1.99 (Classic)
Purchased Price: $2.39 (Chili Cheese)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Classic)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Chili Cheese)
Pros: Solid char-grilled taste and snappy texture. Beefy and meaty flavor of a premium hot dog. Well constructed with toppings evenly distributed, with none overpowering the others. Cheese has a nice milky note that plays well with the earthy flavors of the chili.
Cons: Not as beefy tasting as Sonic’s hot dogs. Small and not quite satisfying when compared to specialty hot dog restaurants. Slightly stale bun. Sandra Lee chili sauce.