REVIEW: McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger

I distinctly remember the day McDonald’s Angus burgers were rolled out.

Actually, I don’t, but I vaguely recall the hoopla surrounding them. This was 2009, mind you, when doing something as simple as giving a cow a Scottish name was considered particularly epicurean in food culture. It was also a day and age when a good many people actually went to McDonald’s for hamburgers, which, in case you haven’t heard, is totally not cool anymore.

I had a few Angus burgers in my day and they were decent, but they never seemed to live up to the hype. So when the Angus burgers went out with a whimper and not a defiant mooooooo in 2013, I didn’t see reason to mourn.

Still, something has been missing. You can talk my ear off all you’d like about streamlined menus and classic sandwiches, but have you eaten a Big Mac lately? If I wanted to ingest three hamburger buns and a bunch of lettuce, I would have gone to a vegan cookout. No, every once and a while—ok, every day—a guy like me just wants to eat an oversized and juicy patty of dead and delicious cow. Something like the the new Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger.

There’s no use beating around the bush when it comes to the Steakhouse Sirloin Burger: I am shocked by how much I liked this cheeseburger. From McDonald’s. Wait, did I really just say that?

Yes, I did, and I don’t say this lightly. I’ve spent the better half of the last decade building burger connoisseur status amidst friends and family. In other words, I know that by admitting I not only tolerated, but enjoyed, a McDonald’s burger, I risk bringing my credibility down to a notch just above Tom Brady.

But like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. So let me try to break this down. For starters, the sirloin burgers live up to the hype when it comes to size. Heck, I even received mine in one of those big brown bags and not the dopy white ones they use for Dollar Menu items. The five minute ride home from McDonald’s was unbearable; seriously, the aroma of the burger alone conjured primordial petroglyphs of scantly clad stick figures throwing spears at wild cattle. The carnivore in me knew something good was coming.

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 3

Dare I say it, the meat was juicy. Yes, juicy. I know because I squeezed the patty and juice ran out of it (and no, it wasn’t water.) The taste was beefy and meaty and cheesy and altogether very savory, with just the right sweet and sour relief from those incredible grilled onions to make each bite satisfying and complete. The surface of the patty wasn’t flabby and broken up by “tenderization” marks as I remember from the Angus burgers, and while the grind was very tightly packed, there was enough surface browning to lend a slightly sweet and complex flavor to the beef.

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 4

Every other component came together nicely. The two slices of cheese were positioned and melted for optimal gooeyness, but unlike the standard American cheese salt-bomb one expects (and sorta likes) from a fast food burger, there was a mellow but savory flavor from the cheese. Don’t get me wrong, this burger is still salty, but unless you’re oversensitive to those kinds of things I don’t think you’ll walk away from it with that sentiment.

Instead you’ll be trying to pin down the je ne sais quoi of whatever is in the creamy peppercorn sauce. Like an exceptionally thick steak sauce with a little black pepper kick and a fruity tang, it might just be my favorite sauce at McDoanld’s. No, really, as in, “Can I get this to dip McNuggets?”

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 2

Oh yes, and the mushrooms.

I’ve deliberately withheld comment on them to this point, but I have to say, they are not bad at all. Slightly overkill and a bit messy? Well yes, but I’m not exactly a sauteed mushroom on burger guy, but in this case they add just another level of umami flavor and help round out the toppings.

I’ve been hard on anything over a buck at McDonald’s in the past, but this is without a doubt a real step in the right direction and the best burger from the Golden Arches since, for me anyways, ever.

At $4.99 for the Steakhouse version it’s also an exceptional value for its hefty size. I’m not saying its going to surpass your favorite fast casual burger, but when it comes to the similarly sized fast food burgers, the new Sirloin Steakhouse Burger proves McDonald’s can still craft a very good and meaty cheeseburger at a price which isn’t going to break the bank.

(Nutrition Facts – 730 calories, 320 calories from fat, 36 grams of fat, 16 grams saturated fat, 2 grams trans fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol, 1560 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 05 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 39 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Beefiest tasting burger yet from the Golden Arches. Pretty solid browning and juiciness from the sirloin patty. Cheese was nicely gooey and intermingled with other components. Sweet and sour grilled onions are outstanding. Sauce is complex and savory. Sesame seed bun has a pleasant and classic taste that’s just the right size.
Cons: Most expensive tasting burger yet from the Golden Arches. Pretty uniform and tightly packed grind. Awesome source of trans fat and sodium. Risking my burger expert credibility by declaring how much I enjoyed a McDonald’s hamburger.

REVIEW: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

There have been very few things fast food companies have done to make me upset in the nearly three decades I’ve been alive. Sure, there have been lots of occasions warranting mild annoyance, like when the price of the McDouble inevitably went above a buck or when the guy at Domino’s refused to bake a Twinkie inside of my pizza for scientific inquiry. But those times when I’ve had my heart broken over price fluctuations or menu discontinuations? Only a handful.

The debut of Arby’s delicious housemade chips in May 2013, followed by their cancellation only a few months later, was one of those times.

Like a teenage summer romance, those chips transfixed me that spring; enamoring me with their crunchy ridges and zesty seasoning, tempting my taste buds by showing a little skin, and holding my undivided attention from a myriad of suitors like Mozzarella Sticks and Onion Rings. And then, nothing.

Not even an “it’s not you, it’s me and the proliferation of limited time only menu items across the fast food marketplace” line. One day they were gone, and since then I’ve bounced around from side to side, never quite content amidst short-lived flings with pretzel bites and hushpuppies.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 2

I know I should have more self-control now that the chips have returned. I should have the perfect cover story about having moved on and fallen for a sweet potato fry or something. But I don’t, and even though the chips have changed their outward appearance-adopting a Garlic Parmesan seasoning and now coming pre-bagged—their taste is just like I remember.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 3

The potato flavor is deep and meaty, as if some chuck wagon Idaho cowboy (do they have cowboys in Idaho?) just pulled the potato from the ground and fried it. The exterior isn’t overly crunchy like store-bagged chips; instead it’s got a smooth and slightly oily mouthfeel, but in a good way which allows you to appreciate the subtle flavors developed during the frying process.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 4

I was worried at first when I didn’t see much in the way of seasoning powder on the chips, but each spud has a pronounced roasted garlic flavor. The parmesan might have been the only flavor lacking, although there’s a part of me which appreciates the subtleness of its taste. Too often anything with “parmesan” in the label is weighed down with buttermilk solids and a generic ranch flavor. But these chips deliver a more sophisticated parmesan flavor which accentuates and doesn’t stand in the way of the natural potato flavor.

If you are anything like me and were a fan of the first iteration of Arby’s Housemade Chips, then you’re going to love the new Garlic Parmesan look. The deep and rich potato flavor is just as I remember, and while the chips aren’t quite as crunchy and the whole size and bagging issues are going to make our relationship a bit more complicated, the roasted garlic flavor definitely makes up for the changes. Will I get burned again when Arby’s yanks them from stores? Of course. Is it going to stop me from loving these now? Hells no.

(Nutrition Facts – 290 calories, 14 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, 1 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 2 oz.
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Robust potato flavor puts French fries to shame. Enjoyable crunch but still enough give to make for an enjoyable texture. Deep and meaty roasted garlic flavor tastes fried into the chips. Far better than any bagged chip.
Cons: Less chips for the same price of the chips marketed in 2013. Pre-bagged chips begs the question of just how “fresh” they are. Subtle parmesan flavor might not be for everyone. Slightly undersalted. Inevitable heartbreak when discontinued.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

The Muffaletta.

The Bánh mì.

The Fat Darrell.

What do all three of these sandwiches have in common, aside from being excellent examples in regional specialties with cult-like followings?

They’re all, unequivocally, the three least desirable sandwiches on the planet earth to make a yogurt flavor out of.

Of course, this begs the question of why in God’s good name would you want to make yogurt that tastes like a sandwich? Granted, I think of a lot of weird shit when I’m standing at an open fridge thinking “geez what’s for lunch?” But to tell you the truth this has never really crossed my mind until Trader Joe’s debuted their Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt.

That’s correct — with nonfat Greek yogurt, as if Greek yogurt has been reduced to some third-rate opening act. Ok by me, if Trader Joe can pull it off. Let’s be real though, putting peanut butter and jelly into a yogurt isn’t like putting peanut butter and jelly into a Pop-Tart. No, this is something only a man in a Hawaiian shirt would be capable of pulling off.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 2

For something produced by a company that supports such an eclectic sense of style, the look and feel of the yogurt leaves much to be desired. It’s more viscous than Greek yogurt ever should be, with a texture reminiscent of nonfat light yogurt that’s been sitting on the counter for too long. The color is, in its most flattering sense, a somewhat stained shade of beige that might adorn a dilapidated beach house. In less flattering terms, the color of your dog’s throw-up.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 3

Moving right along, I’m struck by the presence of small strawberry seeds in the yogurt, a welcomed sign given my uncompromising position in the highly contentious issue of grape vs. strawberry jelly (no offense to you grape jelly loving heathens out there). Yet when I dip my spoon into the gloptuously gloopy mélange of peanut butter and jelly with yogurt, I’m just not getting that burst of unpretentious strawberry jelly I expect. It’s there, certainly, but the prevailing taste is peanut butter. Like real, seriously roasted and even stick-to-your-throat, peanut butter.

This is both supremely exciting and altogether disconcerting.

Let me explain. If it hasn’t occurred to you before now, the bread component is of unquestionable value to the heart and soul of peanut butter and jelly. Not just the sandwich, but peanut butter and jelly. Its glutinous texture and non-offensive taste serve as the perfect medium for the flavors to come together, a perfect balance of salty and sweet to mingle in unison to a Strauss Waltz. Get rid of the bread, or at least something functioning as bread (as with a Pop-Tart) and you remove that which allows the flavors to register in the familiar sense to the taste buds. Not being a taste bud I can’t speak with absolute certainty, but I’m pretty sure each spoonful caused those little guys to send a WTF meme to my brain.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt 4

There are a few other minor issues which add to this quandary; a slightly noticeable taste of peanut butter extract (which can be bitter), while the tartness standard in regular Greek yogurt isn’t quite offset by the strawberry sweetness. Probably the most noticeable, though, is the absence of a salty component. A salty peanut butter is the jam to my perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but the saltiness hardly registers with only 40 milligrams of sodium per container.

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt captures the peanut butter taste we all know and love, but it does so in such an unfamiliar medium that even longtime PB&J fiends will find something  disconcerting about taking the plunge with their spoon. Coupled with a tart aftertaste which just has no place with the PB&J flavor profile, it makes for a novelty snack and proof that iconic sandwich flavors aren’t complexly off limits to being shoved into yogurt. But seriously, it’s weird, and one can only handle so much weird at a time from Trader Joe.

(Nutrition Facts – 170 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 14 grams of sugar, 14 grams of protein, 10 % calcium, and 4% iron.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 5.3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Nails the peanut butter and jelly flavor with uncanny accuracy. Real bits of strawberry. Natural ingredients. No crusts. Probably much better than a cheesesteak flavored yogurt.
Cons: Missing the bread. Peanut butter lacks salty component to add to salty-sweet synergy. Strawberry isn’t as sweet as it should be. Tart aftertaste is just weird. The single most aesthetically displeasing product ever manufactured by a man in a Hawaiian shirt.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Do you like plain things? Is average your goal in life? Do you adorn your car with rejected foodeism bumper stickers such as, “Bacon Makes Only a Select Few Things Better,” or “Please Pass the Crackers But Not the Cheese.” Are you frequently drawn to buzz words that are three years out of style? If so, then the new McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich might be for you.

It didn’t have to be this way. Contrary to popular belief, a grilled chicken sandwich isn’t predestined to damnation on fast food menu boards.

Often mocked as a dry alternative to beef for those watching their waistline, its real problem, if you ask me, is more the off-putting chewy texture and brothy taste fast food companies use to guard against the dry and insipid stereotype. That and the five worst words in the history of the English language: Chicken Breast with Rib Meat.

McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich 2

The new “Artisan” chicken sandwich supposedly leverages a fresher take on the traditional chicken breast, one “free of preservatives and artificial flavors“ and including a seasoning blend of “salt, garlic and parsley.” A vinaigrette, Brioche-style bun, and the proverbial tomato and leaf lettuce round out the party, which is one of the calorically lighter offerings on McDonald’s menu. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least flavorful.

Having enjoyed McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse Grilled Chicken Sandwich for some time now, I had high hopes for the synergy of the new buns and the new chicken. It certainly looks like a better product than previous McDonald’s grilled chicken sandwiches, although pegging it as “Artisan” is about as accurate as labeling McDonald’s “fine-dining.”

McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich 3

Not surprisingly, the sandwich really misses the bacon, cheese, and grilled onions that the Bacon Clubhouse version of the grilled chicken has. Mostly, the Artisan Chicken tastes boring and plain. The chicken isn’t dry, but it has a stringy interior and still suffers from a somewhat chewy texture, perhaps accentuated by an overly basted coating of the olive oil mixture McDonald’s prepares it with. Worse yet, there’s a fake butter flavor which predominates the toasted bun, which in my case was slightly burnt on both sides.

The vinaigrette is somewhere between gloopy and runny. It has a flat garlic and oil taste with very weak hints of citrus, but it really doesn’t carry a connotation of light or fresh. It was just kind of there, and if anything it’s more an annoyance because it sogs up the bottom bun, which causes it to squirt out from the sandwich and onto my pants when I take a bite from it. The bun’s taste was okay aside from the fake buttery flavor, but it felt small in containing the chicken breast, and wasn’t sweet or rich enough to balance out the sandwich’s other components.

McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich 4

If there’s one overwhelmingly positive aspect about the sandwich, it’s that its lower-calorie status makes one feel less guilty when downing it with a large combo meal. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about, and nothing comparatively “artisan” about it. It’s good to see McDonald’s revving up menu developments again after slashing a number of items earlier in 2015 (RIP: Southern Style Chicken) but in this case it’s going to take more than overused buzzwords to win my approval.

(Nutrition Facts – 360 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 930 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.69
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Decently fresh produce. Not dry. Good source of protein. Less guilt when eaten as part of a large combo meal.
Cons: Fake butter flavor. Doesn’t actually taste grilled. Stringy chicken. Kinda slimy, actually. No wow factor.

REVIEW: Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade

Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade

Somewhere right now there is a Buzzfeed writer pondering potential candidates for a completely arbitrary list of the Top Ten Secret Menu Fast Dessert mashups. Between rethinking his or her seventh place entry of a Chili Cheese Tater Tot Milkshake from Sonic, and committing to the fourth place finisher of an Bacon Apple Pie McGriddle (note: someone make this happen), she realizes all the actual good combinations have already gone mainstream.

Case in point: Chick-fil-A’s new Frosted Lemonade.

Don’t let the “new” signs fool you. Veteran Chick-fil-A eaters like me have long known of its existence. Have I ever tried the formerly secret menu item before? Well no, but that’s because I do my most intrepid fast food eating on Sundays, and yea…

Anyways, the combination of soft serve Ice Dream and Chick-fil-A’s fresh-squeezed lemonade has always been something your friend’s cousin’s roommate’s sister made for herself when she worked there, but heretofore has never gotten official recognition. That’s a damn shame if you ask me, because lemon is seriously one of the most underrated dessert flavors. Lemonade, Lemon Poppy Seed, Lemon Meringue; heck, even Lemonheads. You get the point, and so apparently does Chick-fil-A.

I was a little worried at first that the Frosted Lemonade would be more drink than ice cream, but that turns out to not be the case. There’s still plenty of bright, citrusy, and sweet lemonade flavor to love, but unlike popular frozen lemon desserts like lemon Italian Ice or even those thick frozen lemonades you sometimes find at baseball stadiums, the Frosted Lemonade has a distinct dairy flavor and milkshake texture. The first few sips came with some effort, and while not quite as thick as a real ice cream milkshake (like the excellent ones from Sonic) it comes close to the thickness of Chick-fil-A’s milkshakes.

Similarly, any fears of a saccharine or cloying artificial sweetener aftertaste in my Diet version of the frozen lemonade were quickly dismissed (although not quickly enough to lead to a brain freeze), with my tastebuds registering only a clean and altogether lemony flavor. I’m not sure if this is more due to the three ingredients in the Diet version (water, lemon juice, Splenda) or the sweetness of the soft serve ice cream, but you would have been hard pressed to convince me it was a diet version of anything had I not ordered it.

Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade 2

The soft serve, which I’ve always found thicker and more authentic in dairy flavor than most fast food soft serve (oh, the irony) cuts whatever tartness the lemonade has, and rounds out the flavor to something altogether pleasant and mellow, with just enough richness to remind yourself that you’re drinking something on the dessert menu.

Some old fogies and lemonade traditionalists may scoff at this lack of zing and pulp in the lemon flavor, but the last thing I want stuck in my ice cream is pulp from a lemon. If I have one complaint it’s that the Frosted Lemonade could have been richer and creamier. With bottles of whipped cream in store, I’m sure your friend’s cousin’s roommate’s sister topped a Frosted Lemonade with the stuff. Who knows? Maybe the Frosted Whipped Cream Lemonade will be the next dessert addition to the Chick-fil-A menu. One can always hope.

(Nutrition Facts – 260 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 39 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein, and 25% calcium.)

Item: Chick-fil-A Diet Frosted Lemonade
Purchased Price: $2.75
Size: 16 oz.
Purchased at: Chick-fil-A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Bright and sweet lemony flavor. Not sour at all, nor cloying nor artificial. Milkshake-like texture without the heaviness. Hints of dairy richness.
Cons: Pulp fans will be unimpressed at the lack of pulpage. A bit pricey for the size. Could use a bit more creaminess. Not having the balls to ask for whipped cream.