Author Archives | Drew

Drew - who has written 64 posts on The Impulsive Buy.

REVIEW: Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit

Written by | May 3, 2013

Topics: 5 Rating, Crackers, Triscuit

Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit

Not to frighten those of you who grew up on Pokemon instead of He-Man, but your thirty-somethings will really creep up on you.

One day you’re going out drinking on work nights, then coming home and five-starring some Guitar Hero before bed. Next thing you know you’ve got muscle cramps from your adult kickball league, you can’t remember the last video game you played that wasn’t on your cell phone, and you’ve officially become the guy who reviews crackers.

Crackers! What happened to you, man? You used to be… well, not cool. Kind of cool.

But if you’re going to be dragged forcibly into the middle third of your life, might as well embrace it, right? Start wearing that baseball cap forward. Get bacon OR cheese on your burger, not both. Let your wife finally get that minivan she’s been coveting. (Only kidding, dear. We’re not doing that.) But at the same time, if you find yourself looking at a grocery store shelf full of brown rice Triscuits, well… at least get one with a little flavor to it. If you’ve got to get old, be Mick Jagger, not Gene Simmons.

This brings us to Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit. The front of the box tells you all you need to know about the demographic they’re shooting for: there are no dinosaurs with sunglasses or randomly slanted words, and surprisingly few explosions. Just a nondescript brown base that gradually lightens into a burnt umber and eventually orange near the top, with a bright yellow glowing orb that most of us call “Almighty Ra” or “Mr. Sun.” Below it, two bowls: one filled with black pepper, the other grains of salt. A single image of a cracker. And that’s it. You want a spokesanimal or rainbow-colored letters? Fuck you, these crackers are for adults. Leave the kiddie crap at home.

The back isn’t much more interesting, filled with imagery meant to convince your subconscious that these are wholesome and good for you: rice, a few stalks of grain, some red beans, and what I initially thought were slices of bread until the text clarified them as sweet potatoes. One side of the box suggests topping the crackers with ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries, but overplays its hand by promising this will “thrill” your guests. Nice try…stick with “mildly enthuse” and I might buy what you’re peddling, Nabisco. The other side is just the nutritional info, which isn’t bad (130 calories from 9 crackers), although the total fat is a bit more than I would have guessed, 7 percent of your recommended daily intake.

Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit Closeup

I know this will disappoint those of you hoping for another round of great crackers, but like my beloved Phillies this year, it isn’t going to happen. And the reason is that (like the Phils), these crackers boast a certain amount of potential but just don’t make it happen in execution. Remove one from the box and you become mildly hopeful — it mostly looks like a standard Triscuit, but there’s a slight glaze reminiscent of melted butter (Spoiler! It isn’t), as well as visible pepper flakes in little enclaves around the cracker. Turn it back and forth under a light source and you can even see the glint of salt crystals, although don’t do it when anyone’s around because seriously, you look like a tool.

Take a bite, though, and you’ll remember why no one has ever come close to being excited about the combination of brown rice and crackers: these are dry as hell. They ARE crunchy, it has to be said, but have a drink with you at all times. And not just because of the salt, which is present in reasonable quantities, though it does vary some from cracker to cracker; that’s understandable, though. The pepper flavor is distinct and probably the best thing about the crackers — it’s plentiful enough to savor without overwhelming your palate.

That said, it’s still fighting a losing battle against the dryness and the texture of the crackers. And while the sodium level isn’t bad, they aren’t reduced fat or anything that might mitigate your feelings slightly like that. Sad to say, the sea salt and black pepper are both mildly pleasant, but not magic. They can enhance a steak, but ultimately, they just aren’t enough to make these crackers exciting.

(Nutrition Facts – 6 crackers – 130 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of total fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 55 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Nabisco Sea Salt & Black Pepper Brown Rice Triscuit
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 9 oz.
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy. Salt and pepper are both plentiful and reasonably tasty. 2008 Phillies. Pretty favorable sodium and (especially) cholesterol levels.
Cons: Quite dry, and after the crunch, not a great texture. 2013 Phillies. Does not move like Jagger. Not much excitement. Embracing your thirties.

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REVIEW: Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins

Written by | April 18, 2013

Topics: 8 Rating, Crackers, Wheat Thins

Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins

Of all my shortcomings as a writer, one of the more noticeable tics is a tendency to bury the lede. If not for the numerical rating at the top, you could read three or four paragraphs into most of my reviews without having any idea whether I actually liked the product, and who has time to indulge a rambling narcissist for that long? Not you, you’re a busy person. Things to do, foods to try! So allow me to cut to the chase:

I had to buy a second box of these Wheat Thins because my family and I ate the first one before I had finished the review, and also just because I wanted to. That almost never happens, even when I really like the food. So there you go.

Now that we’ve gotten the metaphorical first kiss out of the way, we can move on to the rest of our evening. Let’s be candid: in terms of thrilling or exotic foods, crackers rank somewhere between canned tuna and oatmeal. No movie has ever featured a box of Saltines in a steamy seduction scene. Scarlett Johansson could not make crackers sexy. There’s a reason why it’s the preferred terminology for boring white guys like myself.

And even in that dubious company, Wheat Thins are not what you think of as the cutting edge, kick-ass cracker brand. Triscuits, maybe. Cheez-Its? Hell, those em-effers are crazy. But Wheat Thins? They’re what your parents put out as an appetizer before dinner. (Confidential to mom and dad: I still love them! But mostly when sandwiching pepperoni and cheese slices.) So when you hear Wheat Thins is putting out a chili cheese flavor, you scoff and think, “Targeted at who, retirement communities? 8-year-old girls? The Amish? Get real, Wheat Thins.”

And then you take a bite just to be indulgent and it’s like that Chappelle Show sketch where Charlie Murphy plays Prince in a game of pick-up basketball, and the only thing you can say after your first bite is, “Game… blouses.”

I’m serious — by cracker standards, these are really good. They aren’t going to immolate your tongue or make steam shoot out your ears like a 1930s cartoon. But you WILL taste some heat, especially in the crackers at the top of the box. (I noticed the chili flavor starting to get less intense around the middle of the package.) Yes, a Texan would probably pour oil and rattlesnake venom on these and call them breakfast cereal, but for the rest of us, the heat is enough to keep you interested.

In terms of the cheese, it’s definitely overshadowed by the chili. Which is not to say it’s bad — there’s a coating on every cracker that’s probably mostly chili powder, but I would guess also includes cheese dust. It’s just not especially noticeable unless you’re really concentrating, and even then… enh. Not bad, but you’re getting these for the chili, not the cheese. As for the texture, I know it’s incredible to believe but they remain, in fact, Wheat Thins. Same as it ever was.

So there you go: I said at the very beginning that these were great crackers that I willingly bought another box of, and here I am reiterating it. If you’re in a position to pick these up, you should definitely jump on it. That said, I am still going to take points off for unironic use of the word “kickin’” on the back of the box. Because at the end of the day, you are still Wheat Thins. Own that.

(Nutrition Facts – 15 pieces – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 5 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 3 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 180 milligrams of sodium, 95 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of total carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Other Chili Cheese Wheat Thins reviews:
Junk Food Guy

Item: Nabisco Chili Cheese Wheat Thins
Purchased Price: $2.99 (on sale)
Size: 9 oz. box
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Putting stereotypes to rest. Brings some heat to the party. Would probably be great sandwiching some Swiss cheese. Not too bad for you. Game… blouses.
Cons: Could stand a little more cheese flavoring to keep up with the chili. tl;dr. “Kickin’” is a very cracker thing to say. Taking shots at the Amish is so 1996.

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REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!

Written by | March 18, 2013

Topics: 8 Rating, Ben & Jerry's, Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz

As time goes on, I become more comfortable with coffee. By that I mean I don’t walk into the office every morning sipping Coke Zero like a 12-year-old anymore; but I’m still not a huge fan of coffee’s bitterness. My wife doesn’t understand how that’s possible when I love IPAs, one of the bitterest kinds of beer in existence, but what can I say? The tongue wants what it wants.

Nonetheless, I’ve managed to combat this bitterness by indulging in mochas. Yes, they’re still not quite a big boy drink, but it’s a step in the right direction; and I find coffee and I get along better when it’s mixed with equal parts sweet, luxuriant chocolate. Which is good news, because today we’re looking at Ben & Jerry’s latest offering: Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!

Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Actually, I’ll confess that the concept of coffee ice cream has always struck me as a little odd. The time you’re most likely to be eating ice cream is after dinner, in the evening or at night But that’s exactly the wrong time to be indulging in caffeine, at least for those of you who have difficulty falling asleep while wired. True, coffee ice cream doesn’t necessarily have to contain caffeine, but this particular flavor also includes espresso bean fudge chunks, and the description on the carton touts that “the caffeinated blast you lovelovelove is now a kick to ask for in more places! Enjoy!”

In B&J’s defense, it’s not like they’re making any secret of it. If you eat this ice cream and then have trouble sleeping, well, what’d you think was going to happen, stupid? Also, the cow on the lid has been given googly eyes pointing in different direction to indicate that it’s either extremely alert or tripping balls, and either way it’s pretty hilarious.

Beyond that it’s the standard B&J’s packaging, with a picture of a cup of joe with coffee beans being dropped into it (which, I’m given to understand, is NOT how you brew coffee), plus some fudge chunks hovering over to the side. The description notes that this flavor was previously available in scoop shops, and hints that it’s also a revived flavor from their ice cream graveyard, because even Ben & Jerry’s wants to hop on the zombie bandwagon.

Ben & Jerry's Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz! Closeup

When you crack it open and dig in a spoon, you’re confronted with that distinctive light brown color you may remember from every other coffee ice cream ever. But you’ll also see what looks like chocolate chunks peeking tantalizingly out; the fact that they’re actually espresso bean fudge chunks that will be helping you stay awake long enough to study for an exam or beat the next level or finally finish that review you’re late on is just a bonus. As you scoop a few, uh, scoops out, you’ll notice that they’re spread fairly liberally throughout the mixture… no mean beans, these.

As is the norm for Ben & Jerry’s, it’s very rich and sweet, with no pretension of being “light” this or “50% less sugar” that — love handles are for tomorrow, mister. The coffee flavor is prominent, which for me was merely tolerable but will probably really excite many of you. Like Glee. It really does taste like a cold cup of coffee, albeit one that has plenty of milk and sugar added to it.

But it’s the espresso bean fudge chunks that are the highlight of this flavor. Without them it’s just a decent but somewhat unmemorable coffee ice cream — Tintin without Captain Haddock, Mickey without Donald, The Office without Steve Carell. But the chunks are both plentiful and extremely tasty, and that’s from someone who doesn’t drink espressos. They’re firm enough without hurting your teeth, and the fudge flavor really comes through in a big way, the perfect way to offset the bitterness of the coffee taste. (That said, I would recommend not eating it while drinking an IPA. Little tip.)

So yeah — if it were economically and calorically feasible, I guess I could just eat half a cup of this before work every morning. Since it’s not, I’ll stick with the mocha, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying this flavor. I enjoyed it without even being a coffee fan; those who are definitely shouldn’t pass it up. Just make sure you’re physically and financially fit first, because as usual, this stuff ain’t healthy and it ain’t cheap.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 260 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of total fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 24 grams of sugars, and 4 grams of protein)

Other Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz! reviews:
The Ice Cream Informant
On Second Scoop

Item: Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Actually can help keep you awake. The espresso chunks are plentiful and flavorful. Googly-eyed cows. Coffee flavor lingers on your taste buds. Donald Duck.
Cons: “BuzzBuzzBuzz!” sounds more like a honey than a coffee flavor. I sympathize with anyone who eats this and later wonders why the hell they can’t get to sleep. Coffee ice cream always looks so drab. Mickey without Donald.

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REVIEW: Häagen-Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato

Written by | March 5, 2013

Topics: 7 Rating, Haagen Dazs, Ice Cream

Haagen Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato

Q: What do you call it when a Danish-sounding company sells an Italian dessert in America?

A: Delicious! Or so we hope.

Fine, so I won’t get a job crafting jokes for Conan anytime soon. (At this point, even Leno is probably out of the question.) Still, you must admit there’s a certain sense of satisfaction to be felt when America, supposedly the great melting pot, so heartily embraces other cultures like this. Throw on some Spanish peanuts, serve with Colombian coffee and you’re in business!

Or are you?

As I had no idea about before researching this review (yes, I occasionally put in a little effort), Häagen-Dazs can trace its origins all the way back to… the Bronx. The founder was a Polish immigrant who decided his high-end ice cream might sell better with an exotic-sounding name, which history would prove remarkably accurate. So for everyone who assumed Häagen-Dazs originated in Denmark or Sweden, sorry… you’ll still have to head to Ikea for your genuine Scandinavian fix. Or just read the rest of this review, since the blood of a hundred raging Norsemen pounds through my veins (plus a couple of crafty Irishmen who snuck in there).

Since I was already researching stuff, I decided to go all the way and find out what distinguishes gelato from regular ice cream. Not a lot, as it turns out, since “gelato” is just the Italian word for ice cream. Generally speaking in the U.S., it’s a soft ice cream with less air and usually a little richer than regular ice cream.

But since there aren’t any official standards governing it, technically anyone can call their ice cream “gelato” with no consequences. Still, I’m going to ignore the skepticism bred into me by years of corporate work and choose to believe Häagen-Dazs actually did make this dessert a little richer than usual, instead of just calling it gelato to capture that exotic mystique. And they do capitalize on it, with the words “Italy” or “Italian” used on the carton about a dozen times and a little outline of the Colosseum.

Of course, when I hear the words “sea salt” I think not of Italy but of my home state of New Jersey. And being a big caramel fan as well, I was really looking forward to digging into this stuff. Color wise, it’s somewhere between beige and tan, strongly reminiscent of coffee ice cream. Once you dig a scoop in, you’ll locate the caramel swirl, though it should be noted that it’s not criss-crossing every square inch of the container, more popping up every now and again like jokes in recent seasons of The Simpsons. There also aren’t actual visible-to-the-naked-eye chunks of salt scattered throughout the mixture like little NaCl nuggets.

Haagen Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato Closeup

But speaking of salt, that leads me to maybe the biggest surprise about Häagen-Dazs Gelato Sea Salt Caramel, which is that the sea salt isn’t distributed evenly through the ice cream. If asked to predict ahead of time, I would have guessed that the salty taste would be pretty uniform with caramel becoming more and less prominent depending on how much of the swirl was in each bite. What I didn’t realize is that the sea salt is actually contained IN the caramel swirl. In essence, there’s sort of a “base” caramel foundation flavor, and then the saltiness waxes and wanes with the amount of swirl you get.

And boy, does it ever: some bites you might as well be eating plain caramel ice cream, with others you’ll be surfing a saline wave. At times it’s almost a delayed reaction, lingering after the caramel taste has faded, but it never becomes overwhelming, so you won’t feel like someone tossed a salt lick into your dessert. If anything I would have hoped for a little more salt… it’s good, so either expand the ribbon or mix a little bit into the base caramel.

Speaking of which, the overall caramel flavor is nicely rich and creamy, so I guess no lawsuits need to be filed over the “gelato” name, pending the results of the air content analysis I ordered. (Got my eye on you, Häagen-Dazs… or should I say, Hojnowski-Dziedzic?) The caramel swirl adds a nice textural element, and I was impressed by how easy it was to scoop even right out of the freezer — with lower air content and increased richness you might suspect it’d be harder to dig into, but actually quite the opposite. Or I’m just getting super-strong, another distinct possibility.

This is a good dessert, although the cost and calories have to be at least a little prohibitive. Still, it blends relatively well and is rich, as promised. (You’ll also need to hit the stairmaster for an extra 20 minutes the next day, as not promised but implied.) It isn’t the best ice cream I’ve ever had, but definitely a successful experiment, and one you shouldn’t hesitate to reach for if you’ve got a craving for some sweet n’ salty goodness.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 270 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of total fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 150 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugars, and 4 grams of protein.)

Other Häagen-Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato reviews:
The Ice Cream Informant

Item: Häagen-Dazs Sea Salt Caramel Gelato
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 14 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Official ice cream of both the Vatican AND the Jersey Shore. Smooth and rich, just like you like your men. Caramel ice cream + caramel swirl = great combination! When it’s there, the salt adds a terrific element. Mostly-black carton makes you look super cool.
Cons: Misleading company names. Not enough salt to justify making up 2/3rds of the product name. Recent seasons of The Simpsons. Definitely needs a wider caramel swath. Legally I’m allowed to plop a Frosty in a cup and sell it as “gelato.”

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REVIEW: SunChips Sweet & Spicy BBQ Flavored Multigrain Snacks

Written by | February 22, 2013

Topics: 7 Rating, Chips, SunChips

SunChips Sweet & Spicy BBQ Flavored Multigrain Snacks

It’s fair to say I’m not the healthiest eater, a regrettable side effect of unrelenting stubbornness meeting finicky taste buds. As a result, I’m even more desperate than most people for reasonably healthy food that actually tastes good. And man cannot live on Pirate’s Booty alone, so when SunChips’ new Sweet & Spicy BBQ flavor hit grocery store shelves, I was all over that like, well, me on frozen yogurt.

The front of the bag really tries to sell you on the complexity of the tastes you’ll soon be mouthfeeling, showing the chips leaning against a dipping bowl of barbecue sauce, alongside chili peppers and that weird utensil that seems to be used exclusively to drip honey. (Or “hunny,” if you’re a silly ol’ bear.) It’s an intriguing montage that creates the expectation of a great pairing, like brownies and ice cream or Spider-Man and Optimus Prime.

In keeping with the health-conscious branding of SunChips, the label reminds you that they’re multigrain and a stamp emphasizes the all-natural ingredients and lack of MSG, preservatives, and artificial flavors. No complaints from me — their marketing strategy has always revolved around being healthier than the competition (30% less fat than regular potato chips, apparently), and you’ve gotta dance with the one who brought you.

The back further expands on the flavor explosion you’re apparently about to experience. It promises “a bold and unforgettable taste” that will “start the sweetest, sauciest fire in your mouth,” which hopefully is an exaggeration because hey, SunChips… flattered, even curious, but married. It also encourages you to check out their Facebook page, being updated by some eager, unpaid intern even as we speak. Yes, this is why you went to Brown for four years, Sarah. Working your way up!

But enough talk! Let’s talk about the actual chips themselves. Opening the bag releases a pleasing smell, like a somewhat muted aroma of barbecued ribs or chicken. It’s enjoyable without being overpowering, even if you stick your nose in the bag, although why would you do that unless you’re a weirdo food reviewer? In terms of appearance, you’ve seen SunChips before; these look identical except for a slightly darker, more orange shade than the plain variety. Given their focus on all natural ingredients, I’m assuming that is genuinely due to the barbecue coating, not just food coloring to differentiate them in your mental food rolodex.

SunChips Sweet & Spicy BBQ Flavored Multigrain Snacks Closeup

With respect to texture, they’re definitely crunchy — if you’ve never had a SunChip of any kind before, basically they feel just like any regular potato chip, possibly even slightly crunchier. But ultimately that doesn’t matter a whit if they taste terrible, now does it? Well, the good news is, they don’t taste terrible; in fact, they’re pretty darn good. The sweetness comes through loud and clear, more like molasses than super sugary, although it doesn’t linger for long. Still, I have a hard time imagining many people disliking the taste, even if it doesn’t absolutely blow you away.

However, I do have a bone to pick, which is simply this: I have tasted spicy before. I know from spicy. And this, my friends, is not spicy. Remember that business about the bold and unforgettable taste? I can’t give it the response it deserves, but suffice to say in gentleman’s terms, that’s a crock of horseshit.

This is as edgy and in-your-face as men piercing their ears nowadays: it still might slightly intimidate young kids, but nobody else is going to be impressed. (And yes, I had three piercings in college. Swimmers are pretty hardcore, you know.) The heat is conspicuously absent, and while I’m not looking to scorch my lips off, the word “spicy” evokes certain expectations that are simply not met. Compared to the sweetness, the spice is like unto a phantom flavor, evident in some pale shade but so insubstantial as to make you question your senses. And that’s the last time I read M. R. James before writing a review.

(Full disclosure: while the upper chips in the bag were almost entirely devoid of heat, around the halfway mark there started to be a tiny bit, presumably due to the spices settling downward. Still not much, but it at least approaches the heat of a typical “mild” flavor.)

Even without more spice, this is still a good flavor that I have no trouble recommending; it’s just that it could have been even better if the spice were commensurate with the sweetness. I don’t know if that would have made them less healthy or if artificial flavors are needed to really crank it up to 11, but it’s a missed opportunity. Even so, try not to let these slip away without giving them a shot; they might not knock your socks off, but they are good.

(Nutrition Facts — 1 oz (28g/about 15 chips) — 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of total fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 3.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Other Sun Chips Sweet & Spicy BBQ Flavored Chips reviews:
Chip Review

Item: SunChips Sweet & Spicy BBQ Flavored Multigrain Snacks
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 10.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: If you’re going to eat chips, these are among the least ass-fattening. Barbeque smell. Good texture. Effective degree of sweetness without being overly sugary. Spider-Man and Optimus Prime: great team-up, or the greatest team-up?
Cons: An Ivy League English degree is still useless. Misleading ad copy. As much heat as Hayden Christensen/Natalie Portman. Letting someone see you sticking your nose in a bag of chips.

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