REVIEW: Papa John’s Philly Cheesesteak Pizza

Papa John's Philly Cheesesteak Pizza

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Papa John’s is getting into the holiday spirit.” – Press release for Papa John’s new Philly Cheesesteak Pizza

“What the hell do Philly Cheesesteaks have to do with the holidays?” – Me

Yes, Papa John’s has decided that the best way to show their Christmas/Hanukkah/whateveryoucelebrate spirit is to offer a limited-time Philly Cheesesteak Pizza. Rejoice! Sound the trumpets!

Or, if you’re from Philadelphia, shake your fist angrily at yet another pizza bastardization of your beloved sandwich. At least, that’s what I imagine people from Philadelphia are doing. While they can’t seem to decide who offers the best cheesesteak within their own city, they can probably all agree that Philly Cheesesteak Pizza is bullshit.

Not that Papa John’s is the first offender in this regard, and I’m sure they won’t be the last. But they do seem especially fond of taking other foods and turning them into pizzas. The Fritos Chili Pizza had barely been released before the Philly Cheesesteak came along, and earlier this year they released a Double Cheeseburger Pizza.

Papa John’s describes their Philly Cheesesteak Pizza as “hand-tossed pizza crust layered with creamy garlic sauce, steak from the Original Philly Cheesesteak Company, fresh onions and green peppers, then covered with mozzarella and provolone cheese.”

Before you oo-la-la over the Original Philly Cheesesteak Company, know that they offer bulk steak that’s been fully cooked and blast-frozen, including a Value Pack, which is described as “The economical choice—marinated with Soy Protein for maximum value.” But hey – at least it’s actually from Philly, right?

Before I get to the bad, I’ll address the good parts of the Philly Cheesesteak Pizza. Don’t worry, it won’t take too long.

Papa John's Philly Cheesesteak Pizza Slice

The steak – sorry, the Original Philly Cheesesteak Company steak – was sliced thin and was tender; I didn’t have to wrestle with it like it was beef jerky. The onions and green peppers added a nice bit of crunch for contrast. There was plenty of gooey cheese topping the pizza.

Okay! Moving on. First off, the steak, which I would consider the most important part of the pizza, was practically tasteless. It wasn’t even salty. While the onions added a little bit of their flavor, the green peppers were tasteless, and I only knew they were on the pizza because of their color and crunch.

Papa John's Philly Cheesesteak Pizza Close-Up

The real food crime that took place here was the creamy garlic sauce. From the first bite onward, it overwhelmed the rest of the toppings. I love a good, garlicky white pie, but this sauce just made me sad. It tasted extremely over-processed and bitter.

In fact, it took me a bit to figure it out, but I was finally able to pinpoint that the most off part of it was that it had the taste of bile. I know that sounds gross and extreme, but that’s the most accurate way to describe it.

All of the toppings on Papa John’s Philly Cheesesteak Pizza were tasteless or unimpressive, but the worst offender by far was that creamy garlic sauce. It took this pizza from underwhelming to straight-up unappealing. Hell, if you’re going to use a processed sauce on a cheesesteak pizza, why not just use Cheez Whiz? To state that Cheez Whiz would have improved any pizza should let you know that you should pass up on this holiday offering. Bah humbug.

(Nutrition Facts – Nutrition Facts not available on website.)

Item: Papa John’s Philly Cheesesteak Pizza
Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: Small
Purchased at: Papa John’s
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Onions and peppers add crunch. Angry fist-shaking. Steak is tender.
Cons: Steak is generally flavorless. Peppers are flavorless. Creamy garlic sauce tastes like bile. Wishing there was Cheez Whiz on my pizza. Creamy garlic sauce tastes like bile.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Tacos

Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Tacos Package

Say what you will about Taco Bell’s recycling of ingredients when introducing new menu items, but I will say this – they do enjoy getting creative with tacos. Whether they’re turning a Dorito into a shell, or wrapping a taco around another taco, playing origami with tortillas is not their weak spot.

And thus, the next iteration of the taco has arrived at Taco Bell: Rolled Chicken Tacos.

“Aren’t rolled tacos called taquitos?” You’re asking yourself right now. Or maybe you’re not, but it was my first thought when I saw them. The short answer is yes. I’m glad we cleared that up.

I associate these two terms with two different things, however. Whenever I visit a taqueria, I see them listed as rolled tacos on the menu. But when I visit the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, I see big boxes of taquitos.

In fact, growing up, my parents’ freezer was not complete without a big box of El Monterey or Delimex beef taquitos. It was my dad’s thing. I think he gave them out at the hospital when I was born in lieu of cigars. They tasted as cheap as they cost, but when you’re a ravenous prepubescent, the perfect food is something you can throw in the microwave, eat with your hands, and dunk into a puddle of Pace Picante.

Strangely, beef isn’t an option when it comes to Taco Bell’s Rolled Tacos. It’s chicken or GTFO. I don’t understand this decision, given that Taco Bell has loads of ground beef hanging around that would fit perfectly into a fried tortilla tube, but here we are. I have no choice but to be poultrified.

While it seems self-explanatory, I should let you know how Taco Bell describes their Rolled Chicken Tacos: “Rolled Chicken Tacos are crispy tacos rolled up with marinated all-white-meat shredded chicken.” Again, so glad we cleared all that up.

The Rolled Tacos also come with your choice of five, that’s right, FIVE different dipping sauces: Nacho Cheese, Premium Guacamole, Salsa, Reduced-Fat Sour Cream or Taco Bell’s new Spicy Ranch.

My mouth wanted to go with guacamole, but knowing that the Spicy Ranch was new, I had to pick that. Spicy Ranch is about as Mexican as dipping your rolled tacos in ketchup, but we are talking about Taco Bell, so hey.

Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Tacos

When Taco Bell says “crispy”, what they really mean is “deep fried”, and boy are these Rolled Chicken Tacos. Upon removal from their sleeve, the delightful scent of fried tortillas wafted into my nostrils. The tacos were dark and glistening with grease. Yesss.

The texture of the tacos was indeed crispy, but not so much that they were mouth-hurty, and there was a nice, greasy give in the middle. The meat-to-tortilla ratio was pretty much spot-on; I expected them to be underfilled, but the chicken wasn’t overwhelmed by the tortilla.

The chicken itself was moist and surprisingly flavorful. When you’ve only got one ingredient going on inside a taco, it’s important to get it right, and Taco Bell did a pretty good job. Whatever marinade they used kept the chicken juicy and added seasoning and a nice little kick to what could easily have been bland, shredded meat. My favorite part were the bits on the end that had turned crunchy from the frying process. I could eat a whole stick of crunchy, deep-fried chicken.

Taco Bell Spicy Ranch

As mentioned before, dip is important when it comes to taquitos. In regards to Taco Bell’s new Spicy Ranch, I found it to be lackluster, and this is coming from a person who will dip pretty much any chicken product into any ranch product. It wasn’t bad, it was just terribly generic.

I don’t know what they used to spice up the ranch, but it had a slightly orange-ish tone with little red and green flecks. It was thick, which was good – nobody wants a runny ranch when they’re dipping – and Taco Bell was generous with their portions, as I got two cups with my four rolled tacos. In the end, though, it was just ranch with a bit of a kick, and nothing more.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Taco Bell’s Rolled Chicken Tacos. The corn tortillas were deep fried to just the right unhealthily greasy and crunchy texture and the chicken was prominent, juicy and well-marinated. While the Spicy Ranch did nothing to wow me, there are four other dip choices for your perusal.

At the price of $1.99 for two tacos and one dip or $3.99 for four and two dips, these make a fine snack or appetizer to your Fourthmeal. There’s also a “duo” (I don’t know what that means) 12-pack.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 rolled tacos – 520 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 940 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugars, and 20 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Rolled Chicken Tacos
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4 tacos and 2 dip cups
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Tortillas were just the right amount of crispy. Origami tacos. Chicken filling was juicy and well-marinated. Makes a cheap but satisfying snack. Taquito Cigars.
Cons: Forced poultrification. Spicy Ranch was lackluster. Things that are mouth-hurty. Unhealthy amounts of grease (if you consider that a con).

REVIEW: White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers

I’ve never lived on the East Coast, which means I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at White Castle. I can’t decide if I just used the word “pleasure” sarcastically, because, while having never been there, I have heard much about the establishment. I’ve heard White Castle burgers are magical, like crack.

Wait, calling crack magical isn’t a good idea. I’ve heard White Castle burgers are magical, like unicorns. It’s said they’re the ultimate hangover cure. I’ve also been told they’re the ultimate hangover cure because you will eat them, and then immediately blast all of last night’s alcohol consumption into your toilet bowl.

They’ve also been called the ultimate drunk food, presumably because anything tastes good while you’re drunk, and you’re already going to be full of regrets in the morning, so why not add the fullness of White Castle sliders on top of that?

So basically, White Castle is just like Taco Bell, except with burgers instead of…whatever you want to call what Taco Bell serves.

I’ve seen White Castle burgers in the frozen food aisle before, but never picked any up. I felt as though they wouldn’t be truly representing the White Castle experience. But then I saw their new Jalapeño Cheeseburgers and I thought, well, hell. I’m not heading to the East Coast any time soon. What better time than now, and what better place than here, on the Internet?

There were both microwave and stovetop cooking instructions on the back of the box. My first instinct was to head straight for the microwave, but then I saw that the stovetop instructions were “for steaming of burgers”. That seemed to indicate that that would be the more authentic way to go, so I decided to give it a shot.

…Except one of the first directions involved using the “steamer insert”. I looked in the box. I looked at the box. I saw absolutely nothing that looked like a steamer insert.

Was I going mad? Had there been a mistake, where the insert was not included? Or had I been somehow bested by White Castle frozen cheeseburgers, which should seemingly be one of the easiest foods to prepare on the planet? Either way, I was lost. Without my steamer insert, I could not cook them on the stovetop.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 2

So, I moved on to the microwave, which had instructions that I could actually follow without questioning my sanity. The burgers (sliders, technically) come in packs of two – open the side of the package, break the connected sandwiches apart, and nuke. Mission accomplished.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 4

The first thing I noticed was that the buns are both soft and chewy. They don’t have much by way of flavor, but they’re generally inoffensive – fluffy, but not intrusive.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 3

Next came the onions. They actually gave a little bit of a crunch, which is impressive for a frozen, microwaved burger. It tasted almost like there was onion flavor in the meat itself. I was impressed by how much flavor they added to the party.

The burger patty had White Castle’s signature punched-out holes in it, which made it look like I just rolled a meaty five. Not bad if you’re playing a 2d6 game. Wow, that took a turn towards nerd super fast.

The meat itself was sub-par. The package claims that it’s 100 percent beef, to which I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but it had about 5 percent flavor. I get the idea that White Castle is pretty much supposed to be shittyburgers, but it was almost like the meat was an afterthought. They didn’t taste bad, they just didn’t taste like much of anything, besides some grease.

The cheese, which was pepper jack, melted nicely in the microwave and added a creaminess that complimented the crunch and flavor of the onions.

The real selling point here was the jalapeños, and they didn’t disappoint. They didn’t set my mouth on fire, but there was a nice jalapeño flavor and heat that built as I made my way through my two sliders in eight bites.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 5

I was surprised that the flavor was so bold for such a seemingly cheap burger. I have to wonder, though: where were the peppers? I didn’t see any when I flipped the top bun off to take pictures. There wasn’t any pepper texture, unless it was mixed in with the onions. The only other source would be in the pepper jack cheese, which is not really that hot. Mysterious.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers come in three packs per box, which means the serving size is two sliders. This is a very odd serving size. As I mentioned, I was able to eat two burgers in eight bites, which is equivalent to quite a small snack. You microwave them inside the bag, so having three would be awkward, and eating four at once leaves you with two stragglers. Perhaps this is some cunning plan by White Castle to get you to buy more than one box at a time.

While neither drunk nor hungover while eating my sliders, I found myself enjoying the White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburger experience. In this case, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. With an unremarkable bun and meat patty, it seems like these burgers would disappoint, but the large presence of the onions and invisible jalapeños added lots of flavor and texture, and the cheese melted nicely and smoothly. While it would make for an awkward meal, a pack of these sliders would be perfectly acceptable as a quick snack or desperate hangover fix.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 package (2 cheeseburgers) – 310 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 560 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, 14 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% calcium, 10% iron..)

Item: White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 6 cheeseburgers
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Unicorns. Definite jalapeño presence, despite lack of evidence. Nerd jokes about meat patties. Creamy cheese melts nicely. Onions added lots of flavor and crunch.
Cons: Crack. Bun was flavorless. Where’s my steamer insert? Meat patty offered little. Hangovers. Serving size too small, with odd quantity in box.

REVIEW: Pizza Hut Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ Pizza

Pizza Hut Blake's Smokehouse BBQ Pizza

Blake Shelton. A name that only vaguely registered in my mind before this review. Some sort of pop country superstar? I was out of my wheelhouse.

Until I saw this.

Now I know exactly who Blake Shelton is. Blake Shelton is an insane person.

You see, Blake Shelton has apparently inspired or contributed to or somehow been involved in the line of Pizza Hut’s new BBQ pizzas, most specifically Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ.

Thank god for Pizza Hut that he’s not actually part of their marketing process, or else this rather pedestrian moniker (and the other two, Honey BBQ Chicken and Hawaiian BBQ) could have gone rather differently. Here are some of Blake’s suggestions:

Chicky Chicky Boom Boom
Cutie Fruity
The Shellshocked
The Aloha-Broha
Dorky Porky
Cluckadoodle-DOOOOO
Hawaiian Piiiiie-ian
P.S…It’s B.S.
The Oklahoma Stuffer
Super Pork Fucker 3000
Barba-who? Barbecue
Meat Sphere
Grab a Fork! It’s Time for Pork!

Only one of the above is fake. Can you guess which one? I’d be hard pressed to.

Pizza Hut describes Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ as “A toasted Cheddar crust topped with sweet Honey BBQ sauce, hardwood smoked bacon, smoked ham flavored with a hint of sugar, and juicy pork.”

In case you’re keeping track, that’s three porks. I’m perfectly okay with this amount of pork. Ignore the quiet screams emanating from my heart at the amount of sodium this potentially presents.

I think the most important player here is the Honey BBQ sauce, and who am I to bury the lead, so let’s start with that.

I have to say that I was quite impressed with this sauce. I was expecting a sweet mess; there was a fair amount of it on each slice, but it added subtle BBQ undertones that didn’t overwhelm the other toppings but instead added a nice smoky flavor. The sauce was also thick, so it stuck to the pizza without creating stickyhands.

Pizza Hut Blake's Smokehouse BBQ Pizza Slice

As you can see, Pizza Hut wasn’t skimpy with the toppings. Beyond the Honey BBQ sauce, the flavor profile went in this order: sausage, then ham, and then…well, it seemed like they just nodded at the bacon from across the room. I mean, I could see bits of “hardwood smoked” bacon, but they added none of the crunch or smoky flavor I want out of bacon on my pizza.

Oh, did I say “sausage” earlier? What I meant to say was “juicy pork”. Which is, apparently, Pizza Hut code for crumbled sausage pizza topping. There was a lot of it, and it was, indeed, juicy and flavorful, but it wasn’t exactly anything new or special.

The same seemed to go for the smoked ham that Pizza Hut claims to have a hint of sugar. Maybe it was the bit of sugar in the Honey BBQ sauce that masked it, but again, it just seemed like good ol’ ham pizza topping. Again, nothing wrong with that, but nothing special, either.

I was surprised at what a difference the toasted cheddar on the crust made. I haven’t had Pizza Hut in ages, but apparently they changed their hand-tossed formula earlier this year and I have to say, it was much better than I remember. I’ve found in the past that baked-in cheese crusts lack flavor, but the cheddar was really noticeable here.

While I cannot legally stab Blake Shelton, I’m glad I took a stab at Pizza Hut’s Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ Pizza, even if it came with mixed results. That was a forced joke and I’m sorry. While the juicy pork (sausage bits) and ham seemed to be regular pizza toppings, they certainly were plentiful; however, I had to wonder where the bacon went and lamented its absence.

On the plus side, the Honey BBQ sauce wasn’t nearly as cloyingly sweet as I thought it was going to be, and it added a little smokiness that complimented the pork toppings. The toasted cheddar crust was surprisingly flavorful, which beats a regular crust any day. When you add it all up, Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ won’t blow your mind, but it’s a decent pork pizza with a bbq twist. Dorky Porky.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 370 calories, 150 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 790 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein.)

Item: Pizza Hut Blake’s Smokehouse BBQ Pizza
Purchased Price: $11.00
Size: Large pizza
Purchased at: Pizza Hut
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Honey BBQ sauce wasn’t too sweet and adds some smoky flavor. I didn’t have to drink a gallon of water because of excess salt like I thought I would. Lots of sausage and ham toppings. No stickyhands. Cheddar crust was surprisingly flavorful. Fine, I kind of like “Dorky Porky”.
Cons: Bacon crunch and smokiness were conspicuously absent. Blake Shelton’s pizza names. “Juicy pork” and ham tasted like regular pizza toppings. It’s illegal to stab pop country singers (or anyone else, I guess).

REVIEW: Sonic Jalapeño Chocolate Shake

Sonic Jalapen?o Chocolate Shake Cup

Waaay back on April 1st, Sonic Drive-In announced their newest shake – the Kale Cream Pie Shake.

Sound horrifyingly disgusting? That’s because it was an April Fool’s joke. It was a promotional gag for their Summer of Shakes, which includes Oreo Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate Covered Jalapeño.

Does that last one sound horrifyingly disgusting? That’s because it was an Apri- oh, shit. It wasn’t a joke. The Sonic Chocolate Covered Jalapeño Shake is real.

When I got my shake, I was disappointed it came in a pedestrian Styrofoam cup. The promo pictures had a clear cup that showed little pepper pieces in the shake, as well as jalapeño pieces on the whipped cream. Presumably, this is why it was initially called the Chocolate Covered Jalapeño Shake, but is now called the Jalapeño Chocolate Shake.

It looked so innocent at first. Just a chocolate shake. I dipped a spoon into the cup, expecting to come up with some little pieces, but instead I found…

Sonic Jalapen?o Chocolate Shake Jalapen?o Slice

Yeah. Whole sliced jalapeños, right in the shake. What the fuck.

Sonic Jalapen?o Chocolate Shake Glass

Wanting a better look, I unceremoniously dumped the shake into a glass, and the results gave me no encouragement.

Using a straw with my shake, as God intended, it initially tasted like a chocolate shake that was somehow…off. If I didn’t know there were peppers in it, I would have tasted it and thought, huh, they did something weird to this. There wasn’t any real spiciness to it, just an offness, like maybe the chocolate syrup had gone bad. I’ve never had the experience of tasting that, but that’s the closest I could come to a comparison.

And then I sucked in my first piece of jalapeño.

You know how sometimes you’ll get a chunky shake and accidentally suck a piece straight to the back of your throat? That’s exactly what happened to me. But, instead of a delicious piece of Oreo cookie, it was a motherfucking jalapeño.

And not just some pedestrian pickled jalapeño, either. A fresh jalapeño.

I did that thing where you use your tongue to move the piece back to the front of your mouth and started chewing it, but the damage had already been done. Jalapeño juice burned the back of my throat, causing me to choke and gag a little.

After getting over that, I chewed the jalapeño piece. My poor mouth was so confused. “I love jalapenos!” Some of my taste buds said. “I love chocolate shake!” others joined in enthusiastically. But then the two clashed, and both sides screamed.

“AAAAHHHHHHH THIS IS SO WRONG WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO US!”

“WE LOVE JALAPENOS WHY IS THERE CHOCOLATE SHAKE IN HERE!”

“WE LOVE CHOCOLATE SHAKE WHY ARE THERE JALAPENOS IN HERE!”

At this point, I was chatting with a friend, who kindly informed me, “I heard you don’t get the full effect unless you muddle it first.”

I hated this idea with a passion. But I had to admit he was probably right.

So I smashed my straw down into the glass, hearing the sickening squish of peppers releasing their capsaicin like a hundred villagers being reduced to a slick yet chunky mash of viscera under the foot of a vengeful giant.

Did I mention that I hate this friend?

What was once an off-tasting chocolate shake with the occasional nasty jalapeño surprise turned into a creamy drink of unending horror. The peppers had now blended efficiently with the chocolate shake, resulting in a taste that, and I’m not over-exaggerating for effect here, made me think I might vomit.

All that pepper taste that had been released and was now free to mix with the chocolate and ice cream, and it’s hard to even describe the outcome. It wasn’t just spicy chocolate. It was jalapeño peppers a la mode with some chocolate. It was bitter and sickly sweet and spicy and sad and I honestly made that face you’d make if a hippo flung poo into your open mouth.

After a few sips, I could take no more. What the hell was I going to do with this thing? I was afraid if I tossed it down the kitchen sink, I might actually toss my cookies along with it.

So I did the only thing I could – I chucked it into the dumpster outside. I should have covered it with cow excrement to make a more pleasant smell or burned that dumpster down and buried the ashes. But that’s probably a felony, so I just threw it in there and hoped no dumpster divers had the misfortune of finding it before it went to the landfill.

I’ve eaten a lot of terrible things in my journey as a food reviewer, but there are a few that really stand out. The #1 on my list has always been Jones Bacon Flavored Soda, and I was reminded of it often as I tried to down the Sonic Jalapeño Chocolate Shake.

With both I experienced a grey, mushy feeling of wrongness deep inside my soul; a knowledge that this is an experience that will stay with me forever; nausea; and the idea that a company had taken a flavor I loved and ruined it forever. Two flavors, in this case.

I really thought I would hate the Sonic Jalapeño Chocolate Shake before I tried it, but thought it wouldn’t be as bad as I’d anticipated. I was wrong. It is so, so much worse.

(Nutrition Facts – Small size — 670 calories, 280 calories from fat, 31 grams of total fat, 23 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 100 milligrams of cholesterol, 480 milligrams of sodium, 89 grams of total carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 56 grams of sugar, 8 grams of protein, 20% vitamin A, 1% vitamin C, 26% calcium, and 5% iron..)

Item: Sonic Jalapeño Chocolate Shake
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: Small
Purchased at: Sonic
Rating: 0 out of 10
Pros: The chocolate shake only tasted “off” before I muddled it. I guess using fresh jalapeño peppers deserves a mention? The cherry on top hadn’t touched the shake, so it was okay.
Cons: Muddling the jalapeños was the worst idea in the world. Um, everything about this shake is a terrible idea. Sonic had the audacity to charge me an extra $0.60 for the jalapeños, for some reason. Burning public dumpsters is probably illegal. Fuck you for scarring my soul, Sonic.