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: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Finalist Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips

I was pretty stoked when Lay’s first introduced their “Do Us a Flavor” contest last summer. I mean really. It was about time one of these snack food giants gave me the chance to take my dream of country pate and crusty baguette chips and make it a reality.

Alas, the folks at Frito-Lay decided to crush my dreams by going with three other flavors as their finalists. I can’t say I’m surprised by two of them. I have nothing against Sriracha or Cheesy Garlic Bread, but really, we’ve seen spicy and cheesy when it comes to chips before.

What we haven’t seen before (at least not in America) is chicken & waffles. At least not in fried spud form. Syrup? Yes. Denny’s breakfast platters? Of course. But not potato chips. That’s just crazy talk.

Well, I guess we might as well call Lay’s crazy because they’ve decided to milk this soul food classic for all its “Upcoming Food Trends” list-generating hype is worth.

I’m sure a more prolific writer would resign any poultry puns before embarking on such a review, but there’s really no other way to describe my first reaction when opening the bag; my God, these chips smell foul!

It’s this funky, almost mildew-inducing stench which borders somewhere between brown sugar oatmeal and leftover KFC, as if each chip has been cooked in oil leftover from the original Wells Supper Club in Harlem…circa 1938.

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips Closeup1

For as bad as the chips smell, they actually look quite appetizing. They appear thicker and more robust than your standard potato chips, and have a kettle-cooked type hue with real, skin-on edges. The seasoning, while smelling just awful, didn’t look unappetizing. Aside from a stick-to-your finger coating of brown sugar and “chicken and waffle seasoning,” there’s even your prerequisite unidentified herb coating each chip. 

If you don’t like herbs, you might like these chips because they don’t have any herby taste whatsoever. Of course, you might also like these chips if you enjoy a really funky, if not altogether, off-putting pungency that hangs in the roof of your mouth like Luke Skywalker dangling in the Wampa’s cave during The Empire Strikes Back.

I really don’t know how to describe the taste other than clashing and vaguely reminiscent of mold. There’s something about the initial zip of brown sugar; followed by the artificial chicken taste; some fake butter flavor thrown in there just for good measure; and the onion, garlic and chicken bullion that make for a really, really strange flavor.

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips 2

Oh, who am I kidding?

These are horrible. They taste old and rotten. And while there’s a nice crunch that’s more substantial than your standard Lay’s chip, there’s no taste of a potato whatsoever. Even the artwork on the bag looks unappetizing – like a Play-Doh reconstructed waffle and the kind of chicken drumette they stick in working kitchen displays in IKEAs. Forget that foodie-inspired wisdom you think you know because, after eating these, I never want to encounter brown sugar, chicken broth, and onion powder in this close proximity ever again.

And that aroma. I just can’t get past it. The only thing that compares is sticking your face into an amusement park trash can and taking a gigantic whiff of stuff.

I was completely prepared to admonish Lay’s for picking two “safer” flavors when it came to their Flavor Finalists, but Sriracha and Cheesy Garlic Bread now look really good. I can’t fathom them being any worse than these chicken & waffles chips. And to think, they could have totally struck it rich with that country pate and crusty baguette flavor…

(Editor’s Note: We reviewed the other two Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Finalists. Click here for the Cheesy Garlic Bread flavor and click here for the Sriracha flavor.)

(Nutrition Facts – 28g/about 17 chips – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 320 milligrams of potassium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Other Lay’s Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips:
Junk Food Guy
Kotaku
BevNerd

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Finalist Chicken & Waffles Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 9.5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Weis Market
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Crunchier than a normal Lay’s chips. Smells slightly better than sticking your head into an amusement park trash can. 
Cons: Heavy doses of brown sugar and ‘savory’ spices come together worse than blindly pouring an entire spice cabinet into a bowl. Moldy smell comes across in the seasoning. Can’t taste the potatoes. Quite possibly the least appetizing potato product I’ve ever eaten.

REVIEW: Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles

The story of Torani’s Chicken ‘N Waffles syrup presents internet marketing at either its best or most contrived (quite possibly both). To recap:

March 26, 2012:

Torani announces they’ll be releasing a chicken & waffles flavoring syrup. The Internet collectively says, “That’s disgusting. I MUST HAVE IT.”

April 1, 2012:

Torani reveals the new flavor was an early-April Fools’ prank and simultaneously launches a social media campaign to generate support for the creation of the “potential new cult favorite”.

The Internet expresses outrages over the prank, rolls its eyes at a corporation raising grassroots support for its own non-existent product, and goes back to watching Call Me Maybe parody videos.

November 20, 2012:

“Due to unprecedented demand,” Torani announces actual debut of Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup.

January 1, 2013:

Due to a need to immediately sabotage his resolutions of losing weight, not wasting money on novelty food items, and writing less often in the third person, Jasper tries the Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup.

January 14, 2013:

Due to the syrup being awful, Jasper waits two weeks before working up the spirit to actually write down all the awfulness.

The bar for the Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup was set pretty low – since it started as a marketing gimmick that was likely rushed through development and production, its best-case outcome was always going to be “gag gift that’s actually serviceable.” Alas, the syrup can only serve as another cautionary reminder against buying novelty foods.

I first tried a spoonful of the syrup on its own. It smelled very sweet and a little bit malty, which is about as positive as I’m going to get in this review. As expected, it tasted incredibly sweet, but the malty-ness was really a yeasty-ness, and there was a lingering aftertaste that was yeasty and greasy (presumably to reflect the fried chicken component) and nearly induced my gag reflex.

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles in Spoon

Of course, syrup isn’t meant to be consumed by its lonesome, so I added it to other meals. I had a brief, almost-ontological debate with my girlfriend on whether you could, in fact, eat Chicken ‘n Waffles syrup with the dish from which its essence is distilled. Since the Torani bottle recommends you eat it with biscuits, we figured waffles were close enough and ordered some waffles and chicken fingers.

Torani Chicken 'n Waffles On Waffles

To establish a fair baseline of comparison, we first ate the chicken and waffles with regular Aunt Jemima maple syrup. It goes without saying that I loved that combination. It probably also goes without saying that the Torani syrup didn’t measure up in the least. The Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup was still too sweet and so thin that it seeped into the waffles and made them soggy. The yeasty and greasy aftertaste was only more prominent and artificial in the face of the actual dish.

I then followed a recipe on the Torani website for a bourbon drink, and I tried it in my coffee the next morning. I had similarly negative impressions in those settings, though I suppose I’d find the syrup more tolerable if my palate were compromised by the dulling effects of alcohol or the tongue-burning effects of coffee.

Even the price felt dissatisfying, at $6.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling. Just don’t buy the Torani Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup, not even as a gag gift or as a novelty food item for yourself. And hey, Internet: let’s avoid demanding that any more April Fools’ 2012 jokes be developed into real products.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 fl oz – 90 calories 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Other Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup reviews:
LA Mag

Item: Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup
Purchased Price: $6.95 (plus $5.95 S&H)
Size: 375 mL
Purchased at: Torani website
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Smelled mostly OK. Call Me Maybe parody videos. Clever April Fools’ Day gags. Aunt Jemima maple syrup with chicken and waffles. I would use Catblock.
Cons: Tasted yeasty and greasy. Gross, lingering aftertaste. Bad by itself, bad and too thin to have with waffles (and probably biscuits), bad with bourbon and coffee. Pricey. Contrived internet marketing. Immediately breaking my New Year’s resolutions. Ontological debates about syrup.

REVIEW: Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets

Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets

With recent news that the healthy school lunch initiatives undertaken by the First Lady might just be starving our kids, I can imagine quite a few in the K through 12 ranks are contemplating a switchover to the old brown bag lunch. As a former “bringer,” (every day, for 12 straight years, and DAMN PROUD) let me welcome them to the world where anything goes and what your parents pack you very rarely ends up down your gullet.

I’m talking trades, haggling, and straight up bartering for the best goods this side of a 7-Eleven snack aisle.

But before you trade away for old Howie Klinchenstien’s two bags of Cooler Ranch Doritos and Rachel Jimbobberycooters’ Dunkaroos, you’re going to have to equip yourself with some serious hardware. Forget that couscous and marinated mozzarella salad Mom made the other night, and ditch Dad’s homemade crunchy chickpeas with cumin and black pepper. These days, the freaking lunch lady’s can whip up that, and hell if I’m gonna eat something I can’t even pronounce. No, what’s really hot on the middle school lunch trade market right now is a bit more…how should I put this…elicit.

Chicken nuggets are where it’s at. And thanks to Lunchables’ new Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets, you can not only bring chicken nuggets to your no-fun lunchroom, but you can do so without even having to sneak into the teacher’s lounge to use the microwave.

Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets Closeup

Because the 15 second heating instructions are “optional,” I decided to sample my pre-cooked nuggets both cold and warm. I highly suggest neither option.

After opening the bag, you’ll be greeted by a smell I can only describe as “soggy cafeteria chicken nugget.” Ah, the sweet smell of maltodextrin, corn meal, and reconstituted white meat chicken with rib meat. Tell me, is there anything more American?

Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets Breading

Cold, the nugget breading rubs off on your fingers in a mealy and grainy way that gives new meaning to the time-honored grade school condition known as “you have cooties,” and tastes strongly – and only – of salt and garlic. The chicken is moist, I guess, but moist only in the sense that it came off as a circle of chewy chemicals and stuff that might have once gone “cock-a-doodle-doo.” Despite its name, I definitely didn’t taste any honey or BBQ flavor.

Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets Breading 2

Warmed up, the nuggets are even worse. The breading becomes soggy and oily, covering your fingers in a mealy and wet substance that’ll make you drop more footballs in a recess pick-me-up game than Terrell Owens dropped in his short-lived preseason comeback bid for the Seattle Seahawks. The heated nuggets taste like, well, heated and overly salted pieces of something vaguely chickeny, with little, if any, taste of honey or BBQ. Instead, there are strong generic garlic and cornmeal flavors in the pinkish, orangeish “breading,” which can’t be overcome by ketchup or a dipping sauce alone.

Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets Innards

On a scale on 1 to 10 in terms of the classic middle school lunch tradability matrix, Lunchables Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets score about a negative six. Meaning that if you’ve got a hankering for the lightly salted rice cakes that the girl on the “diet” has or the fishy smelly thing the kid from Thailand always brings to the table, then you’ve got the golden ticket. Otherwise, these little guys keep to the time-honored Lunchables tradition of making actual 1990s cafeteria food look halfway decent, and making us all question how we survived eating that crap.
 

(Nutrition Facts – 6 nuggets (85 g) – 180 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 420 milligrams of sodium, 13 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Item: Lunchables Snackers Honey BBQ Chicken Nuggets
Purchased Price: $3.98
Size: 9.8 ounces
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Civil disobedience in the lunchroom. No heating required. Avoiding starvation due to healthy public school lunches. Great if you like trading your lunch away for rice cakes.
Cons: Absolutely freaking disgusting. Doesn’t taste like BBQ. Or honey. Or chicken. Lacking proper lunch-table trading material. Does actual deep-fried pieces of chicken byproduct an absolute disservice.

REVIEW: Pepsi Black (Japan)

Pepsi Black

Like a vampire completely sucks the blood out of its victim, the Instagram Inkwell filter removes color from a photo, and Toddlers & Tiaras completely destroys my belief in humanity, Pepsi Black from Japan made my mouth feel like it was being completely robbed of its ability to taste.

Pepsi Black had a pleasant lemon aroma, and for a brief moment it tasted like a Diet Pepsi mixed with lemon cleaner. While its initial flavor sounds a little bad, what quickly followed was much worse.

I could describe Pepsi Black’s flavor as almost nothingness, but I could also say it’s as if Pepsi Japan figured out a way to bottle sadness and give it a flavor.

Thankfully, Pepsi Black’s bleak flavor disappeared soon after the liquid passed my oral cavity, but my taste buds experiencing sadness is a feeling they won’t soon forget.

So what makes the limited edition Pepsi Black taste more like Pepsi Bleck?

My guess is the fact that it’s a significantly reduced sugar cola. According to the bottle, it has 50 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi.

Using the power of mathematics, I calculated a 490 ml bottle of regular Pepsi in Japan has around 54-56 grams of sugar. So this Pepsi Black should have around 27-28 grams of sugar.

Because I can’t read Japanese, which makes my ancestors weep, I’m not sure if Pepsi Japan replaced the sugar with artificial sweeteners, but it doesn’t taste like they did. Since Pepsi Black tastes like depression, I wonder if they used artificial saddeners by mistake?

Pepsi Black is quite possibly the second worst soda that has ever passed through my parted lips, with Jones Bacon Soda being the worst. It’s not refreshing or tasty. Instead, it’s liquid depression.

(Nutrition Facts – 100 ml – 24 kcal, 0 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 8 milligrams of sodium, 5.8 grams of carbohydrates, 5.6 grams of sugar.)

Item: Pepsi Black (Japan)
Purchased Price: Received as gift
Size: 490 ml
Purchased at: 7-Eleven Japan
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: 50 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi. Limited edition. Pleasant lemon aroma.
Cons: It’s taste more like Pepsi Bleck. Chemically lemon flavor, which was replaced by depressing nothingness. Not refreshing. Liquid depression. Not being able to read Japanese. Toddlers & Tiaras.