REVIEW: Great Value Tropickles

Great Value Tropickles

I’ve long believed in the old marketing axiom that there’s no such thing as a bad idea, only bad execution. Even a relatively unimpressive or unappetizing product can become a must-buy depending on how well it’s presented to the public. For example, I don’t think anybody genuinely enjoyed Orbitz soda, but everybody alive in the late 1990s at least gave it a try and still remember it vividly to this day.

Walmart’s proprietary Tropickles, on the other hand, is the epitome of a badly executed novelty food. Instead of coming off as kooky and kitschy the product looks, smells, and tastes trashy and tawdry. Superficially and suprafacially, it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth; it’s so bad, the only word I can think to describe it is execrable.

Everything about this product is hideous. The packaging is ultra-generic and the sight of swampy vegetables floating up and down in pinkish-red fluid is stomach-churning. And as soon as you pry off the lid, things get really nauseating.

Great Value Tropickles 3

There’s nothing particularly offensive about fruit punch, even the low-tier, store brand stuff. There’s also nothing particularly offensive about canned pickles (unless, of course, you have a strong aversion to tart foods.)

Alas, when you force the two to co-habitate in the same glass jar, the chemical reaction is repugnant. The combination of lukewarm sugar water, wilting cucumbers and a ton of vinegar results in a scent comparable to rotten produce doused in Kool-Aid, this sickly sweet odor that keeps alternating between hummingbird nectar and a compost heap.

Then there are the visuals. There’s no genteel way to put it – the pickles look like bloody turds. Did any of you kids ever see that great B-horror movie from the 1980s called Slugs? Well, if you haven’t, the Tropickles are exactly what the monsters in that flick resembled. Come to think of it, maybe Walmart should’ve saved these things for Halloween and rebranded them as pickled snakes in elf blood or something – at least then they could’ve promoted it as intentionally disgusting.

As bad as the scent is and as bad as the pickles look, though, the taste is even worse. You get sporadic moments of watered-down sweetness and you get occasional bursts of traditional dill pickle flavor, but for the most part all your taste buds can detect is pure ick.

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The fruit punch juice makes the pickles mushier and more acidic than normal, and the goulash of vinegar and sugar water taints them with a rubbery bitterness. Really, it doesn’t even taste like food after a couple of bites; if you want to simulate the flavor, aroma and even mouthfeel of Tropickles, find a menthol cigarette chain smoker and ask them to cram their tongue down your esophagus.

All in all, these Tropickles might be the worst thing I’ve ever eaten that wasn’t sold at Dollar Tree. Remember earlier when I said there’s no such thing as a “bad idea” when it comes to gimmick foods? Well, scratch that – “putting pickles in fruit punch” is about as bad as it gets.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 a spear – 25 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 260 mg of sodium, 6 grams of total carbs, 0 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.78
Size: 24 oz. jar
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: If you’re mugged in the parking lot, the jar makes a great impromptu bludgeoning weapon. The bottle is probably heavy enough to keep a small door open.
Cons: …literally everything else.

REVIEW: Cow Candy Pinkie Pie Strawberry Jack Cheese and Prime Punch Jack Cheese

Cow Candy Jack Cheeses

This is a review, but it’s also a cry for help. When I saw Cow Candy’s Strawberry and Fruit Punch-flavored cheeses listed in Spotted on Shelves, my gut said “Yeah, I’m having those.”

I’m so addicted to the rush of novelty flavors that even when I read about something that couldn’t possibly be delicious, I’m still compelled to track it down. Fruit-flavored cookies are one thing, but cheese? What is wrong with me? How long until I’m buying cotton-candy-flavored beef filets?

Like a true junkie, I went into this with full faith that these cheese sticks, sporting colors more appropriate for children’s spring t-shirts, would take me to snack heaven for just a moment.

Cow Candy Jack Cheeses 2

I looked past the blank yet somehow judgmental faces of the children’s cartoon characters and opened the packages. The red stick, emblazoned with Transformer Optimus Prime, was a smooth block. The My Little Pony-themed Strawberry Pinkie Pie had a pock-marked exterior. I wondered if this was a refrigeration error or if the flavors affected the textures in different ways.

Cow Candy Jack Cheeses 3

The strawberry stick gave off a tangy artificial strawberry scent – Frankenberry cereal mixed with a trace of shoe funk. The fruit punch smelled like candy-induced vomit.

When I bit into the strawberry, it crumbled, strangely, into tiny spheres. The Fruit Punch cheese behaved more like what I expected – a rubbery snap.

Cow Candy Jack Cheeses 4

Describing the taste of these cheese sticks is proving impossible, so I’ll tell you what they DON’T taste like – strawberry, fruit punch, or Jack cheese. Calling them salty/sweet feels wrong, as weren’t enough of either to do the term justice. If you removed everything good from cheese and fruit, this is what would be left. They’re just gross.

I powered my way through one of each flavor. Hours later, they still haunt me. It’s like I ate prop food not meant for consumption. They are by far the worst snack food I’ve ever encountered – my stomach is churning.

I’d intended to think up some cute way to use these cheese sticks in another snack/treat (shred them as a topping for sweet & savory mini pizzas?) but there’s really only one thing to do with them:

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All I can do now is try not to barf, and wonder when I’m going to find Jeff VanVonderen sitting on my couch telling me people love me like crazy but are worried about my novelty flavor addiction.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 stick – 80 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Stop & Shop
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Nice colors! That’s it.
Cons: Disgusting taste that resembles none of the flavors advertised. Odd texture in Strawberry version. They’re making me nauseous. Do not buy them for children you’re fond of.

REVIEW: The WORKS Reese PBC Stuff’d Burger (Canada)

The Works Reese PBC Burger

Do I have to write this review? Can I just type the word “nope” a few hundred times, include some photos, and call it a day? Because seriously: NOPE.

On the surface, the Reese PBC Stuff’d Burger seems like it should be an interesting novelty, cut from the same cloth as a doughnut burger, a McGriddle, or a Twinkie wiener sandwich (okay, I don’t think that last one exists outside of UHF, but it should). Sweet and salty novelty sandwiches aren’t exactly fine dining, but they can be tasty.

Stuffing (and topping) a burger with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups seems, if nothing else, like it should be fun.

Again: NOPE.

Eating it is absolutely not fun, unless you consider eating disgusting food to be fun, in which case it’s a barrel of laughs.

The Works Reese PBC Burger 2

Aside from the peanut butter cups, the burger is also topped with a couple of strips of bacon, and a fairly generous pile of crispy onion strings.

I don’t think I can be emphatic enough: do not, under any circumstances, order this hamburger. It is a disgusting, piping hot slurry of sickly sweet Reese’s goo and shoddy, dry beef.

You shouldn’t underestimate how face-burningly hot this thing is. I cut it in half, spent several minutes taking photos, and still managed to burn the Dickens out of my tongue on the first bite.

I’m not going to say that’s because this is a malevolent, hell-spawned creation of pure, unrequited evil whose sole purpose is to inflict as much anguish as possible on the world, but… if the shoe fits.

The Works Reese PBC Burger 3

Aside from the mouth-searing temperature, the flavour is completely out of whack; it’s all cloying sweetness with no balance whatsoever. The crispy onions add some texture but are completely overwhelmed, and the bacon may as well not even be there.

The burger basically tastes like dessert, only with beef and onions. It’s just wrong in a very fundamental way.

It probably doesn’t help that the beef is awful — dry, tough, and studded with bits of sinew and gristle, it’s actually shockingly bad considering that burgers are this restaurant’s stock-in-trade.

The longer I ate it, the more oppressive it became; I finished it, but I’m not sure why.

It’s pretty clear that this was created entirely to get as much media attention as possible, with no regard at all for flavour. And on that level, I guess it’s a success? But ordering and eating it is essentially a metaphorical middle finger from The Works to you. They want that sweet, sweet free press; all the people who have to suffer through actually eating it are just collateral damage.

So for those keeping score, that’s The Works: 1, humanity: 0.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on The Works website.)

Item: The WORKS Reese PBC Stuff’d Burger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $15.98 (CAN)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: It’s food, I guess?
Cons: An affront to humanity. Shoddy beef. Off-putting flavour. Cloyingly sweet. Face-meltingly hot. Literal hot garbage.

REVIEW: Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino (Bottled)

Starbucks S'mores Frappuccino Chilled Coffee Drink

Grammar check: Is the opposite of “s’more,” “s’mless” or “s’mfewer”? I know it’s a s’mall detail but I want to seem s’mart while I s’mear this product.

The Starbucks S’mores bottled Frappuccino sucks. S’more? How about s’mfewer? (Boom. Got ‘em. High fives all around.)

It’s not totally Starbucks’ fault, though. Let’s deconstruct the drink around the campfire. Theoretically, it’s chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker flavors in a Frappuccino. The problem begins with the concept of a liquid marshmallow. Take away the context of a fluffy, pillowy, chubby-bunny confection and you’re left with a sickeningly sweet amount of sugar. That’s the overriding flavor here, and it really dominates the entire campfire to the point of grimaces.

Creeping below is a s’mall s’mattering of cinnamon notes, presumably to cover the graham cracker part. It sort of rides along and doesn’t ruin things but also doesn’t help much, like a Muttley to the marshmallow’s Dick Dastardly.

Curiously absent is a strong chocolate element. I found this strange, because Starbucks has previously given us a halfway decent bottled mocha, although a few sips here and there I detected some bitter chocolate flavoring, quickly smoothed over by a wave of dairy. Must’ve s’muggled it in somehow.

Starbucks S'mores Frappuccino Chilled Coffee Drink 3

The balance is off. The sweetness of the entire thing is cloying and also has some sort of artificial quality that makes the entire drink taste a little bit like milk that has gone bad or something. I don’t know where the coffee flavor is. Yes, they botched the marshmallow part, but the lack of a woody, dry graham cracker taste is also disappointing. No s’miles for this s’melly coffee s’moothie.

There’s an in-store version of the S’mores Frappuccino now and I’m sure it’s better. It’s gotta be better. Please be better.

Here we are, at the end. Dude is strumming Kumbaya on the acoustic, the s’moke is billowing and I’m about to tell us a scary story. The story is about how one time I had to drink a sweet ass s’more. The scariest part is that it cost me almost three bucks. Oh, forget it. I can’t properly picture this drink at a campground… I can, however, picture throwing it into a fire. Sorry, me being s’mug.

(Nutrition Facts – 290 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 46 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino (Bottled)
Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: 13.7 oz bottle
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Helpful reminder to check out the real version at a real life Starbucks. So bad you want to give it a second chance.
Cons: Too sweet. Sweetness kills the entire thing, throws it out of whack. Gross tasting.

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.