REVIEW: Wendy’s Taco Salad

Wendy's Taco Salad

I am firmly a child of the 90’s. If you don’t believe me, take a walk around my childhood home, where you’ll see way too many Lifetouch grade school portraits of me with hair moussed up to the heavens (thanks Mom).

Don’t get me wrong, though – the 90’s were a blast. I fondly remember spending weekends developing recipes with my younger sister’s Fisher Price plastic kitchen to feed to my collection of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers action figures (the Megazord was a picky eater).

And now, it seems like the 90’s nostalgia has caught on with everyone else, because there’s been no shortage of remakes over the past couple of years. From Fuller House to French Toast Crunch, everyone wants a piece of the action, no matter how horrible the reboot may be.

Take Wendy’s Taco Salad, for example. America’s second-favorite redhead (after Ronald, of course), has apparently caved into the demands of their “loyal taco salad fans” (their words, not mine), and brought back this classic dish for millennial mouths to try.

Now, before I get any angry letters from fast food historians, yes, Wendy’s did originally release the Taco Salad in the 80’s, but since they’re solely marketing this from a 90’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to lace up my L.A. Lights to head on over and sample it for myself.

Like any other fast food salad, Wendy’s Taco Salad is built on a bed of iceberg and romaine lettuce. The bed in this example is clearly a California King, because this salad is overwhelmed with lettuce. It’s as if Wendy’s forgot that there were supposed to be other toppings on this salad and went crazy with the bags of salad mix.

Wendy's Taco Salad 2

On top of the lettuce extravaganza, Wendy’s has placed a smattering of diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. I must have visited on the cook’s first day, because the pieces of tomato I received were all from the edges, and lacked any juice or flavor. Similarly disappointing, the cheese was heavily processed, and had a firm mouthfeel.

Along with the aforementioned mattress o’ lettuce, Wendy’s provides a selection of toppings to accompany the salad. These toppings – chili, tortilla chips, “signature salsa,” and light sour cream – come on the side, a sort of “taco kit” to allow you to garnish your salad as you please.

In true TIB fashion, I went all in on the toppings. While I appreciate the customization opportunity, the minuscule bowl Wendy’s provided made it difficult to mix everything together. The tortilla chips were humorously oversized for the salad, and lacked a distinctive salty kick. Their partner in crime, Wendy’s “signature salsa,” was equally as upsetting, as its sour notes overwhelmed any discernible tomato flavor.

Wendy's Taco Salad 3

The standout here was the chili – while suspect in origin, its strong tomato and cumin flavor brought some much needed zest to the salad. In fact, the chili really brings the only semblance of flavor to the salad, as it’s not served with any dressing. If you don’t conserve your chili wisely, the salad turns into a real slog to eat.

While I appreciate their play for nostalgia, Wendy’s Taco Salad should go the way of Hammer Pants. You shouldn’t touch this.

(Nutrition Facts – 660 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1820 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 32 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: Full-size salad
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Having an excuse to break out my Pogs. Flavorful chili. Jamming out to fast food training videos.
Cons: Reminding my mom that mousse exists. Ridiculous amounts of roughage. Sour salsa.

REVIEW: Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns

Ahhh, the hash brown – a breakfast favorite since the 1890s.

So, who dare mess with this American staple? Even McDonald’s didn’t dare to. Ronald cut hash browns into its recognizable rounded-corner rectangle shape but left the shredded spud relatively true to its roots. But, oh ho ho, in comes Jimmy Dean! While Jimmy Dean does have some breakfast cred, the hash browns heritage deserves so much better than Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns.

They had so much potential. They remind me of Hot Pockets but with a better carb casing: hash brown > some enriched flour pocket. Like Hot Pockets, Jimmy Dean’s Stuffed Hash Browns are efficient; instead of having all your breakfast components separate, it’s all packaged into one neat potatoey vehicle. Alas, efficiency doesn’t always equate to best tasting.

Of the three flavors – Sausage & Cheese, Meat Lover’s, and Bacon & Veggies – I go for Meat Lover’s for more bang for my buck. From the frozen outside, there is no indication of what the insides are like. It just looks like a really thick McDonald’s hash brown. There are also random pieces of shredded potato pieces as if Jimmy Dean strategically placed them to create the illusion of real potato in the potato mush. Nice try.

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns 2

The prep process is really easy and Hot Pocket-like – place it into its shiny sleeve and microwave for two minutes. I wanted it extra crispy so, per the instructions, I impatiently waited an extra five minutes. It looks the same frozen and heated – maybe a smidge more golden.

Unfortunately, the warm Stuffed Hash Browns also starts to ooze oil from its deep-fried visage. This leads to a greasy mouthfeel and greasy residue on my fingers. The grease on grease on grease is kind of like what you’d expect from fried chicken. Except you expect that amount of oil from fried chicken, not from a hash brown brick.

Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Stuffed Hash Browns 3

To Jimmy Dean’s credit, the insides are stuffed. But, it all tastes the same – salty and porky. I expect some textural difference between bacon, sausage and ham, but nope, it’s just mush. I can also see the gooey cheese but I somehow can’t taste the mozzarella or cheddar until about half-way through. Moar cheez, plz.

The crispy potato outside definitely helps with texture. The outside is by no means fresh-outta-the-deep-fryer crispy but at least it isn’t just baby food mush. I also appreciate that the insides aren’t scalding hot like the insides of Hot Pockets. Thank you for not burning my taste buds off, Jimmy Dean!

On that disappointing note, I also learned that the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” saying was coined by a marketer trying to sell more cereal. Our breakfast-centric lives are a lie and so are Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Piece – 260 calories, 120 calories from fat, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 820 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: 4 stuffed hash browns
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Like a Hot Pocket with a better casing. One neat hash brown vehicle for breakfast. Crispy-ish hash brown.
Cons: Efficiency ? Better Tasting. Oozing oil. Grease on grease on grease. Salty and porky – all the same mush. Moar cheez, plz.

REVIEW: Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef

Food trucks are all the rage these days. (Or, you know, they were like, a couple of years ago. Tell you what—go back in time a couple of years, read this review, and vigorously nod your head at my lede. Thanks.)

In fact, there’s a good chance you’re probably eating at a food truck this very instant. So am I. But while your Food Truck Experience likely involves artisanally crafted meatballs or, say, some sort of Cajun-Korean fusion sandwich, mine was a Hot Pocket.

You know, Hot Pockets.

Bastion of the down-trodden. Savior of the late night drunkard.

Like food trucks, Hot Pockets were once a cool, exciting happening; but that era went out with the Sega, Reebok Pumps and, SNL being water-cooler conversation. Where once stood a delightful, microwavable rectangle of deliciousness now sits a flaccid box of mediocre ingredients and un-melted cheeses.

Hot Pockets, how I miss thee.

But like your Milli Vanilli cassette and your Hyper-Color shirt, there is a time and place for the HP. A quick-fire lunch. A late night when you’re legally too drunk to make it to Taco Bell. A bizarre occurrence where you’re angry at your colon. These are all prime examples of when one SHOULD pull open the plastic, insert the meat-chunk into the crisping sleeve, and prepare to wreck your toilet.

If you’re doing that, though, be wise. The optimal Hot Pockets flavors rank as such: 1) 4 Meat & 4 Cheese Pizza 2) Beef Taco 3) BBQ Recipe Beef (lol at that name, by the way—“recipe.” What??) 4) Steak & Cheddar 5) Philly Steak 6) “Hickory” Ham & Cheese 7) Meatballs & Mozzarella 8) Any of the “Breakfast” Pockets.

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 1

This new Pocket—the one I had, apparently “inspired” by a food truck—would be like, 63rd on the list.

According to the box, it was engineered in conjunction with “Komodo Food Truck” which stands for “Dangerously Good Food” and “a gourmet experience like no other.”

Per my Google searching, “Komodo Food Truck” is “a real thing,” but good lord, I’m not sure how they’d ever be okay with such a lackluster representation of their brand. (Oh, well, money.)

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 2

This thing was garbage, plain and simple. Oh sure, it looked fine from the outside—normal-ass Pocket proceedings. Inside, however, lurked an adventurous mush that appeared to be some sort of miser’s answer to beef stew. There were carrots — lots of them — and a few disingenuous peas, and some brown paste. I saw a few errant specks of “angus beef” but that seriously could’ve been my imagination. Because I didn’t taste them.

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 3

Instead, I tasted sweet, crunchy carrots and a dull hint of heat (the box brags that there are jalapenos involved). Point being, this thing tasted like a warm mass of microwaved newspaper that your grandmother spit out her mostly-eaten piece of grape hard candy into. It was grotesquely sugary and there was but a singular beef to be found.

And really, is that what we want in a Hot Pocket?

Because I thought we demanded better.

But maybe that’s today’s thinking, really. This…entitlement. Maybe I’m viewing this through the lens of a modern man who knows that Milli Vanilli was a grand disappointment, that Pumps won’t make me a better basketball player, and that SNL maybe hasn’t been funny ever. (Or, for arguments sake, it’s funnier than ever and the era we fondly remember was actually mostly pretty bad, save a handful of sketches.)

Anyway, don’t buy this Hot Pocket if you see it loitering. Holy shit, it’s bad and you’ll regret it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Pocket – 290 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 500 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.00 (on sale)
Size: 2 sandwiches
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Um, nostalgia? Cheap. Sega Genesis.
Cons: Microwaved awfulness. 63rd best Hot Pocket. Grandma’s hard candy. Carrot City.

REVIEW: Hostess Suzy Q’s

Hostess Suzy Q's

To quote the great John Fogerty, “Oh Suzy Q, I love you.”

I’m not here to talk about a Creedence Clearwater Revival. I’m here to talk about a famous snack cake revival. Suzy Q’s are back.

Remember when Hostess went under and individually wrapped Twinkies held more value than gold for a few weeks?

That feels like decades ago. When they initially released their product line again, Suzy Q’s were benched, and I guess some people were upset about this. Why they were bummed, I’ll never know.

Invented in 1961 and named after the daughter of a higher-up at the Continental Baking Company, Suzy Q’s preceded far superior cakes like Ding Dongs and Ho Hos by six years.

I’ve always been a fan of various snack cakes with no real bias towards any brand. I feel like I’ve had most if not all of what Hostess has offered over the years, but can’t remember ever eating Suzy Q’s. They always seemed like an early attempt at the Devil’s food cake with crème concept that no one bought anymore because Hostess was able to improve on the recipe.

Let’s be real, Hostess doesn’t exactly have a diverse product line. Half of their current product lineup are chocolate cakes with crème. And while one might be a cupcake, another in roll-up form, and another shaped like a hockey puck, it’s not enough of a change to warrant favoritism. Each are delicious in their own right. So why aren’t Suzy Q’s?

Hostess Suzy Q's 2

These things are super boring. The texture of the cake is horrendous. This is not a good sponge cake. This is a sponge labeled as a cake. The chocolate flavor is underwhelming and I’m not sure they’d work even if slathered in the plastic layer of chocolate Ding Dongs have.

Hostess Suzy Q's 3

The crème filling is basically what you’d expect, but that coupled with the bland sponge somehow made it taste worse than normal. I imagine the crème recipe doesn’t change much between the various products it fills, but it didn’t even taste as sugary and delicious as I’m used to.

I honestly can’t imagine a person alive who would prefer this over their other cakes. Taste is subjective, but come on.

Suzy Q’s have to be the worst snack cake Hostess makes. Have to be. There’s just no reason to ever get them when there are so many similar yet better options made by the same company and its competitors. Drake’s Devil Dogs are king, in my not so humble opinion.

I couldn’t find a box of Suzy Q’s in my local supermarket, and I gotta say I’m happy I didn’t because it would be sitting in the back of my cabinet for months.

To be fair to Hostess, they are under a new corporate umbrella now and the recipe for Suzy Q’s may have very well changed. BUT if this is the form they’ve come in since their inception, I can’t imagine them ever being good. Sorry Suzy, but you are the black sheep of the family. I don’t love you.

To misquote the film Dumb and Dumber, “That John Fogerty’s full of crap, man.”

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cakes – 310 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 440 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Hostess Suzy Q’s
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 3.03 oz.
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: The crème is still solid. Good to have Hostess back in our lives. CCR.
Cons: Bland cake. Weak chocolate flavor. Referring to this as a “Snack Classic.” Worst revival ever.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights

When I sat down to write my review of the new Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights, I told myself I was going to avoid doing two things.

“Self,” I began with a stern but encouraging tone. “Longtime TIB readers know you have a bad habit of falling back on overstated nautical puns and maritime references when describing Cap’n Crunch and its variants. Stop being such a lazy writer and get off your crutch.”

(Lest you forget, take a look at the gem in the tenth paragraph of this review.)

“Oh, and while you’re at it,” the voice scolded. “Do not, under any circumstance, mention your theories about judging the merits of a fried product on the aftertaste of the burp you burp up two hours after eating.”

But after thinking about the Cap’n Crunch Delights and inadvertently burping up the unmistakably heavy taste of fried dough, I’ve concluded each of these goals is impossible. So I’m sorry; the Cap’n made me do it.

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights 2

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to tiny pieces of coral growing on, say, a sunken treasure ship, the delights are far from appetizing to look at. Bristling with tiny pieces of crushed up Crunch Berries cereal, they smelled unmistakably like a donut hole and little like Cap’n Crunch, while one piece had a not-so-subtle hole leaking a loose goo from its oily hull (caused from a clumsy broadside, no doubt.)

Taco Bell describes these as “light” and “fruity” but I thought they tasted heavy, oily, and remarkably synthetic. The outside coating only tasted a little like Crunch Berries; there was a vague fruity flavor but nothing remarkable or memorable, and certainly not that coconut oil aftertaste and brown sugar sweetness of Cap’n Crunch.

By far the dominant flavor was fried dough, and not in a light and airy way like a traditional donut hole. Nope, these “delights” were saturated in more surface oil than that which was left by the Exxon Valdez. The aftertaste—including that burped up aftertaste one experiences after happy hour at the Taco Bell soda machine—is strongly of fried dough; unmistakably heavy and in no way fruity at all.

Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights 3

I was really looking forward to the gooey and “creamy” milk center, mostly because all the promo shots featured this really cool image of the filling suspended in midair, making it look like some grand accomplishment of food science and engineering. In actuality the filling is loose and runny, more like a melted coating of confectioner’s sugar and milk.

Frankly the warmth of the filling is off-putting. I mean who eats cereal in warm milk? Hello McFly! And the hyper-sweet flavor tastes way too much of stabilizers and not enough like something which may have, at one point or another, come from a cow. I felt like the sweetness needed some creamy richness for balance, but all the delights offer is a heavy flavor and oily texture.

I’m all for cobranding a mashups, and I get the fact that crappy cereal sales might spur the Cap’n to sail his ship with a millennial-savvy fleet like Taco Bell, but the Cap’n Crunch Delights are neither delightful nor crunchy, nor are they milky or fruity. Mostly they’re just plain bad, even by the standards of cheap fast food.

With any luck the Cap’n will be able to right his course and try the whole donut cobranding thing again, although next time I’m going to pray he doesn’t leave the helm to a Tex-Mex fast food chain.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 delights – 170 calories, 0 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 2.5 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Cap’n Crunch Delights
Purchased Price: $1.09
Size: 2-pack
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Larger than an average donut hole. Inexpensive. Huzzah for cobranding!
Cons: Oversaturated in frying oil. Not crunchy. Poor Crunch Berry coverage. Doesn’t really taste like Crunch Berries, unless you eat your Crunch Berries in frying oil. Warm milk-like substances. My complete and utter failure as a writer.