REVIEW: Papa John’s Grilled Chicken Margherita Pizza

Papa John's Grilled Chicken Margherita Pizza

Ol’ Papa John just can’t seem to stop turning other things into pizza. He has a seemingly insatiable love for it, whether it’s a Philly Cheesesteak, a cheeseburger, Fritos chili pie, spinach dip, or even a cookie. Okay, sure, the last one isn’t that far-fetched, but still.

I have a few suggestions for future Papa John’s mash-ups:

Deluxe Nachos Pizza – nacho cheese sauce base, all the usual nacho toppings, maybe some tortilla chip crumbles on top. Tagline: “This is nacho grandma’s pizza!”

Lobster Roll Pizza – mayonnaise/lemon base topped with buttered lobster chunks, celery and scallions. Tagline: “We’re on a roll with this pizza!”

General Tso’s Pizza – teriyaki glaze base topped with crispy glazed chicken, broccoli and hot peppers. Tagline: “There is tso much flavor baked right into this pizza!”

Matzo Ball Pizza (seasonal item) – matzo crust with a schmaltz base, topped with chicken, carrots, shallots and garlic. Tagline: “Don’t pass over this deal!”

Just some food for thought, if you will. Also, I fully expect some of these to become realized in the future. You’re welcome, Papa.

With all this talk of crazy pizzas, you may think this review is about a crazy pizza. Well, think again! Also, read the title of this review!

Papa John’s newest creation is the Grilled Chicken Margherita Pizza, a name that evokes one of the oldest, simplest and most traditional pizza creations straight from Italy. It’s history time!

The year is 1889. Italy has been unified for 28 years, but the southern portion is still as salty as pasta water about it. The Italian king and queen decide to visit Naples, which used to be the capitol of Westeros – er, sorry, the Kingdom of the South, in an attempt to convince them that hey, it’s all good, bros.

The queen is totally sick of the gourmet French cuisine that is normally served to royals, because who doesn’t, so she summons famous pizza-tosser Raffaele Esposito to bake her three pies. Goldilocks-style, she rejects the garlic one and the anchovy one, but finds the one with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to be juuuust right.

The queen’s name? Daenerys Targaryen, of course.

Oh, wait, sorry again. It was Margherita.

And thus, the Margherita Pizza was born. Or was it? There’s strong evidence that this whole story is bogus, so take it all with a big grain of Italian sea salt.

Pizza Margherita is one of only three pizzas with a Traditional Guaranteed Specialty EU label, which means that it comes with some very strict rules in regards to preparation. Papa John’s has, of course, followed none of those rules.

I mean, they’ve got the basic components. Tomatoes, mozzarella and basil are present, but in no way are the arranged in the way of a traditional Pizza Margherita.

Papa John’s describes the Chicken Margherita Pizza as “loaded with grilled all white meat chicken, basil pesto sauce, fresh cut Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and pizza sauce”.

Upon opening the box, I was greeted with the scent of tomatoes and a hint of pesto. Not a bad start. I also noticed there was a healthy amount of both tomatoes and chicken spread across the pizza. Topping coverage is important, people. It’s the #1 way a pizza can give me a sad face. Okay, pineapples are #1. But it’s a close second.

The tomatoes were absolutely juicy and tasted fresh, bursting between my teeth. That sounds more gross than delicious, but it wasn’t. The chicken was moist and tender, and seemed to be seasoned with something, but I couldn’t quite tell what, as they were covered in sauce.

Papa John's Grilled Chicken Margherita Pizza Slice

While I enjoyed the chicken, it seemed to suspiciously resemble, in both structure and texture, those pre-cooked chicken strips you can buy in bags at the grocery store from Tyson or Foster Farms. I like those chicken strips perfectly fine, but let’s just say it’s a good thing Papa John’s didn’t throw “fresh” in the description of the chicken.

If you do a Google Image Search for “margherita pizza”, you will see some very pretty pictures of pies covered with circles of melted white deliciousness. You will also get hungry. This is what mozzarella on a margherita pizza is supposed to look like.

Papa John’s did not do that. The mozzarella on their Chicken Margherita Pizza looks like…well, it looks like mozzarella on a pizza. Absolutely nothing special about it. Fresh mozzarella has a distinct taste to it, and this was just the same ol’ cheese PJ’s uses on the rest of their pizzas. It stinks of not trying.

One of the things I was most enthusiastic about in regards to this pizza was the pesto sauce. I love pesto. I love pesto so much. And while, once again, this is definitely not part of a traditional margherita’s design, I appreciated the attempt at including at least some form of basil.

That is, until I tasted the pesto on its own. It seemed like it was watered down – where was the boldness, the garlic, that rich, savory taste I love so much about pesto? It was there, it was just too faint.

And then they went and added pizza sauce to it. Why? Papa, you already had tomatoes as a topping; couldn’t you have just made the entire base pesto and ran with it that way? With the pizza sauce and the pesto mixed together, the former overwhelmed the already underwhelming latter, furthering my pesto disappointment. It just became muddled.

I’ve spent a lot of time griping about Papa John’s Chicken Margherita Pizza, and I feel my points are justified. But it’s a completely edible pizza at the end of the day. I liked the chicken and the tomatoes were really fresh and juicy. I guess I just wish they hadn’t pretended that it actually is a margherita pizza. That name comes with certain expectations that certainly were not met. I also wish they’d kept the pizza sauce off and gone with a really robust pesto base. The combination of all these factors just left me disappointed. You could say it was more of a mehgherita pizza, amirite guys?

(Nutrition Facts – 1/6 of a small pizza – 230 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 600 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 9 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 4% vitamin C, 10% calcium, and 8% iron.)

Item: Papa John’s Grilled Chicken Margherita Pizza
Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: Small
Purchased at: Papa John’s
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Fresh, juicy tomatoes. A history lesson! Chicken was moist and tender. I’m pretty proud of those fake pizzas and taglines. The idea(?) of a pesto pizza.
Cons: Totally not a margherita pizza. Picky queens. Pesto tasted watered down. Ending the review with a bad pun. Addition of pizza sauce was unnecessary and muddled everything up.

60 SECOND REVIEW: General Mills Star Wars Cereal (2015)

Item: General Mills Star Wars Cereal (2015)
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 10.5 oz. box
Purchased at: Target

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup cereal only – 110 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 45 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, 14 grams of other carbohydrates, and 1 gram of protein.)

REVIEW: Burger King Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich

Burger King Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich

I’m more interested in the nutrition facts for Burger King’s Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich than the actual sandwich.

You may think because it’s fast food the nutrition numbers are high enough to cause consumers to leave angry comments on Burger King’s Facebook page. But they’re not. I’m not saying they’re healthy numbers, just low for fast food.

The new sandwich has 370 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. To give you an idea of how unusual these numbers are, a few years ago, Burger King had a Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich that had 470 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 4.5 grams of saturated fat. That’s twice the fat, almost twice the saturated fat, and 100 more calories than this new pulled pork sandwich.

Here’s another comparison. A regular Burger King hamburger has 230 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat. It has less calories and a little more fat. But the serving size between the two are great. The hamburger is 100 grams, while the Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich is 192 grams. Again, I’m not saying it’s healthy, it’s just unusual. Besides, the sandwich does have a fast food normal 1,290 milligrams of sodium.

The Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich comes with pulled pork in a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce, onions, and pickles on Burger King’s toasted hoagie bun.

If you’re familiar with Burger King’s previous pulled pork offerings, you might be wondering if their pulled pork still looks like clumped up wet cat hair. Oh, it does. That’s why there isn’t a photo of the sandwich split in half. If you want to see that horror, go click this “clumped up wet cat hair” link.

Burger King Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich 2

The amount of pulled pork on my sandwich was pathetic. That layer of pulled pork looks like Mr. Stingypants placed it on there. It’s disappointing compared to the mound of meat the Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich offered. Because there wasn’t a lot of meat, there also wasn’t a lot of sauce, which I guess is good if you don’t want to use more than one napkin. But extra sauce would’ve helped hide the bites of the pulled pork that were dried out.

The sweet and smoky barbecue sauce is mostly sweet and is, sadly, not the better tasting Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce used with their other sandwiches, like their great Rodeo Burger. Because there wasn’t a lot of meat and sauce, they had to battle the bun for flavor supremacy in this sandwich. Yes, the bun.

Oh, you’d think the pickles and onions would help with flavor, but they don’t. They added a slight crunch, but they didn’t add any contrast to the pulled pork. Instead whatever flavor they had, which wasn’t much, got lost among the pulled pork and bun. If it weren’t for their texture, I think most folks wouldn’t realize they were there.

I did not spit out any bites from my Burger King Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich. or throw away any fraction of the sandwich, but it’s hard for me to believe that this sandwich will leave most peoples’ taste buds satisfied. It’s not the worst menu item I’ve had from Burger King. That honor goes to the Yumbo Sadwich…I mean, Sandwich. But I don’t think it’s even interesting enough to get it with Burger King’s 2 for $5 deal.

(Nutrition Facts – 370 calories, 8 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1290 milligrams of sodium, 55 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, 23 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Some nutrition facts are unusually low for a fast food sandwich. I did not spit it out. Since there’s not a lot of sauce, it’s a clean sandwich to eat.
Cons: Thin layer of pulled pork. Pulled pork still looks like clumped up wet cat hair. Doesn’t use the Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce used in Burger King’s other sandwiches. Last year’s Yumbo. Onions and pickles don’t help. Having to battle the bun for flavor supremacy.

REVIEW: Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast

Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast

Despite fitting perfectly into Mountain Dew’s target demographic – I was a middle schooler when extreme sports were huge and a high schooler when gaming culture went mainstream – I’ve never been a huge Dew devotee. (Dewvotee?) For whatever reason, my tastes always tended towards the cola side of things. Still, I’ll never turn down a chance to try a weird, limited edition soft drink, so here we are.

Mountain Dew’s Sangrita Blast is one of two Taco Bell-imprinted flavors freed from soda fountain exclusivity just in time for the sweltering summer months (the other being longstanding fan favorite Baja Blast).

Now I have to admit to some ignorance here: When I first picked up this soda, I was puzzled by its name. “Sangrita?” I wondered aloud. “With a T?” I figured one of two things: Either Mountain Dew was afraid of calling it Sangria Blast because people might mistake it for an alcoholic product, or the flavor was crafted as a mish-mosh of sangria and margarita flavors.

A few minutes and some light Googling later, I discovered sangrita is actually a different beverage altogether. Unlike wine-laced sangria, sangrita is an alcohol-free tequila accompaniment made from pomegranate juice, chili powder, and an assortment of other juices and spices which vary from recipe to recipe.

Reading about this popular Mexican drink, my hopes rose. Not because it sounded especially good, but because it just sounded so different. A carbonated take on a peppery, nectar-y cocktail? What a fascinating way to diversify the usually predictable Mountain Dew flavor line-up. Whether it ended up tasting good or bad, at least I knew Sangrita Blast would be interesting.

(At least, that’s what logic told me.)

Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast 2

I admired the promisingly deep, bloody red tint of the soda and cracked open the bottle top. I took a whiff, anticipating the sensation of spicy fizz tickling my nose; instead, though, I found a vague, cherry-ish scent remarkably similar to another Mountain Dew flavor, Code Red. Troubling. Still, smell doesn’t always betray taste, so I remained optimistic and took a sip.

Disappointingly, the flavor was no better. There was no trace of pomegranate, no piquant spice blend, just a bold, cherry-dominated fruit taste with mild citric undertones, sort of like a toned-down cherry limeade. Just as the smell suggested, there was little appreciable difference between Sangrita Blast and Code Red. It’s pleasantly fruity with a surprisingly light aftertaste, but talk about false advertising.

The label plainly describes it as regular Mountain Dew with “citrus punch flavor,” this is true, but if you’re naming your product after something as distinctive as sangrita, you can’t just run Hawaiian Punch through a SodaStream and call it a day. This soda isn’t bad, but it’s disappointing, which is, in a way, worse. If nothing else, I was expecting a potentially awesome hangover remedy, yet we don’t even get that – just a tame retread of an already successful flavor selection. Oh, well.

Unfortunately, I never sampled the fountain version of Sangrita Blast, so I can’t comment as to how the bottled version compares. But I can tell you while other varieties of the citrusy, over-caffeinated classic may be a Mountain Do, Sangrita Blast is most certainly a Mountain Bad. (Did I do that right?)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bottle – 270 calories, 0 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 73 grams of carbohydrates, 72 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast
Purchased Price: $1.70
Size: 20 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Krauszer’s Food & Liquor
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Beautiful color. Pleasant enough take on carbonated fruit punch. Basically Code Red, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cons: Deceptively named. Missed opportunity. Basically Code Red, if you’re not into that sort of thing.

REVIEW: Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding Bar

Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding Bars

I never thought I’d relive that fateful day.

It was my freshman year of college. I was hustling to class, doing my best to avoid being late to another midterm, when hunger pangs suddenly attacked. My midterm would take over two hours, yet I had neglected to eat anything beforehand.

Desperate, I ran to the closest location that served food – a Mediterranean-themed food truck. Because I didn’t have enough time to wait for them to reheat a plate of lamb and green leaves, I looked at the prepackaged snack foods they had on display. The cream cheese coffee cake immediately grabbed my attention.

“Wow! A delicious coffee cake with a cream cheese filling? What a novel idea!” I thought to myself. Ecstatic, I handed the vendor my two dollars, and went on my way.

It was only when I sat down and opened up my snack that I realized it wasn’t a cream cheese-filled coffee cake. Rather, it was just an ordinary coffee cake with cream cheese blended into the mix. Never had I been so utterly taken aback by a junk food’s misleading title.

Needless to say, I was much too despondent to focus on my exam, failing it just as swiftly as my coffee cake had failed me. Truly, one of my lowest lows. I swore to myself that I would bury this regretful memory, and never speak of it again.

Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding Bars 2

But then I opened up a new Chocolate Fudge Snack Pack Pudding Bar, and it all came back to me.

When I first heard of these brownies, I hoped for a soft chocolate snack with a pudding center. (And yes, I refuse to refer to these small square-ish chunks as “bars” and the back of the box uses the word “brownies” too so I’m not wrong here.) After looking at the packaging, which advertises that the pudding is, unfortunately, mixed into the batter, I braced myself. Sure, it wouldn’t be what I was expecting, but the pudding could add an interesting texture and taste to a junk food that’s hard to screw up.

Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding Bars 3

But the brownie was mediocre. A good brownie should be moist, sweet, and rich, and this was none of those things. Every bite was a dry experience. This surprised me, especially because the brownie had a pudding base, and pudding is about as liquid-y as desserts get. The chocolate flavor was unimpressive, bland, and it somehow managed to be worse than a Banquet frozen meal brownie.

But what about the pudding ingredient?

I can’t even answer that question because I have no idea if the pudding added or detracted from the experience. All I can say is that this thing, in no way, shape, or form, reminded me of pudding. Pudding is jiggly, moist, and simply fun to eat. This brownie was none of those things.

Was this snack an utter failure? No. It’s still a brownie, so it’s certainly edible, and it’s not like I gagged or lost my vision or anything. But would I buy it again?

No.

If you want the experience of a pudding brownie, buy a regular one and dunk it in some Snack Pack pudding instead.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 120 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding Bar
Purchased Price: $2.00 (on sale)
Size: 6 bars
Purchased at: Vons
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Edible. Light on calories, relatively speaking.
Cons: Waste of an interesting junk food concept. Where is the pudding filling? Dammit! Dry.