REVIEW: McDonald’s Italian and Greek McTasters (Canada)

McDonald's Italian McTaster

I’m going to admit it: I liked the McPizza.

I ordered it quite a few times during its brief but memorable life, and I mourned for its little pizza soul when it inevitably got pulled from the menu (because let’s face it, pizza at McDonald’s was never going to be a thing, as much as they pushed hard to make it happen).

It’s okay, McPizza: you’re in McDonald’s heaven now, partying with the Super Hero Burger and trading war stories with the McDLT.

So when I heard that McDonald’s was taking another culinary excursion to Italy (and stopping off in Greece for good measure), I got pretty excited. It’s never going to fill the McPizza-sized hole in my heart, but then is anything ever going to fill that hole? No. The answer to that question is no.

McDonald's Italian McTaster 2

Happily, the Italian leg of Ronald McDonald’s European tour was actually pretty satisfying. The Italian McTaster consists of a Junior Chicken patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, parmesan and herb sauce, and parmesan flakes, all on a ciabatta bun (dubbed an “artisan-style bun” in a further attempt by the fast food chains to make the word artisan completely meaningless).

McDonald's Italian McTaster 3

I enjoyed it. The herby, slightly garlicky sauce works in tandem with the salty Parmesan to give the sandwich a nice zingy kick of flavour, and the lettuce and tomato adds some welcome freshness. The chicken was a standard-issue Junior Chicken patty, and the chewy ciabatta bun suited it quite well.

However, like a vacation that doesn’t quite know when to end, the Greek McTaster wraps things up on a sour note.

McDonald's Greek McTaster

It consists of a standard beef patty (the smaller one, not the Quarter Pounder or the Angus) topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, feta cheese, and Mediterranean olive sauce. It’s basically a Greek salad on a burger, which doesn’t sound like a horrible idea in theory, but the execution is off. Despite the inclusion of assertive flavours like salty feta and briny black olives, the flavour here is oddly muddled and far more muted than you’d think it would be. It’s a half-hearted melange of flavours that never comes together or stands out in any meaningful way.

McDonald's Greek McTaster 2

The mediocre patty doesn’t help matters, though after the uncharacteristically tasty patty in the last McDonald’s burger I reviewed, its badness is actually weirdly comforting. McDonald’s beef shouldn’t taste particularly good; it should be inoffensively lousy, with a dry, crumbly texture and no particular flavour. That’s just the way things are supposed to be.

McDonald's Greek McTaster 3

A patty like that needs the toppings to do the heavy lifting, and the toppings here just aren’t up to the task.

Although the chewy, dense ciabatta bun works quite well in the Italian McTaster, the bun proves to be a little bit too hearty for the diminutive beef patty. It’s overwhelming.

The quality difference between the two McTasters becomes even more pronounced when you have both sandwiches in front of you and you’re alternating between the two. The Italian has a nice contrast of textures, with flavours that really pop. The Greek…does not have those things.

So for those keeping track: the McPizza-sized hole in my heart? Still unfilled. Your move, Ronald. Your move.

(Nutrition Facts – Italian McTaster – 370 calories, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 810 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 12 grams of protein. Greek McTaster – 330 calories, 17 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0.4 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 690 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 14 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Italian and Italian McTasters (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 CAN (each)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Italian)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Greek)
Pros: Italian has a nice combo of crispy chicken and tasty toppings. Chewy bun suits the chicken well.
Cons: Greek features a mediocre patty with bland toppings that can’t quite save it. Chewy bun overwhelms the small hamburger. Profound McPizza-related sadness.

REVIEW: Burger King Flame Grilled Chicken Burger

Burger King Chicken Burger

Burger King was busier last year than Humpty Hump was in a Burger King ba…ugh, that reference is so old. Half of you aren’t going to get it, so I’m not going to finish it.

Anyhoo, in 2015, the burger chain introduced Buffalo Chicken Fries, an extra long list of Extra Long sandwiches, a red velvet milkshake that may or may not have turned your poop a different color, a black bun Halloween Whopper that may or may not have turned your poop a different color, and, of course, they brought back the dead-eyed King mascot, which will give some of us nightmares…again.

Surprisingly, the year didn’t end with one last Extra Long sandwich, instead BK came out with their Flame Grilled Chicken Burger.

The menu item features a flame-grilled chicken burger patty topped with tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and white onions on a soft, toasted brioche style bun.

Burger King Chicken Burger 2

I have to admit, when I pulled out the burger from its paper cocoon, it looked good. I peeled back the bun and saw those grill marks, which made me want to bite into it even more. Then I cut it in half and the cross section reminded me of photos I saw in the college anatomy class I stopped going to during my junior year after seeing said photos. At that point, the chicken burger lost some of its appeal. But it lost all of its appeal when I took my first bite from it.

Burger King Chicken Burger 3

The patty had a good thickness to it, but it also makes the Whopper patty look scary thin. The patty was also…juicy? I don’t know if saying that is correct. Maybe saying it was sweating hard like it knew it was guilty of not being very good is more accurate because the liquid was like sweat in that it was salty and mostly made of water. I thought it was another ingredient that was bringing the liquid, but that wasn’t the case. Maybe, instead of Flame Broiled Chicken Burger, it should’ve been called the Fully Brined Chicken Burger.

At times, the sandwich as a whole tasted like, I swear, a Subway Cold Cut Combo, which to me isn’t bad. But, again, it was just too salty. The chicken patty itself was spiced in a way that made me think chicken breakfast sausage. Its texture was also sausage patty-like and easy to bite through. If it wasn’t so damn salty, it would probably be nice in a Croissan’wich.

None of the other ingredients did a good job at cutting through that saltiness, and the pickles probably enhanced it. As for the bun, it was shiny like other brioche-style buns, but it don’t think it had the slightly sweet flavor that the McDonald’s and Jack in the Box brioche buns have.

I didn’t get a chance to try every new item Burger King offered in 2015, but I did like almost every one I tried. The two exceptions are the Extra Long Pulled Pork Sandwich and this Flame Grilled Chicken Burger.

(Nutrition Facts – 480 calories, 25 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 1160 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugar, 22 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Flame Grilled Chicken Burger
Purchased Price: $8.49 (medium value meal)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: At times, it tastes like a Subway Cold Cut Combo (if you like them). Burger King taking chances with protein. Doesn’t turn your poop a different color.
Cons: At times, it tastes like a Subway Cold Cut Combo (if you hate them). Very salty. Lots of liquid. Other ingredients couldn’t cut through that saltiness. Bun didn’t seem that special.

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts

Kellogg's Limited Edition Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts

If I told a younger you that “bacon overkill” would become a thing, you’d probably cry and scream “Stranger Danger” because some old weirdo was talking to you about breakfast meats. Still, I can’t help but wonder if we’re getting too much bacon.

Too much bacon?! Surely, I jest.

Don’t get me wrong, bacon is amazing. But when did we all become the dog from the Beggin’ Strips commercials? Why does it seem like Big Bacon is trying to take over our lives?

I guess its bacon’s world and we’re all just living in it.

Mini rant aside, I was excited to try Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts. I knew I had to have them the second I saw them because I’m part of the problem.

After opening the pouch I was met with a welcome pancake smell. Each pastry has the standard white frosting with brown flecks that I assume are bacon flavored. I’ll get back to that in a moment. The filling itself has a nice maple scent and an appropriate light brown coloring.

I’m normally an “eat ’em right out of the pouch” kinda guy, but for the sake of this review, I did my due diligence and tried them toasted and untoasted. I opted against the “heat in the microwave for 3 seconds” option.

I set my rarely used toaster to medium heat and waited for what felt like an hour. A watched toaster never toasts.

The flavor was faint with the maple far outweighing the “bacon.” I’d go as far to say the toasted crust and (vanilla?) frosting were the most prominent flavors. There’s just not enough of a filling to crust ratio to really get a ton of the maple bacon flavor. That’s a universal Pop-Tart problem for me.

Kellogg's Limited Edition Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts 2

I scraped a few of the brown flecks off the icing, and while they did have a salty flavor to them, they didn’t scream “bacon.” I’m really only assuming they were the bacon element. I even cut one of the Pop-Tarts open and scraped the filling out with a knife so I could taste it. No bacon, it just was salty.

While I don’t know how it would have worked, I definitely think these would have benefitted from having little pieces of real bacon instead of being “artificially flavored.”

Kellogg's Limited Edition Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts 3

The maple taste is the one that stands out, but even that should have been more powerful. It didn’t taste like I just ate a pancake with a big glob of maple syrup, it tasted like I ate one 20 minutes prior. They seem to have kept the maple intensity low so that the artificial phantom bacon could burst through, but it doesn’t.

I wish they swung for the fences more with this flavor. It could have been truly memorable. I definitely preferred them untoasted because there was a better balance, but, again, there wasn’t enough bacon flavor. Normally I’d tell you a wacky product like this is worth a try simply for the novelty of it, but I don’t think you even need to bother.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pastry – 210 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts
Purchased Price: $1.98
Size: 8 pastries/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Decent Maple flavor. Not terrible untoasted, Ambitious idea. Beggin’ Strips Dog.
Cons: Gimmicky. No actual bacon. Mild bacon taste at best. Stranger Dangers. Pop-Tart microwave instructions.

REVIEW: Peeps Sugar Plum Delight

Peeps Sugar Plum Delight

And so it was, not 72 hours ago, that I descended upon the Target, clawing like a manic puppeteer on a shopping spree at Joann’s Fabrics as I wrestled through the bips, bobs, and bags for anything in a green-and-red aluminum. I bought 3 bags of Reese’s Bells. I am not ashamed.

Indeed, I have ardent, unapologetic feelings about seasonal candy, which, unlike the rest of my life, can be expressed succinctly: EAT ‘EM ALL! So, when I finally came up for air from my shopping spree, half entranced by chocolate and fa-la-la-la-la’s, I was surprised to spot this dapper trio of chicken-shaped marshmallows in a shade of purple that seemed stuck between a grape SweetTart and a very sad Easter Bunny. I had never been so simultaneously filled with curiosity, terror, and excitement.

Peeps Sugar Plum Delight 2

They come out of the wrapper smelling of dried plums. It’s not a familiar candy smell, but, as a plum appreciator, I can’t help but admire the little buggers for going all-in to their pruney identity.

And the Peeps got all mid-level, budget-string classy up in here, what with each little chicken sporting a white fudge tux-and-tails on its rump. I love this stuff. It may not be actual chocolate, but, each time I’ve tried it, I can’t deny how its smooth melt and sugary vanilla sweetness adds a little something special to anything it touches. Fact: the easiest way to improve a mediocre marshmallow is to shroud it in fudge.

The taste of these plumy poultries is new, where “new” is defined much in the same way that a hamster might feel if it were to take a trip to an anti-gravity room at NASA: unfamiliar, wacky, and a little off.

Like all Peeps, they highlight the cool, sugary realms of the marshmallow before allowing the artificial flavoring to take hold, and that flavoring? Never lets go. It has a certain figgy jaminess followed by a bitterness that’s pretty jarring. Of course, really old dried plums (prunes) do have a certain bitter note on their tails, so maybe the bitterness makes them true-to-form and complex, which may make them trendy according to the Tastemakers of America…but who are these Tastemakers of America? And why do they like old prunes so much??

Mysteries-that-can’t-be-solved aside, the smooshy texture of the Peep itself mimicked that of a plum/prune: gritty, squishy, gooey. While the bitterness overran my tasting experience, the texture, coupled with the sweet, smooth white fudge, made for an inoffensive, new perspective in marshmallow potential.

Peeps Sugar Plum Delight 3

What is it about these three chickadees that keeps me coming back? They’re but mere overpriced marshmallows in cellophane, and yet there is something I admire about them. Is it their chicken shape? Their peculiar flavor options? The way they stare out in misshapen, googly eyed wonderment?

I do not have the answer, but sometimes curiosity outweighs logic. As for these three chicks, I’m not sure if I liked ‘em. The bitterness overpowered what could’ve been an innovative new take, but I wasn’t completely appalled by them either. They’re fascinating, if only for the high degree to which they mimic a prune in candy form. Peeps, I give you an “A” for effort, but the bitterness just knocked ‘em off the running. But, hey, don’t feel down. Sometimes you swing for the fences and hit a home run. Other times, you hit it into the dugout and knock the Gatorade cooler onto the manager.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 chicks – 150 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 29 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Item: Peeps Sugar Plum Delight
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 3 Chicks/1.5 oz.
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Kinda tastes like a sugared prune. Not appalling. Sweet fudge. Googly eyes. Hamsters in Anti-Gravity.
Cons: Kinda tastes like an especially old prune your grandmamma left out in the jar. Pricey. Metallic aftertaste. The color of a sad Easter Bunny.

REVIEW: Silk Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog

Silk Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog

I like almond milk. It gives me a break from soy milk, which gives me a break from regular cow milk, which gives me a break from soda, which gives me a break from water, which gives me a break from food, which gives me a break from having a conversation with someone who won’t shut up about The Walking Dead. I’m sure it’s a wonderful TV show, but I’m not going to watch it. So you don’t need to convince me.

I also like pumpkin spice and am not sick of everything being pumpkin spice-ified. So seeing my two likes together in one carton made me as excited as a Walking Dead fan minutes before a new season starts.

Silk Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog isn’t the first pumpkin spice product from the brand. It has a pumpkin spice soy milk, which I enjoy and have purchased a few times. Since Silk has added pumpkin spice to their almond milk, it wouldn’t be surprising if we see the autumn spices with their coconut milk, cashew milk, and whatever nut milk Silk develops in the future. My money is on Brazilian nut.

Silk’s Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog has wonderful scent. When I pulled back the safety ring and took a whiff, it was like what I imagine motorboarding two pumpkin pies would smell like. It has an orange tint that looks like the result of a Creamsicle that’s been completely melted into a puddle mixed with the tears of a child who’s crying because he or she dropped that Creamsicle. Its texture is about the same as almond milk, not as creamy as soy milk, but not as thin as skim milk.

But its texture is also a bit weird and I’m not sure how to describe it. I guess it has an artificial creaminess to it. Actually, now that I think about it, all Silk products, thanks to thickening agents and emulsifiers, have an artificial creaminess, but this nog seems different than the other products.

Silk Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog 2

While the beverage’s aroma reminds me of the Thanksgiving dessert staple, its flavor does not. The spices are there — with cinnamon being the strongest, followed by ginger and nutmeg — but instead of pumpkin pie, its taste reminds me of cinnamon pancakes drowning in Mrs. Butterworth’s or Aunt Jemima. Yes, that does sound tasty but not at all what I was hoping for and I did not enjoy it much.

Also, I don’t know if many people care about this, but this beverage is nutritionally empty. A cup of Silk’s almond milk has 45 percent of your recommended calcium and 50 percent of your recommended vitamin E. A half-cup of this provides no calcium or vitamin E. Almonds are a great source of vitamin E, so how could it not have any vitamin E?

If you need a non-dairy pumpkin spice beverage fix, there are other options. I know there’s Almond Dream pumpkin spice-flavored milk and Califia Farms has a pumpkin spice latte with almond milk, but I haven’t had them so I can’t compare. But I can compare it with the Silk Pumpkin Spice soy milk and I think the soy milk version is much better tasting.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 50 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Silk Pumpkin Spice Almond Nog
Purchased Price: $4.69
Size: 1 quart
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Free of soy, dairy, gluten, lactose, cholesterol, eggs, casein, and carrageenan. Smells nice. The Walking Dead (so everyone says).
Cons: Free of decent flavor. Provides no vitamin E, which is weird because it’s made with almond milk. Not as good as Silk’s pumpkin spice soy milk. Weird texture.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts

“I just don’t know what’s wrong with me, Doc.”

She stared at me through horn-rimmed glasses. I’d seen the look before on psychologists, and knew I’d better continue.

“I just have no enthusiasm anymore. Worse yet, I’m completely ravenous. Nothing seems to satiate me.”

“Interesting. What have you been eating?”

“Eh, I guess the question is what haven’t I been eating. It’s fall, you know, and pumpkin spice is my jam. Actually it’s more like by butter, because I’ve never heard of pumpkin jam. But anyways…just this morning I stopped and picked up a bag on Hostess Donettes Pumpkin Spice Donuts.”

She blinked rapidly. “And tell me, how did those make you feel?”

I thought about it for a moment. I’d been anxious to pick them up; each glazed orange cake donut calling my name. I’d loved Donettes as a kid, and now that Hostess had built a pumpkin spice version, life seemed complete. Yet here I was, mere hours after mindlessly eating the entire bag, feeling so…incomplete.

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 2

“Horrible,” I blurted out, the memories suddenly coming to the forefront of my mind. Then every lackluster pumpkin spice product I’d ever eaten entered my stream of conscious, overflowing in a river of confectioner’s sugar glaze and a mere trace (trace, mind you) of cinnamon. I’d been holding the memories back, repressing the thoughts of pumpkin spice rolls that tasted instead of Twinkies and pumpkin spice M&M’s that tasted of, well, M&M’s.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “I’ve seen the case many times, with increasing frequency. What you seem to have is MPSFS”

“Misspsfs? Say what?”

“MPSFS. Mediocre Pumpkin Spice Fatigue Syndrome. Tell me, were cinnamon, ginger, and allspice listed in the ingredients of these donuts? How about pumpkin puree?”

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 4

I thought back to the ingredient list, remembering I had seen cinnamon and pumpkin. But then I remembered where they were listed. The dreaded “less than 2%” section, with pumpkin puree coming in dead last, even behind “Blue 2 Lake.” I kid you not, you can’t make this stuff up.

I hung my head in disappointment, more memories materializing. Each donut had the presence of cinnamon, but nothing more. Something between just the aroma and a slight taste of something slightly spicy, the cinnamon flavor had been fake and one-note, like a Red Hot candy without the heat. No other spices rounded it out, and despite the orange hue, pumpkin had never registered on my taste buds. (Thankfully, neither had Blue Lake 2.) A decent packaged donut, cloying glaze and all, but nothing more.

Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts 3

I looked back up at the doc, my eyes beginning to water up in shame. How could I have been so duped? And by Hostess, no less!

She must have noticed my shame, saying, “There’s a cure, you know. But you’ll have to give up cheap imitations of pumpkin spice—including the Donettes.”

That was fine by me. After the Donettes, I was ready to leave anything pumpkin spice behind, even the memories of great pumpkin spice products. I got up to leave, ready to embrace whatever it is people embrace when they decide to forsake an entire season’s worth of flavors. That’s when she stopped me.

“You’ll find something someday that will remind you of why you love pumpkin spice. Don’t let a few bad apples, um, pumpkins, ruin what pumpkin spice should be.”

With that I smiled, knowing lackluster Donettes couldn’t be the last word on pumpkin spice.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 mini donuts – 210 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 1 grams of protein..)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Donettes Pumpkin Spice Mini Donuts
Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 10.5 oz bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Light crumb and cakey interior. Crispy, sweet glaze. Possible dual use as an air freshener.
Cons: Overly artificial “fall spice” flavor. Cloyingly sweet. Too dry to be a really good cake donut, but not airy like a yeast donut. A lifetime of repressed pumpkin spice disappointment.