REVIEW: Papa John’s Pan Pizza

Papa John's Pan Pizza 2

Let’s have some real talk about my relationship with Papa John’s.

I’ve been walking the Papa John’s beat for TIB for some years now. New menu item, new toppings – if it’s got that new car, er, pizza smell, I’m on it.

But this doesn’t mean I have some sort of love affair with Papa John’s. You know what I do have a love affair with? Laziness. If every item I wanted to review could be delivered to my door in 40 minutes, I would be very rich in Oreos and very, very poor in dollars.

But there’s no “weird Oreo flavor of the month” delivery service (yet), so instead I find myself reviewing a lot of weird pizza. And that seems to mean reviewing a lot of Papa John’s.

This time around, Papa John’s isn’t doing anything weird. In fact, they’re coming out with something that’s a bit of a classic: the pan pizza.

Papa John's Pan Pizza

Look at that fancy pants box. Or should I say, fancy PANS box. Anyways, Papa John stands smugly in the upper-right corner of the box, compelling you to marvel at his black-and-gold special pizza box that tries to look for all the world like a package of Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Seducing. Beckoning. Pizza.

I always thought that pan pizza was the same thing as deep dish pizza, because I had no culture. I’ve since learned myself, but I actually had to look up what pan pizza really is. What it boils down to is that, instead of being hand-tossed, the pizza is baked in an oiled pan with the dough just sort of shoved up against the edges, resulting in a thicker crust with crispy edges.

Or, as Papa John puts it, “Why do we bake it in a pan? Because it bakes our fresh dough into a thick, hearty crust that’s light and fluffy with crispy edges and cheesy caramelized goodness.”

Since it’s all about the crust here, I’m going to ignore the toppings. (For the record, I chose the Pan John’s Favorite.)

I’mma be real with you – Papa John’s hand-tossed crust is not my favorite. It always seems a little undercooked to me. That said, their pan crust is a study in contradictions.

Papa John's Pan Pizza 4

On the one hand, the outer crust was definitely crispy and somewhat buttery – I enjoyed those aspects of it much more than a regular Papa John’s crust. Also, the cheese goes all the way to the edge, so I didn’t feel like I was left with a half-cooked breadstick at the end of my slice of pizza. The crust under the toppings was chewy without being soggy – also good.

But then there was the flavor. Papa John’s says that the dough is made fresh and with only seven ingredients: flour, extra virgin olive oil, cold-filtered water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil. Yet, there was an odd, artificial flavor that I couldn’t quite pin down. Given that none of the ingredients are actually artificial, the best I could come up with was the flavor of spoiled oil. If this was the case, then maybe I just got a bad pie?

Papa John's Pan Pizza 3

Papa John’s came so close to giving me a crust I really enjoyed with their Pan Pizza – crispy, crunchy, buttery edges that didn’t even need the included dipping sauce that I usually require in order to ingest the crust of their pizza. But then they went and gave it some weird undertone of flavor that made me feel like I was eating something that wasn’t quite right. So close, Papa, so close.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 870 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: 12” pizza
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not left with a doughy breadstick crust. Fancy, seductive box. Crispy edges. Toppings to all the way to the edge.
Cons: All food should be available for delivery at all times. The artificial/spoiled flavor taints the whole pizza. Only available in one (pretty small) size.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

By now, we all know Wendy’s can do bacon right. But how well can they implement sriracha sauce in their tried-and-true menu favorites?

Unfortunately, Wendy’s latest special edition side dish kinda’ falls in that unhappy middle ground between slightly above average and good-but-not-really-remarkable. And in today’s hyper-competitive fast food French fry variation wars, the only thing worse than being bad is being just sorta’ OK.

The fries come doused in a thick goulash of melted cheddar cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, chopped up Applewood-smoked bacon, and a sprinkling of sweet chili sauce-imbued aioli. From the get-go, the biggest problem is that the dish just doesn’t taste sriracha-y enough. The flavor is there, but it’s way too muted. In fact, it’s so faint that at first, you don’t even realize sriracha sauce is in the mix. It just tastes like some random (and fairly generic) hot sauce.

Problem two are the fries themselves. They’re just too thin and way too salty, and strangely, they don’t do a very good job of absorbing the sriracha cheese and bacon juice flavors, either.

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries 2

But there are some positives. The cheddar cheese sauce is very thick and flavorful, and if you stir the mixture around enough you do start to pick up a more noticeable sriracha taste. The absolute best aspect of the dish, however, is the bacon. Wendy’s is rightly considered the go-to fast food place for bacon junkies, and the pieces in this new L-T-O offering are huge, plump, juicy, and super-duper crispy.

Essentially, what you are getting is the chain’s standard Baconator Fries with a meager, almost unnoticeable splash of sriracha. It’s all quite flavorful and fairly filling, but the aioli is just too weak to go out of your way to experience.

And one final word of warning: this stuff is so greasy you’re probably going to need twice as many napkins as your local Wendy’s has in stock. Take heed, potential consumers: Wet-Naps are strongly encouraged for this one.

(Nutrition Facts – 600 calories, 350 calories from fat, 39 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1110 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: An absolute ton of bacon. A very savory cheddar cheese sauce. Eating fries out of plasticware that looks like something out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.
Cons: The sriracha flavor is almost undetectable. A bit too much salt on the fries. Getting half a pound of grease on your palms just opening the container.

REVIEW: Pringles Sugar Cookie Potato Crisps

Pringles Sugar Cookie Potato Crisps

The sugar cookie.

It’s one of the Four Horsemen of the Christmas Apocookielypse, along with gingerbread men, snickerdoodles, and, for some reason, Winter Oreo Cookies with red colored creme. These cookies get their name because they will annihilate any chances of you maintaining your current weight during the holiday season.

Sugar cookie is also one of the three flavors Pringles has put out for this year’s holiday lineup, joining Salted Caramel and Pecan Pie.

If you think about it, sugar cookies look like bloated Pringles. Or Pringles look like skinny sugar cookies. Or I need new glasses. Because they look similar with my outdated prescription glasses-covered eyes, it seems like a fitting flavor for Pringles to sell this holiday season.

Pringles Sugar Cookie Potato Crisps 2

The potato crisps look like Original Pringles, but maybe paler. I’m not sure if whatever seasoning is added makes them look the way they do, but if poured them into a bowl, I think most people will think they’re regular Pringles. But they don’t taste like regular Pringles. Well, for a few moments they don’t. I’ll get back to that a bit later.

The ingredients that attempt to make these crisps taste like sugar cookies don’t work well. It has a nondescript sweet flavor that leans more towards the white stick that comes with Fun Dip than actual sugar cookies. I thought there might be a slight butteriness, but there isn’t. If this flavor was called powdered sugar, I wouldn’t argue. It’s okay, but far from being addictive.

Also, like Fruit Stripe Gum, the flavor fades fast. After the sweet seasoning melts away, the crisp tastes like unsalted Original Pringles. Some of the holiday flavors also experience this sweet tooth crashing reality, but I can’t recall one that does it so quickly.

The one thing that stands out about these Pringles is the holiday sweater can design. It’s cute. It even came with its own gift tag in the design, just in case you want to be the first person on the face of the Earth to give a can of Pringles as a gift that has actual Pringles and not toy snakes that jump out when one opens the can.

If you want to guarantee a lump of coal from Santa or to be hoof stomped by Rudolph, I’d leave out a can of these Sugar Cookie Pringles. They disappointed me and I’m sure they’ll disappoint Santa.

Disclosure: I received a free sample of Sugar Cookie Pringles in return for my honest thoughts about them. I’m sure the folks who sent them to me are as disappointed as I am about these Sugar Cookie Pringles.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: N/A
Size: 5.96 oz can
Purchased at: Received for free, but available at Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not gross. The deliciousness of the Four Horsemen of the Christmas Apocookielypse. Pringles still churning out new holiday flavors.
Cons: Will disappoint Santa. Flavor doesn’t remind me of sugar cookies. Whatever flavor it has fades quickly. The weight gain caused by the Four Horsemen of the Christmas Apocookielypse.

REVIEW: Subway Pumpkin Spice and Apple Pie Cookies

Subway Pumpkin Spice and Apple Pie Cookies

Every fall I can count on two things: 1) Nick Saban and Alabama will absolutely obliterate every football team in the SEC. 2) Pumpkin spice food products will be thrusted in my face at every grocery store, restaurant, and fast food sandwich shop in America.

Yes, sandwich shop. Thanks to the ubiquitous up-sell of the 60-cent Subway cookie, the most popular flavor of the fall can help you forgot how mediocre your lunch was.

I like to think of pumpkin spice as the flavor version of Alabama’s football dynasty. The hype is everywhere and, for the most part, the hype is deserved. Sure, the Crimson Tide might trip up once a year, just like how we’ll get a dud like Pumpkin Spice M&M’s every once in awhile, but for the most part, pumpkin spice is unstoppable.

In a lot of ways, the rise of pumpkin spice has correlated with the decline of apple pie, autumn’s previously unstoppable flavor, that’s also a new Subway cookie flavor. You might think of apple pie as the Miami of flavors: Once a shoo-in to compete for a national title, but it’s now a run-of-the-mill ACC middleweight that loses to a depleted Notre Dame team.

It’s pretty much the same when it comes to Subway’s cookies.

Subway Pumpkin Spice and Apple Pie Cookies 2

Like Alabama’s balanced offense and stifling defense, the Subway Pumpkin Spice Cookie was seemingly flawless. Textually, the edges were crunchy and the interior was chewy with strong notes of ginger and molasses dominating each bite. The cookie tasted like a ginger snap on steroids. The white confectionery chips added vanilla-flavored bursts of sweetness throughout the cookie, while the sweet taste of cinnamon lingered on my tongue even after I finished the cookie. If there’s one downside it’s that the cookie tastes more like a chewy ginger snap than a pumpkin cookie.

Subway Pumpkin Spice and Apple Pie Cookies 3

The Apple Pie Cookie is not nearly as good as the pumpkin spice one. If we’re talking football, it loses by at least three touchdowns. The Apple Pie Cookie was much sweeter and, like Miami Hurricanes football during the early 2000s, it’s a sexy cookie on the outside. How can it not be with “naturally sweetened” apple chunks baked right into the dough? Yet like the Hurricanes dynasty coming undone, it’s got too many bells and whistles to work. The taste of clove and nutmeg is far too floral, while the sweetened apple chunks taste like someone freeze-dried applesauce. The texture of the chunks is off-putting and hyper sweet, and the entire cookie doesn’t really taste like pie.

Is pumpkin spice’s dominance over the seasonal flavor world annoying? Maybe, but like Alabama’s continued destruction of college football parity, it’s pretty incredible. Subway’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie only adds to that legacy, and is far and away a better end to a mediocre sub than the Apple Pie cookie.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available.)

Purchased Price: 60 cents (each)
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Pumpkin Spice)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Apple Pie)
Pros: Pumpkin spice cookie has a wonderfully complex texture that’s crunchy on the edges and chewy in the center. Deep, warm sweetness of molasses mixed with ginger, butter, and vanilla.
Cons: Pumpkin Spice cookie lacks deep pumpkin flavor. Cream Cheese chunks would have been better than “confectionery chips”. Apple Spice cookies tastes like what I’d imagine an apple pie air freshener to taste like. Unnatural tasting natural apple chunks.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Triscuit Pumpkin & Spice Crackers

Limited Edition Triscuit Pumpkin & Spice Crackers

Call me basic, but I am all about the pumpkin spice craze. However, when I first heard about Triscuit’s attempt to sit at the pumpkin spice table, I was completely taken aback by Pumpkin & Spice. Please carefully note that strategically placed ampersand, you hipsters.

As I was opening the box, I was wondering to myself what Pumpkin & Spice even meant. Is it sweet? Spicy? Savory? I had no idea what to expect so I was imagining worst case scenarios of it tasting like a Yankee Candle or overzealous holiday potpourri.

I was disappointed that the box smelled mainly like cardboard with a hint of nutmeg & cinnamon (see what I did there with the ampersand?). In case you ever want to season your cardboard, nutmeg & cinnamon really complements the smell of cardboard! The crackers themselves just looked like a regular Triscuit in all its beautiful whole grain glory that could’ve been woven by Rumpelstiltskin himself.

Limited Edition Triscuit Pumpkin & Spice Crackers 2

The first bite was a subtle brown sugar, cinnamon-y crunch. After a few more crunches, it just tasted like a regular Triscuit. To test for flavor consistency, I continued eating. Half a box later (whoops!), I concluded that it was just a regular Triscuit with a dusting of pumpkin spice and sugar. Meh. It wasn’t offensive, but not as tasty as regular Triscuit (my record is a whole box in under 15 minutes.) Plus, because it’s so subtle, it was like the sweetness started to become less and less noticeable the more I ate.

Triscuit is always pushing itself as an appetizer to be topped with garnishes, so I had to try it. The box’s “3 steps to Delicious” panel comprises of gouda cheese, cranberry sauce and sage leaves but ain’t nobody got time for that! I slapped some cheddar cheese on it because cheddar’s mildness works with everything…except Pumpkin & Spice. While the sweetness is subtle as previously mentioned, I just couldn’t get past the sugary notes. Triscuit are supposed to be savory!

If you stuck these with these a batch of regular Triscuit at a party, no one would be able to tell the difference. People would probably just assume the sweetness came from cross-contamination from neighboring appetizers. As a result of its lackluster attempt, Pumpkin & Spice definitely doesn’t get to sit at the pumpkin spice table. Back to the kids’ table with Pumpkin Spice Twinkies and Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies, Triscuit!

(Nutrition Facts – 6 crackers – 120 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 80 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 9 oz box
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Didn’t taste like a candle or holiday potpourri! Same Triscuit texture and addictiveness.
Cons: Weak attempt to cash in on the pumpkin spice craze. Triscuit are supposed to be savory!