REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies

The Milano cookie has always been something of an enigma for me. With its elegant yet simple design and name conjuring images of the Italian Alps, it was beyond my childhood capacity of appreciation. Later in life, after I had graduated from a packaged cookie diet consisting entirely of Oreos and Chips Ahoy, Milanos still perplexed me. A dense yet slightly chewy crumb and buttery but dark chocolate flavor pointed toward a cookie on its own plane, distinct and unabashedly unique from every other prepackaged treat.

Oh yes, and terribly delicious.

It goes without saying that we expect much from Milano cookies. When you nail the chocolate flavor better than 95 percent of the competitors, I think expectations are a given. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but wonder if that sophisticated edge would translate with the addition of pumpkin spice. It’s one thing to pair mint and raspberry with chocolate, but when you start playing matchmaker with chocolate and the sometimes ambiguous concoction of fall spices, the results aren’t always so endearing.

Examining the bag confirmed my initial skepticism, as there’s no mention of pumpkin or the usual suspects of cinnamon or brown sugar in the ingredients. Nevertheless the orange lip representing pumpkin appeared on each cookie, while an unmistakably pumpkiny aroma danced from the open bag in perfect step with aromas of shortbread and chocolate.

It’s really a scintillating aroma, one with notes of pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin loaf cake supporting the dance. Actually, it’s so great I nearly passed out of asphyxiation due to a prolonged moment of sticking my schnoz right into the bag and failing to breath anything but the glorious smell of autumn.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 2

The orange “cream”—for want of a better word—is thin and slightly viscous, with a texture somewhere between cream cheese on a hot day and the filling they stick inside those stacked wafer cookies. Tasting it from the lip of the cookie, it comes across as a less intense version of Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese, right on down to a slightly artificial flavor that seems a bit too quiet for fall’s most iconic squash.

Artificial flavor aside, there’s a pleasantly light sweetness and lickable texture that leaves me wanting more. The problem is there really isn’t much more to be had. Even though the chocolate-to-pumpkin filling ratio is about 1:1, the pumpkin finishes a distant third in its impact. The filling and the spice together are enough to let you know we’re talking pumpkin and not just cinnamon-flavored cookies, but the milk chocolate filling and scrumptious cookie base seem unwilling to let the pumpkin intrude on their synergy.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 3

It’s been my experience through a quarter century of pumpkin eating that pumpkin is a very jealous flavor. It just doesn’t like playing second fiddle, much less third string. Yet in the distinct and careful balance of buttery cookie crumb and rich chocolate taste the pumpkin seems an awkward third wheel, attractive enough to want on its own, but not enough for either of the other two elements of the cookie to commit to.

It’s as if the cookie and the chocolate know what they have together, and while tempted by the pumpkin’s autumnal notes, neither flavor wants to commit to the newcomer over its tried and true other half. My God, it now occurs to me as I polish off another cookie, I have just described a twisted escapade of cookie love.

Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies 4

The sophisticated chocolate taste and buttery crumb native to all Milanos make the Pumpkin Spice Milano flavor unique and tasty. Yet for such a trendsetting cookie the pumpkin spice flavor doesn’t come through enough to make it a distinctively pumpkin product, while the hints of an attractive and creamy texture mitigate it to an awkward role player. As for that role, it’s just not cast right, and despite a promising beginning and intoxicating aroma, the Pumpkin Spice Milanos failed to make me fall in love with their take on the seasonal flavor.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 130 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 40 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 7 ounces
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Quite possibly one of the most enjoyable smelling cookies in creation. Buttery Milano cookie. Rich milk chocolate flavor. Pumpkin flavored “cream” is slightly reminiscent of pumpkin cream cheese. That feeling you get when you buy Milanos.
Cons: Too little pumpkin filling. Slightly artificial pumpkin spice “cream.” Third wheel flavors. Death by cookie bag. Nineteenth century packaging of Milano cookies.

REVIEW: Sprite Blast

Sprite Blast

There’s a Mitch Hedberg joke from the early 2000s.

“They say the recipe for Sprite is lemon and lime. But I tried to make it at home—there’s more to it than that. ‘Want some more homemade Sprite?’ Not ‘til you figure out what the f*** else is in it!”

It’s true. Homemade Sprite sounded impossible in 2003, when that joke was recorded for Hedberg’s second stand up album. Fast forward about a decade and homemade soda machines are in all the hippest kitchens, yet if someone yelled from the other room “Hey, man, what do I put into this thing to make Sprite?” my answer would probably end up being “Let’s just go buy some Sprite,” followed up with a 20-minute conversation about the time Rufio from Hook rapped in a Sprite commercial. Bangarang.

Sprite does feature that lemon-lime logo and, if I’m remembering correctly, advertisements in the 90’s with wet, airborne lemons and limes. But for a drink so closely associated with citrus, it lacks any sour bite whatsoever. Enter Sprite Blast. This is an iteration of the drink that tastes like it was possibly made with actual sour ass fruit, or at least the sugar they sprinkle on sour worms.

The fizz is typical of Sprite, seemingly softer than actual Coke, and sets the table for a mouth puckering that never comes. Sprite Blast has a slight sour jab that stimulates the roof of the mouth and tingles the top of the throat and never overwhelms, or whelms even. The American palate is not acclimated to sour tastes, sure. The only sour-tasting foods I can name have “sour” already in the name: Sour cream, sour pickles, sweet and sour sauce, sour grapes.

The one I most engage with is sour grapes, and that’s not even a food. I’m a master rationalizer, and didn’t really want to be a stupid astronaut anyway. It just seems like a lot of work. But Sprite Blast’s flavor is a bit anemic, even for sour neophytes. And it doesn’t necessarily play with the sugar in the drink that well either. The flavor doesn’t lilt at the end in concert with the sweetness, like a Sour Patch Kid. It just sorta lays there in your mouth like a stoned roommate. The drink is buffed of any extremes, like a mass-produced, focus-grouped product and mostly serves as a reminder of how freaking sweet regular Sprite is.

Sprite Blast 2

Sprite Blast comes in tiny 7.5-ounce cans for some reason, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it costs that much more to produce the drink, or Coca-Cola wanted to visually differentiate it from other sodas on the shelf, but I keep searching for the “real” reason, like the can makes a particularly good bong or it can be easily fashioned into fireworks. Maybe 7.5 ounces of liquid is the perfect amount for some sort of alcoholic mixed drink, or codeine-cocktail krokodil. Maybe it fits easily into a regulation muffler, or into a body cavity.

Whatever the reason, the amount is about three-fourths a regulation soda but goes down like a shot. It’s so tempting to go “Woo!” right after and then huck the can across the room, like I just pledged some sort of dumb lemon-lime frat. Guys, tomorrow night we kidnap Sierra Mist’s mascot, which is actually a lonely guy wandering around Albertsons buying discount snacks for an ill-attended poker night.

The other thing about Sprite Blast is that it’s a 7-Eleven exclusive. Know this: Nobody is going to 7-Eleven just for Sprite Blast, which makes me think it’s there to pair well with something else. To be honest, I do think it would complement some 7-Eleven delicacies. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Pork rinds. Those gross-looking Doritos nuggets. Machine-rolled taquitos. Day-old hot dog. Lowrider magazine. A tin of Skoal Snus Mint. Sprite Blast would not go well with the Sausage McMuffin knockoff, Simpsons pink sprinkles donut or prophylactics.

Sprite Blast costs a buck at most 7-Elevens and is a low investment for a pretty low payoff. So no need for a homemade version, just spring for the real thing. And for those who still want to recreate it in the house, I think after reading the label, the secret ingredient is sodium benzoate.

(Nutrition Facts – 90 calories, 0 grams of fat, 115 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of sugar,and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Sprite Blast
Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 7.5 ounce can
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Actual sour flavors from Sprite. Could pair well with other 7-Eleven items, flavorwise.
Cons: Unremarkable. Comes in a teeny tiny can.

REVIEW: Lay’s Cinnamon Bun Potato Chips (Canada)

Lay's Cinnamon Bun Potato Chips (Canada)

I guess every batch of Do Us A Flavour candidates has to have the water cooler flavour — the weird one that’ll get people talking. Last year’s batch of Canadian flavours had Maple Moose, and sticking with the sweet theme, this year there’s Cinnamon Bun.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to has recoiled in horror at the thought of cinnamon bun chips, but I’m just going to come out and admit it: it’s actually pretty close to my dream chip flavour. Now, before you write me off as a complete sociopath (who dreams of cinnamon bun chips??), hear me out. My dream chip flavour? Cinnamon Sugar Doritos.

Keep in mind that this wouldn’t be a salty/sweet combination; this would be a full-out dessert chip. Think about it. It would be like a churro in chip form! How is this not a thing yet??

Doritos executives: please feel free to steal this idea.

Alas, since Churro Doritos are not yet a thing (and may never be), Cinnamon Bun Lay’s is probably the closest that we’ll get.

I’ll say two things about these chips right off the bat:

1) They’re not gross. They’re edible.

2) That’s probably the nicest thing I have to say about this particular flavour. These are clearly not going to satisfy my dream Doritos cravings.

I had hoped that they were going to be a full-out dessert experience, but it really isn’t. It’s way too subtle. That’s not necessarily a problem, but the flavours never really come together in any meaningful way.

If you were eating a bag of plain Lay’s and one fell on a Cinnabon and then you ate it, it would probably taste something like these chips.

Lay's Cinnamon Bun Potato Chips (Canada) Closeup

It’s weird. They’re slightly buttery, with a somewhat pronounced sweet cinnamony flavour — they actually do a pretty decent job of capturing the flavour of a cinnamon bun. But then there’s the plain Lay’s flavour, which is equally pronounced. Both flavours announce to your tastebuds “Yep, here I am!” but neither has any particular interest in cooperating with the other. They’re both just there; two random tastes that have seemingly been crammed together on a whim.

I wish they had just gone all out with the cinnamon bun flavour and let the chip be more of a vehicle for crunch than anything else, because as it is now it’s pretty muddled. It’s neither here nor there, and it’s slightly off-putting.

I was able to tolerate them, but I had a few other people try them and no one could make it past a chip or two, so I may just have a higher than average tolerance for sweet cinnamony chips. But clearly, these aren’t the chips I’ve been dreaming of.

Way to kill my dreams, Lay’s. Way to kill my dreams.

(Nutrition Facts – 50 grams/per 27 chips – 270 calories, 17 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 90 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 2 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Cinnamon Bun Potato Chips (Canada)
Purchased Price: $3.50 CAN
Size: 180 gram bag
Purchased at: Hasty Market
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Reasonable facsimile of the flavour of a cinnamon bun.
Cons: Cinnamon bun and potato chip flavours are just as incongruous as you’d think. Too subtle. Killer of dreams.

REVIEW: Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Big King

Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Big King

I thought what made Burger King’s Big King special was its middle bun AND the thousand island-style dressing. It turns out I’m as wrong as the guy who bids $75,000 for a Price is Right Showcase that consists of a year’s supply of sunscreen, two jet skis, a trip to Hilo, Hawaii, and a 2014 Kia Forte.

With the release of Burger King’s Mushroom & Swiss Big King, I learned the special sauce isn’t so special. I also learned the middle bun is the crown that make a Big King a Big King.

In case you can’t see everything in that blob of fast food ingredients above, the Mushroom & Swiss Big King features two beef patties, sautéed mushrooms, a slice of Swiss cheese, mayonnaise, a sesame seed bun, and the important middle bun.

Mine also ended up with a rogue slice of American cheese, but there’s no thousand island-style dressing. Of course, I’m pretty sure adding a sweet and tangy sauce to a mushroom and Swiss burger would’ve been gross.

And now that we know it’s the boring middle bun that makes a Big King a Big King and the thousand-island dressing isn’t there to stifle creativity, I expect Burger King to create many Big King variations in the future. Perhaps the Whopper has passed the variety burger baton to the Big King, so we’ll soon be seeing a Rodeo Big King, a Texas BBQ Big King, and a Western Big King.

Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Big King Topless

As you can see above, the burger is loaded with mushrooms. Okay, maybe you can’t see them all in that overzealous application of mayonnaise. But I assure you there were a lot of them because I could feel all the mushroom rubberiness in my mouth.

When I ate the Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Grillers back in the 2011, I complained about it having too much mushroom flavor. But with the Mushroom & Swiss Big King, I’m going to complain about it having too little mushroom flavor. Yes, there was some here and there, but with that many mushrooms, I expected almost every bite to taste like I was nibbling on Papa Smurf’s house.

I’m going to blame the mayo.

While the mayonnaise does a great job at preventing mushrooms from falling out of the burger and making the Swiss cheese slice feel more melted than it really is, it also does a good job at making this burger taste more like a mayonnaise and Swiss burger than a mushroom and Swiss burger. Having less mayo might’ve helped, but those sad, rubbery mushrooms didn’t have a lot of flavor to begin with.

Overall, the Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Big King is a mediocre burger and I think someone should take away its crown. It’s not horrible because the beef patties had a pleasant meatiness to them, and even with all that mayo, the sandwich wasn’t messy. But it tastes like a simple double cheeseburger that accidentally had a few mushrooms dropped onto it during the lunch rush.

(Nutrition Facts – 560 calories, 37 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 760 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Mushroom & Swiss Big King
Purchased Price: $4.39
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Lots of mushrooms. Mayo does a great job at preventing mushrooms from falling out. Decent beef patties with good flavor. Winning a Price is Right Showcase.
Cons: Lots of mushrooms don’t have lots of flavor. Mayo does a great job at preventing mushroom flavor from standing out. The middle bun being the reason why a Big King is a Big King. Going over when bidding on a Price is Right Showcase.

REVIEW: Sonic Cheesy Bread Dog (Ultimate Cheese & Bacon and Garlic Parmesan)

Sonic Ultimate Cheese & Bacon Cheesy Bread Dog

Is there any sight that makes you want to scream “America!” more than a hot dog? Well, I guess the American flag. Oh, and a bald eagle. A soldier in uniform. Eating loaded cheese fries a monster truck show. Rappers sipping on purple drank in music videos. Playing video games on the toilet. The government spying on us. Going to other countries and asking, “Don’t you speak English?” Hulk Hogan.

Okay, so there are plenty of other things that say America more than a hot dog, but the fact is the beef treat still says America, and in a different voice depending on what city you are in, as places like New York and Chicago are famous for the toppings they use. There’s also pretzel buns, which totally changes the game of a dog.

Now, Sonic is changing the game again with the new Cheesy Bread Dogs.

The last time I was excited by a hot dog to the level the Cheesy Bread ones brought me to was my first and only time at Wrigley Field in 2010, when I ordered a famed Chicago Dog.

A Sonic Drive-In obviously isn’t as scenic and majestic as Wrigley but if I imagined really hard the concrete turned to grass, my car seat to a seat in the bleachers, and my Sonic car server person (their official title, I’m assuming) morphed into Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. Usually in my dreams I’m the one delivering hot dogs to Starlin! I mean… that’s never happened.

I did go into a slight panic when the Sonic worker brought the food to my car, as I had never eaten at the drive-in before and was not sure if these people get tipped or not. He dropped a “well, have a nice day,” and then hesitated before leaving, so I’m assuming I was supposed to tip him. Great, like I need more bad karma!

I ordered both varieties, Garlic Parmesan and Ultimate Cheese & Bacon, but what you want to know about is the cheesy bread, right? I hope so; otherwise I look like a damn fool.

Sonic Cheesy Bread Dog Bun

The first thing you’ll notice before you even taste the bun is how greasy it is. I use a lot of napkins to begin with but I really went over board on these. You can just poke it gently and your finger would be glistening like you just wiped your sweaty brow, which maybe you got from playing pickup basketball, or walking your dog on an exceptionally sweltering afternoon.

This minor inconvenience is quickly dismissed once you taste the bread though. It’s very doughy, and kind of reminded me a stuffed crust pizza because of the cheese flavor, which was a pleasant cheddar. It is a thick bun, too, and I’d be careful ordering two as you may come to regret it later. I know I did. But that’s one for the vault.

The better of the two was easily the Ultimate Cheese & Bacon. Why? AMERICA! It’s the same thing as the Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog Sonic offers, but when you replace the pretzel bun with cheesy bread you really get one ultimate cheese and bacon experience, hence the name of the hot dog. It’s a hot mess of cheese, bacon and grease, and I’m using hot mess in a good way. The salty bacon, mild cheddar on the bun, and creamy, sharp cheddar cheese sauce blend together in an explosion of tasty, salty goodness.

The only knock is it’s a bit salty. I happen to enjoy salt so it was fine by me but if you’re not in love with a salty taste I would look to the Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Bread Dog.

Sonic Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Bread Dog

It has a creamy garlic parmesan sauce and onions. I was a bit confused by this one, as I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the sauce, and the onions seemed out of place to me. I think the onions could easily be lost and the dog would be just fine. The sauce seemed out of balance to me, as it was unlike other garlic parmesan sauce I have tasted. I suspect too much or too little of one of garlic or parmesan. Still tasty but could have been better.

Again, the cheesy bread makes these dogs quite filling (especially the Ultimate Cheese & Bacon) so unless you want to see how both taste, just order one. Maybe complement it with a nice slushie? Don’t complement it with tip confusion though. Seeing that Sonic worker do a sad Charlie Brown walk after not receiving a tip has been in my nightmares ever since!

(Nutrition Facts – Ultimate Cheese & Bacon – 550 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams total fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 1580 mg sodium, 47 grams total carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 21 grams protein. Garlic Parmesan – Not available on website.)

Item: Sonic Cheesy Bread Dog (Ultimate Cheese & Bacon and Garlic Parmesan)
Purchased Price: $2.89 each
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Sonic Drive-In
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Ultimate Cheese & Bacon)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Garlic Parmesan)
Pros: Bun is cheesy, doughy, and delicious. Ultimate Cheese & Bacon ingredients blend perfectly. America! Hulk Hogan. The power of imagination.
Cons: Bun is annoyingly greasy. Unbalanced garlic to parmesan ratio in sauce. Purple drank. Spying government.