REVIEW: Wendy’s Chicken Tenders and Side of S’awesome

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Wait, chicken tenders are a thing again?

When McDonald’s killed its Chicken Selects in 2015, I could have sworn the burger-centric fast foods chains were done with premium, dippable chicken. But the resurrection of McDonald’s Chicken Selects as Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders seems to have started something a trend. Case in point, Wendy’s feels the need to one-up the Golden Arches with brand new Chicken Tenders and a never-before-seen sauce – Side of S’awesome.

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I’ve eaten a couple hundred pounds of chicken tenders and I can tell you these are decent as far as the all-white meat stuff goes. They lack the kind of succulent, peanut oil-infused flavor of Chick-fil-A’s tenders, and you’re not going to mistake them for Raising Cane’s or Zaxby’s. But the breading is crisp and well seasoned, the chicken isn’t dry, and there are no textural abnormalities like slimy meat or hollow crevasses under the breading.

But the flavor is predictable: the ubiquitous garlic, onion powder, salt, and black pepper mix you’ve probably tasted in dozens of chain restaurant and food service tenders. In other words, unless you’re really into the breading, you’re gonna want something to dip these in.

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I’m assuming Wendy’s came up with the name for their S’awesome Sauce because someone thought it was cool; that or “Spread,” “Fry Sauce,” and “Ed’s Sauce” were already taken. In any case, they should have named it “It’s Alright Sauce” because it’s okay.

Advertised as “tangy, sweet, and smoky,” it has elements of the first two flavors but very little smokiness unless you count the whisper of Worcestershire on the backend. Overall, it trends neither distinctly tangy or sweet, instead finding a mild middle ground which tastes like two parts mayo, one part mustard, and one part ketchup. But it doesn’t pop; it doesn’t wow; it doesn’t make me lick my fingers and declare to my coworkers that this shit is s’awesome.

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Put another way, if dipping is your thing, then you’ll probably want to stick with your usual Wendy’s go-to sauce.

When I saw that McDonald’s brought back chicken tenders, and then Wendy’s followed suit, my first instinct was to ask myself why major fast food chains had deserted them in the first place. But now that I’ve tried Wendy’s new Chicken Tenders, I can’t help notice how ordinary they taste when lined up against the Raising Cane’s, Zaxby’s, and Chick-fil-A’s of the world. And, unfortunately, even a name like S’awesome Sauce can’t hide the fact that the entire combo is average.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 pieces – 300 calories, 130 calories from fat, 14 grams of total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 920 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 22 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5 combo ($3.49 for order of 3)
Size: 3-piece combo
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Meatier alternative to Wendy’s nuggets. Solid crunch and well seasoned breading. Lower in calories than most chicken tenders.
Cons: S’awesome Sauce is pretty average. Tenders aren’t particularly succulent or juicy. Breading flavor is predictable. $5 combo meal isn’t as good as Dairy Queen’s $5 chicken tenders lunch.

REVIEW: Snyder’s of Hanover Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Pieces

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Pumpkin Season is in full force and new this year is Snyder’s of Hanover’s Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Pieces, which got me excited since pretzels seemed to be an interesting and novel way to show of the much-loved flavor.

Recently, though, I have been tackling new pumpkin-flavored items with some hesitation because it seems like the flavor can vary greatly in execution. It’s best when the pumpkin-to-spice ratio is masterfully in sync, usually with one not overpowering the other. It also helps to have real pumpkin included. Let’s see how Snyder’s did.

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As I break open the bag, I am hit with intense spice aroma. I can definitely smell the cinnamon and nutmeg. Pumpkin, though? Not so much. The pieces are all different shapes and sizes with a nice orange hue affixed to a majority of the pieces. It’s not bright enough to be mistaken for a cheesy seasoning, but not too dull either.

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There’s also some dark speckling on top of the orange. As far as size, most of the pieces are bite-sized except for one that was still largely intact. As I stare at it more it kind of resembles a finger and with this being a fall flavor before Halloween it oddly fits right in.

The pieces are as crunchy as you would expect from a well-crafted sourdough hard pretzel. There’s a nice doughy kind of flavor that pops up as you break down the pieces in your mouth. Once you get it going after the crunch, the coating’s flavor comes through.

How does the flavor taste, exactly? Is it packed full of pumpkiny goodness? No, not really. Is there an explosion of earthy spices in your mouth? Maybe, but just a little.

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Honestly, though, all I tasted was cinnamon. There was cinnamon, more cinnamon and then some more cinnamon all backed by the sweetness of sugar. I kept eating more to try to convince myself I could taste the pumpkin or some of the other spices, like nutmeg, especially because I had smelled it earlier. However, no luck.

It’s surprising because pumpkin powder is listed as one of the ingredients. In the end, though, these are just very, very good cinnamon pretzels with a nice festive orange color. Next year, these should be rebranded as festively colored cinnamon sugar pretzel pieces for Halloween. Either that or the pumpkin powder needs to move up the ingredient list significantly.

(Nutrition Facts – about 1/3 cup – 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 25 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: 10 oz. bag
Purchased at: Shopfoodex.com
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy and delicious sourdough base. Pleasant orange coloring. Accidental shapes that turn out to be festive. Real pumpkin powder.
Cons: Off balanced pumpkin spice ratio. An aroma that didn’t match in taste. Faint to non-existent pumpkin flavor. Glorified cinnamon sugar pretzels.

REVIEW: Cough Drop Kit Kat (Japan)

Cough Drop Kit Kat

If I ever need a cough drop to soothe my throat because I cheered loudly when my favorite team scored a touchdown/run/goal/basket/eight-ender or because I screamed, “WHAAAAAT!?” after learning about a cough drop-flavored candy bar, the Cough Drop Kit Kat will not be of any help.

The odd, new confection from Japan is called Kit Kat Nodo Ame Aji, which translates to Kit Kat Cough Drop Flavor. The candy gets its lozengeness from ground cough drop powder that’s been added to the white chocolate.

As you can see below, the pack I bought from eBay didn’t do well during its two-week inter-Pacific trek from Japan. The iconic Kit Kat fingers are almost indistinguishable and the white chocolate looks as if it was melted throughout most of its journey. While it looks like congealed bacon grease logs, the white chocolate has a pleasant peppermint-like aroma. But once I broke off a piece of that Kit Kat bar, an odd stale aroma made its way up my nose, which worried me.

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The candy tastes like a generic menthol cough drop, and at times it reminds me of a York Peppermint Pattie, but it’s mild. There’s even a slight cooling sensation, which brought a “Holy crap! That’s awesome!” smile to my face. It’s not even close to being nostril clearing or throat soothing as an actual cough drop, so I’m 99.9 percent sure it won’t help after being hoarse from cheering on an eight-ender.

But while tasting it, I began to wonder if being locked up for thousands of miles on a boat affected its flavor because there were brief moments when my taste buds noticed a harsh flavor that I’ve only experienced when accidentally biting into stale foods. (It happens to me more than you’d think. I don’t read IKEA instructions or check my foods to see if they’re stale.) But I can’t help but think it’s part of the cough drop flavor, because, you know, Japan.

If the Kit Kat had a menthol flavor with a cooling sensation, I’d be into that kinky culinary combo, but that stale flavor, even though it’s very mild and fleeting, gives me pause.

Having tried dozens of odd Japanese Kit Kat flavors, like wasabi, soy sauce, butter, and ginger, I have to say Kit Kat Nodo Ame Aji is the least pleasing Japanese Kit Kat I’ve ever tasted.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 65 kcal, 0.41 grams of protein, 3.7 grams of fat, 7.4 grams of carbohydrates, and 2-7 milligrams of sodium.)

Purchased Price: $5.99*
Size: 3-pack
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Another weird Kit Kat flavor from Japan. At times, it tastes like a York Peppermint Pattie. Cooling sensation is neat.
Cons: Weird stale flavor. Sending chocolate via slow mail.

*Bought it on eBay from a seller in Japan. It costs much less in the store.

REVIEW: FYE Food Fight Funky Fry & Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar

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Y = French Fry + Ketchup + Chocolate.

Take a moment to let the foodgebra (food+algebra) sink in. I could not believe my eyes either, but this franken-food was brought to life by retailer FYE and Astor Chocolate with an equally as complicated product name — Food Fight Funky Fry & Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar.

The FYE-exclusive Food Fight Chocolate Bar line includes other franken-flavors, like Crispy Caramel Popcorn, Crunchy Tortilla Muchacho Taco, and Together Forever Peanut Butter & Jelly.

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I was very intrigued by the Killer Ketchup wild card because the chocolate and deep-fried potato combo has been done. A little part of me was dubious that they’d actually put all of it into a chocolate bar, but the ingredients were listed on the back very plainly: milk chocolate, potato chips, sea salt, freeze dried white onion powder, dried tomato powder, roasted garlic powder, and chipotle chili pepper powder.

I assumed the chili is where the “killer” part comes in. After reading the ingredients, I was a little terrified but the Aqua Teen Hunger Force-esque characters on the packaging dared me to take the plunge.

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When I opened it, I was surprised to find the chocolate bar looked like a regular chocolate bar – even the cross-section reminded me of a plain ol’ Nestle Crunch Bar. It also didn’t smell any different – whew. The chocolate did seem softer as it started melting where my fingers were holding it. Said softness translated into a pleasant melt in your mouth texture (think Hershey’s Kisses) and I thought the chocolate itself actually tasted better than Hershey’s.

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Despite the rich milk chocolate-y sweetness, there was no mistaking the savory elements. After the initial chocolate taste, the garlic and onion flavors were the most prominent followed by a mild heat. It was like eating slightly spicy sour cream and onion chips topped with chocolate, which tasted as weird as it sounds.

Net net, it was nothing like eating ketchup and fries. I simultaneously felt relief and disappointment. It would’ve been pretty epic if this was the ultimate food mind-trip, but it would also ruin chocolate and/or ketchup and fries for me forever.

So, let’s solve the equation at the beginning of this review and let Y = WHY?!

I know it’s trendy to create crazy limited time only flavors, but I think this is way too far on the deep end. It was definitely a unique-once-in-a-lifetime-because-you-only-need-to-try-it-once experience, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

(Nutrition Facts – 260 calories, 15 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 10 mg of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 25 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 1.75 oz. bar
Purchased at: FYE
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Most unique chocolate experience I’ve had. Better chocolate than Hershey’s. Good heat from the chili.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like fries and ketchup. Honestly, not something I want to eat again.

REVIEW: Cookies & Screeem M&M’s

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These Cookies & Screeem M&M’s exemplify a trend I have been noticing in the last few years. In a world inundated with pumpkin, peppermint, and red velvet flavors for holidays, some companies make whatever flavor they feel like and somehow say it’s a holiday version. (I was disappointed last November when I asked for a pumpkin shake at Jack in the Box and their only “seasonal” offering was a Golden Oreo salted caramel shake. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving or Christmas!?) Like last year’s Boo-tterscotch M&Ms, these Cookies & Screeem ones don’t really have anything to do with Halloween.

They’re kind of Halloweeny because they’re black (or dark purple). I guess that’s how they justify it. But it’s still not as Halloweeny as the regular orange and black M&Ms of my childhood. (If my memory serves me right, they added purple and green to the orange and black in 2008, which I thought made them look more Eastery, and they switched to fall colors in 2010.)

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These M&M’s consist of a speckled shell, a layer of dark chocolate, and a white chocolate center. That’s all that makes up the “cookies and cream” side of it; if they added other flavors, I can’t detect it, and the ingredients list is too vague. I do think it’s a cool concept to have two kinds of chocolate in one candy.

One of the first things I notice when I eat one is a chemical quality, probably from all the food coloring they used to make them black.

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I like dark chocolate M&M’s. I like white chocolate M&M’s. But sometimes two rights make a wrong. These chocolates aren’t terrible, but I feel like the bitterness of the dark clashes with the sweetness of the white. I like the two flavors better when they’re on their own.

The sizes are inconsistent, and I actually like the small ones better. The ratio of dark to white is more enjoyable in the small ones.

I wasn’t able to brush my teeth immediately after trying these, and a few minutes after I had tasted them, I got an aftertaste that tasted like Oreo. That was the closest I got to the cookies and cream experience, and even that was fleeting. I would have liked these a lot more if they followed a traditional cookies and cream approach: white chocolate with crunchy cookie bits.

Will you go through the whole bag? Probably. But this is one of the brand’s weaker offerings.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz./about 16 pieces – 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 10 milligrams of sodium, twenty grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar (including 17 grams of added sugars), and less than 1 gram of sugar.)

Purchased Price: $3.19
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Cool concept of two chocolates in one candy. Not terrible. At least they’re trying to branch out.
Cons: Chemical flavor. White chocolate and dark chocolate taste better on their own. Doesn’t screeem “Halloween.” Doesn’t screeem “cookies and cream.” Doesn’t screeem “a product that will come back next year.”