REVIEW: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

If McDonald’s took its chicken sandwich menu and made it into one of those evolution progress pictures of the monkey slowly crawling out of the sludge and walking upright, the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich would be somewhere on the right side, while dollar menu stalwart McChicken would be somewhere on the left.

That’s not to trash the McChicken, of course. On some days I would rather be a half-fish, half-monkey thing wandering around just chillin’, eating snacks on an island. Maybe I’ll eat a coconut today. Maybe I’ll eat some sand. Can I digest sand? Oh, it’s time for bed? G’nite!

The Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich boasts a buttermilk crispy chicken filet, an artisan roll, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise. That’s only a handful of ingredients, which is good news, because I can’t count past five. (My developmental years were spent eating McDonald’s.) But the low number also means they are putting stock into each element. It mostly pays off.

The chicken patty itself has a particularly fine breading and a nice uniform texture throughout the meat. The breading is also a bit grittier, which gives each bite a little more crunch. At first taste, it comes off a bit over-salted, but as the entire sandwich is taken in, the flavor seems to even out. The protein is a step up in quality from the other chicken offerings, but it’s unclear what part buttermilk actually plays in the cooking process. Doused? Marinated? Friends with benefits? Admired from afar for many years?

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich 2

The artisan roll is the same one featured on all the other premium McDonald’s sandwiches. It’s soft, chewy, and a suitable springboard for this sandwich. The tomato is unspectacular but inoffensive and the lettuce has a decent snap that breaks up the monotony. In fact, the entire item is a textural success, with almost every bite featuring a spectrum of feelings, like a teenage romance.

If there is a complaint, it is of the mayonnaise. I will concede that on my particular sandwich the construction was uneven—the “mayonnaise dressing” was applied in a glob on one side and sparsely on the other. So your mileage may vary, but my bites that contained the mayo spread were pretty overpowering. They actually reminded me a lot of the taste of the McChicken, which is often doused in the stuff like it came out of a fire hose. That treatment seems especially egregious since this sandwich is around three bucks more than the McChicken.

The quality is there and so is the price. Is the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich three times better than a McChicken as the price would indicate? I’m not sure. While it has all the trappings of a higher quality sandwich, if I were scratching that chicken itch, I don’t know if I would regularly splurge. Now, if McDonald’s made a sandwich out of that half-fish, half-monkey thing, I would be all over it. But they’d probably only offer it in Norway or something.

(Nutrition Facts – 580 calories, 220 calories from fat, 24 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 grams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 29 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Great texture. Chicken is quality compared with previous chicken offerings. Artisan bun is soft.
Cons: Could be too salty for some. Globs of mayonnaise. Pricey.

REVIEW: Brach’s Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn

Brach's Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn

It’s August and I’m eating candy corn…

I guess I just have to accept the fact that summer is dwindling down. Pretty soon it’ll be “pumpkin spice this,” and “apple cinnamon that,” and everything will say “Harvest” on it for some reason. 

So to get an early jump on fall (or “autumn” for all you fancy pants, snooty types) I decided to pick up a new twist on the Halloween staple — Brach’s Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn.

Candy corn must be an adult thing, because I hated them as a kid, but have grown to appreciate them.

I think my hatred had something to do with the fact that the worst houses used to give them out on Halloween. I would have gladly taken a bag of chips, pennies, or *ugh* “Smarties” over them. To me, candy corn were the nut-low Halloween handout. I vividly remember an old man giving me a handful of loose candy corn and not even complimenting my insanely detailed Army Soldier costume.

Brach's Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn

When I first opened the bag I got an awesome, authentic waft of peanut butter cup. Unfortunately as I went in for a closer, deeper sniff, that smell got considerably worse. If you bought a “peanut butter” scented seasonal candle, I imagine it would smell like these…and clear rooms.

I popped a few and was pleasantly surprised. The bag boasts they are made with “real honey,” and I could taste a hint of it. I guess that’s always a plus. These have the standard candy corn texture — waxy then gritty and chalky.

At first there is a strong peanut flavor, but it’s not necessarily peanut butter. If you had a blindfolded taste test, I don’t think you’d immediately jump to “peanut butter.” You’d know instantly what you were eating, but not which flavor. These are probably better than standard candy corn, but somehow almost taste the same. Halfway through chewing my brain just said “candy corn” and disregarded the flavor since the texture is so unique to candy corn.

Brach's Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn Closeup

That didn’t make much sense to me, so I ate each color individually. You’re dealing with a genius here, ladies and gentlemen.

White tasted like pure sugar. Not much more to say there.

Tan tasted like peanut. If you’ve ever had a piece of taffy that was “peanut” flavored, not “peanut butter,” that is the flavor. This might be a dated reference, but they reminded me of a Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew (which have always been underrated) or a Mary Jane. So these have a throwback molasses-y peanut flavor your grandparents would have loved!

Brown is an artificial chocolate flavor. Ever have a chocolate flavored Italian Ice cup from the grocery store? That was what I instantly thought of. What’s up Luigi’s? I see you.

Ya know those variety bags of candy corn that have the standard parking cones mixed with big orange, brown, and tan pieces shaped like cats, pumpkins, witches, and, I don’t know, probably costumed Minions these days? That’s what these are! They basically took all those flavors and just combined them. So imagine eating a handful of the mixed bag. That’s a peanut butter cup candy corn.

So, if you’re expecting a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in the shape of a candy corn, you might be disappointed. If you enjoy candies that were introduced decades before your birth, you’re in business. Either way, if you plan on filling a dish with candy corn this Halloween, give these a shot.

(Nutrition Facts – 19 pieces* – 140 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Brach’s Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Rite Aid
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Strong peanut flavor. Good aftertaste. Real honey. Your Grandparents’ favorite candies getting shoutouts. Luigi’s Italian Ice.
Cons: Not Reese’s. Smell worse up close. Bad Halloween memories. “Autumn.” Smarties. *Would 20 pieces have been too hard to calculate?

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal

Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal

This autumn, tens of thousands of students will head back to school with great expectations for their upcoming social and academic year. By the end of their first week, though, they’ll have those expectations checked; or as I like to say, completely and miserably crushed.

Such is also the case for millions of Americans, who’ll be reminded that eating something labeled “pumpkin spice” in August or September does not always equate with being served a rich and indulgent slice of pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table. But that doesn’t mean all pumpkin spice products are the equivalent of your 11th hour essay for which you received (and deserved) a D-minus. As a matter of fact, some of these pumpkin spice products are actually pretty good, even good enough to disguise the fact that there’s no actual pumpkin in the product.

Take the new Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal. When I first heard a mainstream cereal company was doing a pumpkin spice (and not pepita) flavored cereal, I pretty much decided my life was complete. I mean, we’re talking about my two great loves here, and combining them had the potential to answer the “what do you want for breakfast” question for the rest of my life.

Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal 2

But when I finally bought the Mini Wheats and realized there was no pumpkin in their eight layers of whole grains and fiber, I realized I may have fallen into the yearly trap of getting my pumpkin hopes set too high. Sure, there’s cinnamon, allspice, and ginger, but the lack of pumpkin puree gave me second thoughts. Experience tells us the pumpkin spice spectrum ranges are pretty wide with just as many misses as hits. Would this be the pumpkin spice of the excellent Pumpkin Spice Oreo Cookies? Or, as I suddenly feared, a repeat of the Pumpkin Spice M&M’s?

Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal 4

Much to my taste buds’ delight but my guts’ chagrin, those eight layers of fiber coated in pumpkin spice tasted much more like the former. The pumpkin spice is sweet, loud, floral, nutty, and hardly resigned to being the proverbial afterthought of vague cinnamon flavor and orange hue that some products hide behind. I thought the spices complemented each other nicely and tasted extremely fresh when eaten as a dry snack. When I sampled them against an industrial-sized bag of pumpkin spice (eh, like I said, pumpkin is one of my great loves), it compared favorably.

The downside of the cereal is that, like so many other cereals, it just has no way to convey a sense of richness. This is definitely a must for any product trying to capture some of the seasonal synergy of pumpkin, and it would have distracted my taste buds from the much-too-healthy wheat-y underside of each biscuit.

Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal 3

This wheat-y taste was actually more apparent when I ate the cereal in, go figure, whole milk. Unfortunately, the “frosting” of the biscuits is very one-note in sweetness. Unfortunately, the “frosting” of the biscuits is very one-note in sweetness, and it’s not the kind of brown sugar and cream sweetness which, for lack of a better explanation, transforms a squash into the most iconic of fall sweets. Knowing that Frosted Mini Wheats has nailed Cinnamon Roll and Maple flavors before makes accepting the sweetness’ lack of depth all the more disappointing.

Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal is a reminder that it’s easy to get caught up in unrealistic expectations during pumpkin season, and in hindsight, expecting a pumpkin spice cereal to taste like pumpkin pie is like expecting to graduate summa cum laude while also being an All-American on the football team and Homecoming King.

Possible? Yeah, but no worse for wear if you only nail one of the three honors. Because in capturing the multifaceted spices that make up “pumpkin spice,” Frosted Mini Wheats breaks new ground in a seasonal cereal realm usually reserved for Apple Cinnamon, and kicks off pumpkin spice season with a worthy addition in a saturated market.

(Nutrition Facts – 25 Biscuits – 190 calories, 10 calories from fat, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Kellogg’s Limited Edition Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice Cereal
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 15.5 oz box
Purchased at: Giant Food
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Very good representation of pumpkin spice flavor. Doesn’t taste too heavily of cloves, which everyone knows is the most heavy and distracting of fall spices. Crunchy, sweet biscuits with mock icing. Eight layers of fiber and whole grains.
Cons: Getting a B when you’re expecting an A+. Doesn’t taste like pumpkin pie. Lacks richness of cream and maple flavors in milk. Binging on cereal. Back to school.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers

I have a confession, dear readers.

I am a weenie.

That’s right: I’m the guy who needs a tissue after a single Flaming Hot Cheeto. I’m the guy who thinks playing Doritos Roulette is cruel and unusual punishment. And Thai food? More like “I want to die food.”

And I’ve been mocked for it my whole life.

That’s why taking on the challenge of Taco Bell’s new Dare Devil Loaded Grillers, which come in three escalating levels of spiciness, was a personal quest for me. If I can handle these, maybe I can regain some self-respect. No longer will I quiver before a bottle of Sriracha.

So without further ado, allow me to channel my inner Dante and dive into these three tortilla-wrapped circles of Hell.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 2

First up was Mild Chipotle. The wrapper seemed to mock me with its condescending tone and mellow yellow colors. The insides were kinda squished together, but between the many, thick layers of tortilla were scant amounts of beef, plenty of gooey cheese, strangely damp wads of red corn chips, and the tempting beige sauce.

Flavor-wise, the toasty, grilled flour of the tortilla and the slight edge of the cheese dominated all else, with the sauce backing it up with a savory creaminess that had a palpably high fattiness. Little meatiness could be found, and the chips got too soggy to lend any sort of fun crunch. Regardless, as a fan of quesadillas, this tasted a lot like a pleasantly zesty one.

As for the spice, after finishing a bite I noticed a relaxed buzz in the back of my throat, but nothing even my greenhorn tongue couldn’t handle.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 3

Kicking it up a notch (shame on Taco Bell for not working in the phrase “kick it up a nacho” somehow), I bit into the Hot Habanero griller. Aesthetically, it looked nearly identical to its plain-Jane little brother, except with a much thinner and angrier looking orange layer of creamy sauce.

Compared to Chipotle, the taste here was like a “hot beef injection.” Wait, wait. That’s not what I mean. Don’t Google that, please. But anyway, the noticeable tang of the pepper made the smoky, seasoned beef flavor much more prominent here, with undertones of garlic and black pepper. Our “chipper” friends manage to pop in with a brief, hot corniness, too.

The heat was a slow buildup, so much so that I thought I was safe until my tongue and throat started to tingle and whimper like a dog who played with a porcupine (thank my German Shorthair, who took a faceful of quills to bring us that analogy). Fortunately, the steady burn wasn’t nearly intense enough that a long swig of milk couldn’t wash it out.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 4

But then it was time for Fiery Ghost Pepper. It was to be my personal final boss: my Bowser, my Ganondorf, and my last mine in a tense game of Minesweeper. Unlike its creamy siblings, this one just oozed a sinister, bubbly red liquid (okay, maybe I imagined the bubbles).

In terms of flavor, I was barely able to sense a salty combo of meat and corn chips before the acrid acidity of the sauce took over, with the harsh, concentrated pepper flavor overwhelming and seeping into all else. Even the formerly friendly cheese betrayed me and became pasteurized magma.

Et tu, nacho?

To seasoned veterans of seasoned spice, the heat may not quite be “1,000,00 Scovilles,” but it was enough to make me say “Sco-ly s***!” My tongue went numb to flavor, my throat resonated with capsaicin, and trying to wash it down with milk was as futile as Smokey the Bear crying tears of disappointment onto a forest fire.

Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers 5

For a total price of $3, the Dare Devil Grillers were a fun novelty, but outside of Chipotle, I can’t imagine buying any for an actual meal (though they are large enough for one), since the burn takes way from the familiar flavor, which you could easily get from many of Taco Bell’s other items.

Since I can see my word count here is already starting to rival Dante’s Divine Comedy, too, and since I’m still nursing a crispy tongue, I think a brief haiku summarizing each Griller will suffice:

Chipotle, my friend:
Cheesy, zesty mayo-filled
Beef quesadilla

Habanero, oh!
Peppered meat, slow-building heat
(That sounded dirty)

Ghost pepper: need Tums
Like Pompeii, heat buries taste
Ow ow ow, owww, ow!

(Nutrition Facts – Chipotle – 420 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 940 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Habanero – 380 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein. Ghost Pepper – 400 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 970 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Dare Devil Loaded Grillers
Purchased Price: $1 each
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Chipotle)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Habanero)
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Ghost Pepper)
Pros: Flavorful beef with cheese and toasty flour tortilla. Unbeatable value. The sinful goodness of “palpably high fat content.” Conquering your personal Ganondorf.
Cons: Pain and heat mask flavor as you move up in heat. Only difference between Grillers is flavor emphasis. Soggy chips. The crushing betrayal of “pasteurized magma.”

REVIEW: Jack in the Box Portobello Mushroom Buttery Jack

Jack in the Box Portobello Mushroom Buttery Jack

Jack in the Box’s Buttery Jack is much like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, crab legs at an all you can eat buffet, and baby back ribs at a barbecue joint.

What do these have in common? Besides being foods you’ve seen on your friend’s Instagram that shows EVERYTHING he eats (STOP IT, BRANDON!), they’re also messy enough that you’ll need a few extra napkins if you’re eating them.

The Buttery Jack originally came in two varieties — Classic and Bacon & Swiss. But now there’s a third, the Portobello Mushroom, so get your napkins ready. The burger comes with a 1/4 lb beef patty topped with garlic herb butter, Portobello mushrooms, buttery grilled onions, Swiss cheese, and peppercorn mayo on a gourmet signature bun. So, yeah, it’s basically a mushroom and swiss burger with a fancy name.

If you’re thinking someone’s A-key isn’t working on their keyboard because you thought it was “portabella” not “portobello,” then let me do your Google search for you and say either one is acceptable. So if a Facebook friends corrects you, tell them that they’re wrong, play the instrumentals to Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen,” and then sing the following lyrics:

Spelling bee queen.
Now we’re spelling the same thing.
There are more spellings than one.
No more confusion.

Jack in the Box Portobello Mushroom Buttery Jack 2

Like the plastic wrap Dexter uses to secure his prey, the melted Swiss cheese holds the mushrooms and onions down on the beef patty, preventing them from escaping. My burger came with a decent amount of fungi and aromatics, and they both provided a decent amount of flavor. But to be honest, they don’t taste any different than what’s been on other fast food mushroom and swiss burgers I’ve had.

Although the Portobello mushrooms are in the name, the real star of every Buttery Jack is really the garlic herb butter. As I mentioned in my review of the other varieties, it helps compensate for the patty’s dryness and gives your hands a slick coating that’ll make it easier to slide down fire poles and make Jenga a bit more exciting. The garlic flavor isn’t strong enough to prevent a vampire from invading your personal space, but it does enhance the patty’s flavor.

Jack in the Box Portobello Mushroom Buttery Jack 3

Besides allowing the top bun of the slightly sweet and sturdy gourmet bun to stick to the rest of the burger, I’m not sure about the inclusion of the peppercorn mayo. I didn’t get any pepperiness from the burger. Although, combined with the Swiss cheese, the two did give the burger an added creamy texture. As for the Swiss cheese itself, its mild flavor is hard to detect with the garlic herb butter also hitting my taste buds.

A mushroom and swiss version of Jack in the Box’s Buttery Jack was inevitable. Whenever fast food chains offer a new burger line, it seems mushroom and swiss is almost always one of the options or a later addition (See McDonald’s Sirloin Burger and Angus Third Pounder, Burger King’s Whopper and Big King, Carl’s Jr.’s All-Natural Burger). But the garlic herb butter does help this burger stand out among those others I’ve tried. It’s a good burger, although not as good as the Classic version. And it’s a good addition to the Buttery Jack line.

(Nutrition Facts – 807 calories, 462 calories from fat, 51 grams of fat, 23 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat, 128 milligrams of cholesterol, 1081 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 38 grams of protein..)

Item: Jack in the Box Portobello Mushroom Buttery Jack
Purchased Price: $9.27* (large combo)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Jack in the Box
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Garlic herb butter helps hide the dry patty and makes this burger stand out among other mushroom and swiss burgers I’ve had. Gourmet signature bun is still great. Swiss cheese helps prevent mushrooms and onions from falling out.
Cons: Messy. Hard to notice the Swiss cheese and peppercorn mayo. Predictable burger variety.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.