REVIEW: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 1

I think a poutine might just be the most flexible junk food on the planet. You can top it with pretty much anything. Buffalo chicken? Sure. Hamburger? Why not! If you can dream it up, you can put it on a poutine.

Even still, Burger King’s Poutine á la Burger made me a bit wary. Not because it’s particularly weird, but because, honestly, Burger King isn’t my favourite fast food joint. And by “isn’t my favourite,” I mean it’s my least favourite. I actually used to like it a lot — but they’ve gone downhill quite precipitously over the last 15 years or so. It’s gotten to the point where, these days, a visit fills me with a kind of slow-burn horror that makes me very tempted to just turn around and walk out the door.

Even still, thanks to my childhood affection for the place, I occasionally find myself back there, hoping for the best.

The Poutine á la Burger is simple enough: it’s a regular poutine, topped with a chopped burger patty, mustard, ketchup, and pickles.

Nothing here was particularly good. I don’t think I need to tell you that Burger King’s fries aren’t that great, but I’ll do it anyway: Burger King’s fries aren’t that great. They’re standard mediocre battered fries, which pretty much taste the same wherever they’re served. I suspect that most fast food joints that serve them get them from the same supplier (it tastes that way, at least).

The curds weren’t much better. The main test of a good cheese curd is whether or not it has “squeak” – a subtle squeaking noise that a fresh curd makes when you bite into it. I tried one of the unmelted ones on top, and not only did it not squeak, it had a weirdly mushy, almost mealy texture that was unpleasant and quite unlike any curd I’ve had before.

The gravy was probably a bit more thick and gloppy than it should have been, and was otherwise run-of-the-mill bland canned gravy.

As for the chopped burger patty, it was standard Burger King, with that very distinctive flame-broiled flavour. It also had an unpleasantly gamy taste that generally comes from reheating meat one time too many.

The mustard, ketchup, and pickles were mustard, ketchup, and pickles. Even Burger King can’t mess that up.

I’ll bet you think you know where this review is going. Well, here comes the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.

Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada) 2

All the elements here ranged from passably mediocre to outright gross, so this should have been horrible, right? And in the first few mouthfuls, where I was paying attention to each individual element, it was horrible. But then something odd happened. I started enjoying it. It had all coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.

The curds, once melted by the gravy and the fries, lost their mealy texture. The fries, with their crispy battered coating, stood up well to the abundant gravy. The vinegary bite of the pickles and mustard added a much-needed punch of flavour to the bland gravy. And the gamy taste of the beef was drowned out by the sweetness of the ketchup and the poutine’s other flavours, leaving only a vague beefiness that gave the dish a bit more substance and oomph.

I’m a little bit baffled, honestly. All logic and common sense says that this poutine should have been offensively gross. Each individual component was sub-par, putting it kindly. And yet… and yet, it wasn’t gross. I enjoyed it. It’s as if all the bad canceled each other out and created something that was inexplicably good.

I can barely wrap my head around it. The poutine is objectively awful; I know this. And yet it was weirdly compelling, like a roadside accident that you just can’t stop staring at. About halfway through I told myself to stop eating it, that it was no good, that it was too much, that I’d feel sick. But I couldn’t. I didn’t stop until I had scraped the bottom of the bowl.

I wish I hadn’t eaten this, to be frank. Nothing about it made me feel good, physically or mentally.

Physically, well, that should be fairly obvious. If you pick this thing up, it has heft. I’d be shocked if it weighed less than a pound. Maybe even two. I made the mistake of eating it during my lunch break at work, and I returned to the office clutching my perilously full belly and wanting nothing more than to take a very long nap.

Mentally, it made me question everything about who I am, right down to my very core. Do I have bad taste? I didn’t think so before, but now I’m not so sure. Enjoying something that’s so clearly shoddy has upended everything I thought I knew about myself.

I really don’t know what else to say. I went to Burger King that day to review the Poutine á la Burger, only for it to review me. It peered deep into my soul and found me wanting. It knew who I was, who I am, who I will always be.

It knew everything.

(Nutrition Facts – 880 calories, 46 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1490 milligrams of sodium, 95 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, and 24 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Poutine á la Burger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $4.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: In spite of itself, it is surprisingly tasty. Look, I liked it, okay? Don’t make me say more.
Cons: Run-of-the-mill battered fries, mediocre gravy, gross curds, off-tasting beef. Realizing that you like this despite all that and therefore have terrible taste in food. Having your soul laid bare. Self doubt.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 1

I remember the first time I heard the name Dominique Ansel and something called a Cronut.

Shortly after learning she he was not a member of an Eastern European figure skating team, I decided that the SoHo, New York pastry chef was a freaking genius. Aside from the fact his combination of flaky, buttery croissant and yeasty, sugary donut may have been the most effective joint American-French venture since the Revolutionary War, the Cronut struck me as the perfect marriage of taste and texture with kitchen science and dedicated craftsmanship. Sonnets, I suppose, will one day be written on the cultural significance of the Cronut—an amazing feat, really, considering its relative isolation in New York City.

Well, that is, until now. Okay, so technically calling this 24-layers of fried, buttery dough a “Cronut” is incorrect, and, if you want to go all chronological on me, even national grocery stores like Safeway have been making Cronut knockoffs for the better part of 2014. But let’s not forget this is Dunkin’ Donuts. We run on this stuff, America, and if there’s one chain that can bring even a hint of Ansel’s epic creation to every corner of small towns and overcrowded suburbs, it’s Dunkin’.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 2

The Croissant Donut I received was far from a geometric wonder. It’s not quite hexagonal enough to suggest complete machine creation and it’s missing the characteristic rounded edges of a typical donut. I would settle on a shape somewhere between “askew” and “jacked up.” Nonetheless, it smelled of the trademark Dunkin’ glaze. And it’s served in an adorable little container, which exhibits a sense of uniqueness.

Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut 3

I’ve always struggled with counting, but after cutting into the faux Cronut, I’m fairly sure there weren’t 24 unique and verifiable layers of buttery dough. All that said, I wasn’t too disappointed, mostly because the taste was very enjoyable. Yes, I said it: enjoyable. Maybe not the purported earth-shattering taste of Ansel’s original Cronut, but certainly better than the multiple grocery store imitators I’ve tried.

The interior dough has a moist, but light texture, like an actual croissant. It also certainly tastes like one. The interior layers, while not distinctively laminated in true pastry fashion, still gave an excellent contrast to the crunchy and ridged fried exterior, which was altogether more substantial than a typical donut. I liked that there was some heft to the Croissant Donut, which was far less airy and collapsible than the otherwise pipsqueak-sized regular Dunkin’ glazed donuts.

With all that said, I can see how it probably wouldn’t impress those lucky enough to have an actual Cronut. The glaze flavor is a classic touch, but the single-flavor fails to capitalize on a host of sweet croissant fillings, while coming across as overpriced and, yes, mass-produced. There was a part of me which wanted more distinctiveness in the interior layers, wishing for a truly pick-apart dough which was layered with chocolate or marzipan or any number of fillings.

Still, there’s no use covering up the fact that I really enjoyed Dunkin’s take on Ansel’s now-iconic Cronut. While I do think the mass-produced version is a buck too expensive and could be improved by adding flavor variations, there is something to be said for simplicity and accessibility. No, I’m sure it’ll never compare to the original award-winning Cronut, but Dunkin’ Donut’s Croissant Donut exhibits a great balance in texture and flavor and gives us non-New Yorkers something new and exciting to run on.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Croissant Donut – 300 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 0 milligrams of potassium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Croissant Donut
Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Better than grocery store Cronut imitators. Moist interior dough has authentic buttery taste. Crunchy outside glaze provides great textural contrast. Feels and tastes more substantial than a regular donut. Available in suburbia without a long wait.
Cons: Interior lacks optimal flakiness. Generic glazed donut sweetness limits appeal. No guarantee of freshness. No way in hell it’s only 300 calories.

REVIEW: KFC Sweet Chili Crunch Chicken (Canada)

KFC Sweet Chili Crunch (Canada) 1

You’ll have to forgive me if this is a particularly short review; KFC’s Sweet Chili Crunch Chicken is essentially just their Hot & Spicy Chicken, but with a drizzling of sauce on top.

However, KFC’s promotional materials seemed to indicate that the chicken itself is different, which didn’t quite jive with what I was tasting.

I decided to call my local KFC to figure this out, which made me feel very reportery (reporter-esque? Reporter-like? Yeah, I’m gonna go with reporter-like. That sounds legit). I’m like Woodward and Bernstein, only instead of rooting out deep-seeded political corruption in the highest government offices, I’m finding out about fried chicken. That’s about the same, right?

Anyway, what I was told is that it actually is slightly different from the standard Hot & Spicy Chicken. The guy I spoke with said very similar, but that the chicken in the Sweet Chili Crunch is actually a little less spicy — I guess because of the presence of the chili sauce?

Either way, it’s similar enough that I doubt you’d be able to tell the difference unless you ate the two side-by-side. I know I couldn’t.

This basically leaves the Sweet Chili sauce as the differentiator. It’s fairly standard-issue stuff, and pretty much tastes like any number of similar Thai-style sauces you can get at the supermarket. It’s very sweet, with a mild garlicky bite, and an even milder hint of spice. If the prospect of spicy fried chicken is what’s drawing you to this item, look elsewhere. The heat level here registers at more of a mild tingle than anything else.

Though the drizzling of sauce initially comes off as odd and a bit stingy, it’s definitely for the best. If the pieces of chicken had been dunked in the sweet sauce, it probably would have overwhelmingly cloying; in the quantity provided, it adds some vague sweetness and a tiny bit of heat, but definitely doesn’t overwhelm the chicken.

KFC Sweet Chili Crunch (Canada) 2

Anyway, it’s good, because KFC’s standard-issue Hot & Spicy Chicken is good, and that’s basically what it tastes like. It’s nice and crunchy, with that distinctive KFC flavour. I know a lot of people don’t like KFC for various reasons, but I’m generally a fan, despite what my last couple of reviews might lead you to believe. This particular batch of chicken was overcooked and a bit on the dry side, but that’s pretty much the luck of the draw.

For six bucks the meal comes with three pieces of dark meat (a drumstick and two thighs) and an order of fries, so it’s not a bad deal, though I’m not a big fan of KFC’s fries. I’m not crazy about battered fries in general -– I like battering and deep-frying things as much as the next guy, but fries are already delicious as they are. No batter necessary.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 thigh piece – 390 calories, 29 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 20 grams of protein.)

Item: KFC Sweet Chili Crunch Chicken (Canada)
Purchased Price: $5.99 (CAN)
Size: 3 pieces and fries
Purchased at: KFC
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Crunchy, tasty chicken. Sweet chili sauce isn’t over-applied.
Cons: Not very spicy. Not much reason to order this over the standard Hot & Spicy chicken.

REVIEW: Surge (2014)

Surge (2014)

I want to find someone who’s been living under a rock for the past 15 years. I would greet that person with a Motorola StarTAC phone in one hand and a can of the re-released Surge in the other, and then tell him or her that there hasn’t been much change in the world. The old flip phone and the 1990s graphics on the Surge can would surely give him or her comfort.

And then when I see that comfort in their face, I’d say, “Nah! Just kidding!”

Then I’d blow that person’s mind by pulling out an iPhone, making a phone call, then taking a selfie with the, most likely, smelly person, and then post that photo on Facebook. Then I’d tell him or her Surge was discontinued, but was brought back and now it’s sold only on the internet. And then I would follow that by singing, “Welcome to the jungle. We got fun and games. We got everything you want. Honey, we know the names. Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na knees, knees.”

I’d also like to go back into time.

I’d travel to 2012 and post on the most popular Bring Back Surge Facebook page, “I’m from the future. Surge is coming back in 2014. Amazon will sell it. And, oh yeah, we figured out time travel. I just blew your mind twice!”

For those of you too young to remember Surge, or don’t want to look up Surge on Wikipedia, it was Coke’s caffeinated and radioactive green answer to Mountain Dew. Wait. Let me rephrase the previous sentence so that the soda nerds don’t have to adjust their glasses, raise their fingers to protest, and begin a sentence with “Actually.” Surge was Coke’s second answer to Mountain Dew. The still available, but not widely available, Mello Yello was Coke’s first answer to Mountain Dew. While Surge has a non-rhyming name, it’s radioactive green, mean, and full of caffeine.

Okay, I’m not sure about that mean part. I just added it in there for a rhyming effect.

To be honest, even though I’ve had many cans of Surge in my 20’s, I don’t remember what Surge tastes like, or if I preferred it over Mountain Dew, or if I signed some Bring Back Surge online petition, or if I used Surge to keep me up at night to play Nintendo Super NES in college while everyone else was partying. But what I do know is that Surge’s flavor is…how can I explain this without getting a bunch of hate mail from Surge fans…not what I would expect from a soda that’s marketed to the “extreme” crowd.

Although, it might appeal to the zombie crowd today because Surge came back from the dead and the can’s design makes it look like a zombie.

Surge (2014) Closeup

While Mountain Dew has a syrupy citrus flavor that has a slight bite, Surge’s flavor and mouthfeel is a bit more mature than that. And being mature myself, I’m fine with that. Fart. It tastes like there’s a combination of lime and orange (orange juice concentrate is one of its ingredients, just like Mountain Dew), and it’s smooth and not too syrupy, which makes it much easier to drink than Mountain Dew.

Here’s another way I could explain it: If someone were to blindfold me, serve me a Surge, and tell me I was drinking a clear citrus soda and called Citrue, “The Citrus Soda with True Flavor”, I would believe them.

Overall, it was nice to be able to revisit Surge. I enjoyed its flavor, it gave me a nice caffeine jolt (it has slightly less caffeine than Mountain Dew), and if I want to dress up as 1990’s Guy for Halloween, I’ll have a great prop.

A big thanks to Aaron over at The Soda Jerks for sending me a can of Surge, which stopped me from spending $10 plus shipping to buy a can off of eBay from some stranger, since Amazon keeps selling out.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 230 calories, 0 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 56 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Surge (2014)
Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 16 oz. can
Purchased at: Received from an internet friend
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Nice lime and orange flavor. Easier to drink and has a more mature flavor than Mountain Dew. 69 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine.
Cons: Has a flavor that I wouldn’t associate with “extreme.” Available online via Amazon, but they sell out quickly every time they get a new shipment. Available online via eBay, but get ready to pay 4-5 times more than it’s worth for one can. Has slightly less caffeine than Mountain Dew and a lot less caffeine than most energy drinks that didn’t exist in the late 1990s. Being introverted in college…and today.

REVIEW: Häagen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 1

A recent sojourn down the freezer aisles at Walmart has left me entirely convinced that the ice cream industry lays claim to some of the most linguistically appealing words. Take gelato, for example. Or better yet, Häagen-Dazs.

The way the words roll off the tongue with that seductive and sophisticated air is enough to sway a health nut away from the coarse offering of the produce department, or even a cash-strapped college student away from the economical tractor-beam that is the cereal aisle. Frosted Flakes, you say? Froot Loops? Please, mere alliteration and assonance cannot compare.

Perhaps this was the siren song which led me to Häagen-Dazs’ new line of Gelato Bars. As if transfixed by the mere sound alone, repeated in Neapolitan prose of some great poet (or at least Giada De Laurentiis) the tiramisu flavor was beyond by capacity to pass up.

Tiramisu seems to be a natural flavor choice for a gelato bar. Obviously the name alone fits in with the ethos of cultured European desserts, but the flavors, too, lend themselves to gelato. At first I was a bit skeptical; there’s a lot going on in tiramisu. Between the custard element and the coffee flavor to the not-too-tangy richness of the mascarpone cheese, it’s a lot to pack into bar form. And pack it they do.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 3

Each bar comes in this totally adorable sleeve, enrobed with a white patchwork pattern gracing the dark chocolate shell. It’s enough to make even the most dude of dudes want to go “awe, it looks like a little tuxedoed ice cream bar!” I may or may not have done this, but regardless, you get the point. Looks count when you’re paying more than a dollar a bar, and Häagen-Dazs gets it.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 4

The dark chocolate shell is exquisite. Yes, I believe exquisite is the right word. It’s bittersweet and smooth, with none of that off-putting metallic aftertaste some shells have. It holds its shape extremely well, yielding a slow melt and rounded flavor. I do wish the white patchwork drizzle had a bit more white chocolate flavor, but I became so engrossed in this dark chocolate shell that I can forgive what amounted to little more than ornamentation.

One often wonders about the texture of gelato, which although it claims no labeling standard in this country, is regarded as having a lower butterfat and sugar content than ice cream. In this case, though, the coffee-flavored gelato beneath the shell tastes both rich and sweet, with an authentic light-roast flavor which co-habitates wonderfully with the dark chocolate.

There’s an extra element there too. It’s hard to define, even after scouring a veritable Google search of taste-inspired vocabulary words. It’s nonetheless smooth in texture and indulgent in flavor, inspiring a cream cheese appeal without any of the stabilizing weirdness of actual cream cheese. This I can only assume is the mascarpone element combined with the egg yolk-fortified custard. I admit my lack of actual time spent enjoying real tiramisu in cafes amidst the Venato region of Italy may leave a feeling of doubt about my authority to claim this, but having had a crush on Giada and watched her shows for the better part of the time I decided girls no longer had cooties, I feel I do have some expertise in this matter.

All that being said, I can’t quite break into a Dean Martin rendition of “That’s Amore,” if only because the bar can’t fully complete the tiramisu flavor. There’s just no ladyfinger element, and given that one of the other flavors of the bar sticks freaking Pizzelle cookie pieces in the chocolate shell, I feel like I’m being shortchanged.

Ha?agen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars 5

When you think about it, the effect is really more affogato than tiramisu, although the latter is certainly more recognizable. Plus, and this would have been much more annoying on a summer day, the gelato base is more viscous than regular ice cream, and ends up exploding out of the shell if you’re not careful in eating the shell from top down.

Häagen-Dazs Gelato Bars definitely live up to their billing as sophisticated frozen desserts. With a rich coffee and mascarpone flavor and exquisitely smooth dark chocolate shell they’re worth their price tag, even if they inspire more of an affogato flavor than tiramisu. I only wish there was some kind of ladyfinger cookie or biscuit element involved, which would really push these bars into must-buy territory.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 270 calories, 160 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 20 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Häagen-Dazs Tiramisu Dark Chocolate Gelato Bars
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 3 bars/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Exceptional dark chocolate flavor in the shell. Tastes super rich. Coffee flavor is light and sweet. Notes of mascarpone and custard. Pronouncing foreign words.
Cons: No ladyfinger element. Outside lace doesn’t add more than ornamentation. Gelato base melts quickly once the integrity of the shell is broken. An awesome source of saturated fat.