REVIEW: McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger

I distinctly remember the day McDonald’s Angus burgers were rolled out.

Actually, I don’t, but I vaguely recall the hoopla surrounding them. This was 2009, mind you, when doing something as simple as giving a cow a Scottish name was considered particularly epicurean in food culture. It was also a day and age when a good many people actually went to McDonald’s for hamburgers, which, in case you haven’t heard, is totally not cool anymore.

I had a few Angus burgers in my day and they were decent, but they never seemed to live up to the hype. So when the Angus burgers went out with a whimper and not a defiant mooooooo in 2013, I didn’t see reason to mourn.

Still, something has been missing. You can talk my ear off all you’d like about streamlined menus and classic sandwiches, but have you eaten a Big Mac lately? If I wanted to ingest three hamburger buns and a bunch of lettuce, I would have gone to a vegan cookout. No, every once and a while—ok, every day—a guy like me just wants to eat an oversized and juicy patty of dead and delicious cow. Something like the the new Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger.

There’s no use beating around the bush when it comes to the Steakhouse Sirloin Burger: I am shocked by how much I liked this cheeseburger. From McDonald’s. Wait, did I really just say that?

Yes, I did, and I don’t say this lightly. I’ve spent the better half of the last decade building burger connoisseur status amidst friends and family. In other words, I know that by admitting I not only tolerated, but enjoyed, a McDonald’s burger, I risk bringing my credibility down to a notch just above Tom Brady.

But like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. So let me try to break this down. For starters, the sirloin burgers live up to the hype when it comes to size. Heck, I even received mine in one of those big brown bags and not the dopy white ones they use for Dollar Menu items. The five minute ride home from McDonald’s was unbearable; seriously, the aroma of the burger alone conjured primordial petroglyphs of scantly clad stick figures throwing spears at wild cattle. The carnivore in me knew something good was coming.

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 3

Dare I say it, the meat was juicy. Yes, juicy. I know because I squeezed the patty and juice ran out of it (and no, it wasn’t water.) The taste was beefy and meaty and cheesy and altogether very savory, with just the right sweet and sour relief from those incredible grilled onions to make each bite satisfying and complete. The surface of the patty wasn’t flabby and broken up by “tenderization” marks as I remember from the Angus burgers, and while the grind was very tightly packed, there was enough surface browning to lend a slightly sweet and complex flavor to the beef.

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 4

Every other component came together nicely. The two slices of cheese were positioned and melted for optimal gooeyness, but unlike the standard American cheese salt-bomb one expects (and sorta likes) from a fast food burger, there was a mellow but savory flavor from the cheese. Don’t get me wrong, this burger is still salty, but unless you’re oversensitive to those kinds of things I don’t think you’ll walk away from it with that sentiment.

Instead you’ll be trying to pin down the je ne sais quoi of whatever is in the creamy peppercorn sauce. Like an exceptionally thick steak sauce with a little black pepper kick and a fruity tang, it might just be my favorite sauce at McDoanld’s. No, really, as in, “Can I get this to dip McNuggets?”

McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger 2

Oh yes, and the mushrooms.

I’ve deliberately withheld comment on them to this point, but I have to say, they are not bad at all. Slightly overkill and a bit messy? Well yes, but I’m not exactly a sauteed mushroom on burger guy, but in this case they add just another level of umami flavor and help round out the toppings.

I’ve been hard on anything over a buck at McDonald’s in the past, but this is without a doubt a real step in the right direction and the best burger from the Golden Arches since, for me anyways, ever.

At $4.99 for the Steakhouse version it’s also an exceptional value for its hefty size. I’m not saying its going to surpass your favorite fast casual burger, but when it comes to the similarly sized fast food burgers, the new Sirloin Steakhouse Burger proves McDonald’s can still craft a very good and meaty cheeseburger at a price which isn’t going to break the bank.

(Nutrition Facts – 730 calories, 320 calories from fat, 36 grams of fat, 16 grams saturated fat, 2 grams trans fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol, 1560 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 05 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber, and 39 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Beefiest tasting burger yet from the Golden Arches. Pretty solid browning and juiciness from the sirloin patty. Cheese was nicely gooey and intermingled with other components. Sweet and sour grilled onions are outstanding. Sauce is complex and savory. Sesame seed bun has a pleasant and classic taste that’s just the right size.
Cons: Most expensive tasting burger yet from the Golden Arches. Pretty uniform and tightly packed grind. Awesome source of trans fat and sodium. Risking my burger expert credibility by declaring how much I enjoyed a McDonald’s hamburger.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cup Cakes

Is this what Captain Cupcake died for?

For the unaware or forgetful, Captain Cupcake was just one of Hostess’ many attempts from the ’70s and ’80s to follow up on Twinkie the Kid’s popularity and anthropomorphize all of their sweet treats. A mustachioed “cap-cake,” the good captain defended his fellow cream-filled treats from all manner of cartoon peril.

But now…he’s dead. Yes, while “the Kid” lives on, Captain Cupcake has faded into obscurity, along with Happy Ho Ho, Fruit Pie the Magician, and others. And without him to protect the proud chocolate legacy of the Hostess Cupcake, the treats have met with the worst peril of all: buzzwords.

We should have seen it coming when Hostess released Strawberry Cupcakes back in 2011. But no, we shrugged it off as “just a phase.” But then came Red Velvet Cupcakes earlier this year, and suddenly we knew that the “flavor of the month” bandwagon had snatched our darling Cupcakes for good. That’s why it was no surprise to see these new Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes hit shelves: the squiggled snack we once munched with integrity had become…one of them. We’re sorry, Captain Cupcake. We’ve failed you.

Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cup Cakes 2

But as Mark Twain, the inspiration for the short-lived “Hostess Twainkie,” once wrote: “don’t judge a cake by its wrapper.” (Note: none of that actually happened.) So I’ll go in unbiased. Removing the diminutive cake (are they getting smaller, or am I just getting older?) from its plastic prison, the strong scent of processed cake and caramel hits harder than an industrial salt truck. You know your grandma’s bowl of dusty Werther’s caramel candy that hasn’t been touched since Eisenhower’s presidency? These cakes smell like those did back in their glory days.

The box describes them as “caramel iced yellow cake with sea salt topping and caramel cream filling.” To examine all these new features, I split my cake like a frog in 5th-grade biology class (appetizing, no?). The first half was to be used for rigid, scientific analysis. The other…for unceremoniously stuffing in my cake-hole.

Hostess Limited Time Only Sea Salt Caramel Cup Cakes 3

The yellow cake is like a more dense Twinkie: sticky, sweet, and a little buttery, but plain enough to provide a neutral playing field for the cake’s other features. Eaten alone, the light mahogany icing is a bit too cloying, the slight flavor—which was more butterscotch than caramel—was marred by the overbearing punch of saccharine. The small, salty granules sprinkled throughout also carry very little taste on their own; their impact was so little that I wondered whether they were purely decorative.

Instead, it is the cream that is the hero here. Colored like normal cream that someone scribbled on with a Burnt Sienna Crayola crayon, it mixes that quintessential “Hostess cream” whipped vanilla flavor with an earthy, rich caramel one to make something unique.

But this cake really is a sum of its parts. Optimistically stuffing the other half in my mouth, what came next was nothing short of Shakespearean. With the sponge cake acting as the stage, the sweet frosting and savory saltiness (eating many grains makes the salt flavor actually noticeable) battled for supremacy, until the peacekeeping caramel creme unified them to produce a balanced snack cake experience that was complex and true to the salted caramel name.

I take back all I said before. Captain Cupcake isn’t rolling over in his grave; he’s saluting! And, oh, what’s that? I think I can hear the Captain’s voice echoing from the great beyond:

“Just…stop them…before they make…Sriracha Cupcakes.”

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of total fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Hostess Limited Edition Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes
Purchased Price: $2.96
Size: 12.7 oz. box (8 cakes)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Balanced and salty-sweet when eaten together. Inventive cream. Well-choreographed snack cake theatre. Youthful Werther’s candy.
Cons: Overbearing icing. Underwhelming granules. Perceived snack cake shrinkage. Dissection metaphors. Mourning Captain Cupcake.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Diablo Sauce

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce 2

A review of Taco Bell’s new Diablo sauce, in five parts.

I. Mild: A Conspiracy

Taco Bell has opened a gate to hell. Proof: “Bell” rhymes with “hell.” Convenient. Seven layer burrito? Nine circles of hell. And there are actually nine layers if you count the tortilla and the Pepto Bismol that is actually essential. And latest of all, they’ve introduced Diablo sauce. Diablo, for the Latin-impaired, is Spanish for the mother-bleeping Devil. Maybe some of you know Diablo as “Stop playing that computer game and come to bed,” but for non-nerds they aren’t even trying to hide it. It’s called Devil sauce. Taco Bell has conjured El Diablo and is feeding us its hot fluids.

Other hell ties: The Devil is, like, half goat and Taco Bell does NOT serve goat because then we would be eating the Devil’s relatives; “run for the (south) border” can be simplified to “run south” and south (down) is where hell is; and somehow they consider cinnamon Cheetos a dessert. Unholy.

II. Verde: Fan Fiction Using Slogans Found on Taco Bell Sauce Packets for Dialogue

Grimace got down on one knee. “Go ahead, ask her,” whispered Fry Guy. Grimace cleared his throat. “Do it with passion or not at all. You can count on me.” The period at the end of the sentence hung in the air. He produced a ring and continued. “Let’s run away together. Marry me.” Birdie the Early Bird gasped, like she was watching a reality show and not herself in a crowded fast food restaurant being proposed to. This was unexpected. She stared ahead, lost.

Then in a true fight or flight moment, she flew. She was gone. Grimace, still on his knee, stammered. “You won’t…” His voice trailed off. Fry Guy’s face fell. “Not my first rodeo,” Grimace lamented. He dug into the pile of celebratory hamburgers on the table like it was a pie-eating contest. Tears streamed down his face, mixing with the food.

“You asked for it! Consider yourself warned! You made my day!” he screamed. Fry Guy’s face turned from pity to disgust as he mumbled under his breath, “That escalated quickly.” Grimace looked like a blubbering, rabid hyena tearing through a carcass. Fry Guy pulled out his phone to text Birdie. “Good choice,” he wrote.

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce 3

III. Hot: The Deal

“Kevin,” an employee said, as I was staring off into a Sangrita Blast machine. “Do you want sauce?” he asked. I snapped into reality and responded, “Do you have that new one?” I could only see four bins with the typical sauces. I didn’t want to have to go to another Taco Bell. His eyes lit up. “Diablo,” he said. He went into the back and returned, “They are very hot. I used them and you shouldn’t use more than three.” “Thanks,” I smiled. He paused before dropping the packets into my bag. “No more than three. Or bad things will happen. Very bad things. Promise me. Promise Diablo.” I nodded. One of his eyes were cat eyes. I turned to leave, then turned back. He was gone. He was gone because he left to serve another customer.

IV. Fire: Sauce to One Direction Analogy

Harry Styles: Fire

Zayn: Diablo

Other guy: Verde

White kid with the hair: Mild

Still one more member: Hot

V. Diablo: The Review

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce

The Diablo sauce delivers on all accounts. It’s spicier and has a numbing quality that the other options lack. Taco Bell’s other sauces, which have been pretty disappointing for as long as anybody can remember, go like this: Mild tastes like sour salsa, Verde tastes like green, and Hot tastes like tomato sauce mixed with ground pepper. Fire, the hottest sauce until Diablo came along, has stinging qualities that stab at the mouth but really tastes like a watered down Tabasco.

Diablo sauce begins with a pleasant smoky tomato flavor. It makes way for a prickly hum that builds into a heat crescendo and then dissipates fairly quickly, maybe after a minute or two. The spiciness definitely does not last as long as any of those weird hot sauces they sell in specialty stores. The numbness remains though, and cradles the mouth with a low heat that is not completely embarrassing for hot sauce lovers.

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce 5

The sauce plateaus, and does not seem to really ravage the face or senses that badly. I did sample three packets with a cheesy bean and rice burrito for an experiment (as per my agreement). The first packet gave a generous spice high. The second packet numbed my mouth to the point where it didn’t really matter what I was eating. My nose also started to run, but only a little bit. Packet three did not build on the previous one. I did not cry or reach for a milk. This was hotter than anything at Taco Bell, but nothing dangerous. This was not stunt hot sauce.

Taco Bell Diablo Sauce 4

Fire on top, Diablo on bottom.

The only knock is that it probably doesn’t pair well with most Taco Bell food. It simply walloped the burrito I ate. Taco Bell food is already fairly bland in a fast food sense and a sauce with this dimension obliterates any nuance the item may have had. I suspect it may go better with items that contain sour cream or steak, or things with stronger flavors to balance it out. Most things will probably end up tasting like spicy soft stuff or spicy crunchy stuff, though.

The liftoff and leftover tingling are the highlights of the sauce and I would recommend between one or two packets per meal, or taking breaks to let the heat subside so you can ride Diablo again. All hail Diablo.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website.)

Item: Taco Bell Diablo Sauce
Purchased Price: Free with purchase
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Great heat, new dimensions. Does not linger too long. Tingly feeling.
Cons: Hard to complement with Taco Bell food.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich

My first experience with a Wendy’s was, surprisingly, only a few years ago.

I would have tried it earlier – hell, I would have been inhaling Dave’s delicious cheeseburgers through a straw, if the laws of physics allowed – if not for my mother’s utter disdain of the establishment.

Whenever I asked if we could eat there, she never failed to go off on the familiar rant – flashback to her adolescent years. A new Wendy’s was opening up within bus distance of her house, and she was ecstatic to finally try their fabled burgers. She walked in and out within a minute, food in hand.

Immediately she knew that something was up – if it wasn’t her burger’s pungent smell, it was perhaps the meat, with its usual square shape, as well as a not-as-usual green hue, that threw her off. Regardless, she plunged in for a bite, curiosity getting the best of her.

This is where she likes to conclude her story, glossing over the (presumably) nauseating aftermath of her outing. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly keen on ever going back to a Wendy‘s again, and she simply refused to subject me to their inherent misdoings as a company. For years, I was physically barred from ever trying Wendy’s.

Thankfully, since I no longer need my mom to take me to places, I was able to try out Wendy’s new Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich!

Look, I love Wendy’s – their aforementioned cheeseburgers, their Frostys (or Frosties? Both spellings look weird to my eyes. Let‘s just go with Frostteez), and everything in between. Few nationwide fast food joints have earned my undying admiration and respect (Shoutout to Carl’s Jr./Hardee‘s, despite their goofy mascot) and Wendy’s is definitely at the top of the heap.

And I love a good, hot kick to my foods, so I was more than happy to tackle this unholy chicken sandwich.

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 2

When I opened up the little cardboard box, the first thing I noticed was an angry, saucy smell – reminiscent of nacho cheese, but not as artificial. This, it turned out, was the bright-orange ghost pepper sauce, which drowned the chicken breast with its oozing essence.

That’s good news for me, because the sauce was delicious and one of the most interesting additions to a fast food sandwich I’ve ever had.

It was fascinating because it seemed to both heat, then immediately cool down my mouth. I don’t know what the flavor scientists at Wendy’s were doing when they stumbled upon this one, but their creation is one that complements the surrounding ingredients.

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 3

And speaking of those surrounding ingredients, the diced jalapeños were another standout. They added a nice textural contrast, while providing a different sort of flavor and heat in comparison to the ghost pepper sauce.

The sliced onions were firm and crisp. And of course, there’s the breaded chicken breast, which was huge, crispy, juicy, spicy in its own right (comparatively spicier than most “spicy” chicken fillets I’ve had at other fast food places), and gets no complaints from this guy.

According to the Wendy’s website, this sandwich also contains “Colby pepper jack cheese”, which…really? I’m normally a pretty avid cheese aficionado, but there was absolutely no need for it here. It added nothing to this sandwich. What a waste of cheese!

Wendy's Jalapeno Fresco Chicken Sandwich 4

Lastly, there’s the red jalapeño bun. I took a nibble of it and it definitely had a light kick, but when eaten with the rest of the sandwich, its flavor got lost among the other spicy parts of the sandwich. I understand Wendy’s intentions – when they say spicy, they MEAN spicy – but the bun was a bit of a disappointment.

Nitpicking aside, this was perhaps my favorite Wendy’s sandwich since their pretzel bun stuff a while back. God, I miss those pretzel buns. I’m so impressed with it that I’ll definitely be going back for seconds.

Take that, Mom!

(Nutrition Facts – 580 calories, 29 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 1390 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of protein..)

Item: Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Ghost pepper sauce is the delicious star of this thing. Balance of different flavors and textures. Carl’s Jr.
Cons: I’m still pissed about the uselessness of the cheese. Mothers banning their children from eating tasty hamburgers. Seriously, what kind of mascot is a star with sunglasses?!

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

What do we want this summer?

We want to accomplish our goals. To clean out our garages. To power wash the driveway. To fulfill that suppressed dream of joining Cirque du Soleil as a zebra.

We want to eat cold stuff. By the bucket-full. Ice cream works, but we want variety. We want snacks. Hand-sized snacks. Snacks that are parceled such that they are easy to carry, easy to share, and are arranged in such a way that you don’t have to make a big deal out of it: no sparklers or rhinestones or dainty bows, people. Just fun, simple, and sugar-laden.

Thus enters the Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Ready to be Chomped

At the size of a keychain Rubik’s Cube, each 25-gram bite comes out ready-to-go upon defrosting for two hours in the fridge, which translates to 30 minutes on my kitchen counter. Perhaps this 30 minutes seems like a Very Long Time to you (it did to me). Never fear. Simply channel your impatience into reverse engineering a Dodge Caliber or learning to play the bagpipes. Watch as 30 minutes goes by like a breeze.

Lacking the thick film of cookie butter seen in the holiday Cookie Butter Cheesecake, these come with a milder Speculoos hit than its seasonal counterpart, but the spice cookie still holds a strong presence in the form of a small swirl on the top of each bite. That swirly-gig of creamy cookie spread, coupled with the Speculoos crumb crust, just nudges at the trademark cinnamon-and-molasses spice cookie, which is plenty for me. I’m really here for the cheesecake, people.

And that cheesecake is dealt with grace. Nothing avant-garde. Just cream cheese and sugar, well-whipped and in a balanced ratio with the cookie butter. The cheesecake has that uniquely light yet dense quality that cream-cheese-based cheesecakes carry, ending with a tangy sweetness. If you’re sensitive to such tang, proceed with caution. If you adore such tang, prepare thyself to crave these at two in the afternoon, which is when they go splendidly with your afternoon coffee and lo, life is perfect.

But perfect only for a micro-second. Blink and the whole box could be gone in less time than it takes your roommate to pick up his/her socks (really, how long have those socks been there?), and, at $4.49 a box, these 12 cubes seem increasingly teeny. Luckily, the taste justifies the price and, with all that dairy and wheat pummeled somewhere in there, you can have them as part of your balanced breakfast. Some may say there’s too much sugar. You should not let such statements hold you back. I know I didn’t.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Breakfast Time

April on this East Coast is long: 30 shower-filled days, teasing false promises of “warmth.” But summer is coming. I know it. And I’m trying to be patient. These cheesecake bites? They help. They are pricey, yes, but they are worth enjoying.

Tangy, cool, and yet filled with warm Speculoos spice, they are the bridge between warm winter desserts and cool summer weather, carrying me into the Promise Land of lounging by the ocean with a glass of Kool-Aid, so pull out your over-sized flippers, grab a cheesecake bite, and prepare: summer’s coming.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – 90 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 10.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cream cheese tang. Crumbly crust. Tangy sweetness. Balanced ratio of cookie butter:cheesecake. Summer’s coming. Becoming a Cirque Du Soleil zebra.
Cons: A little pricey for the small size. Must wait for them to defrost. Realizing I have no patience. Supports Cookie Butter’s world domination. Dainty bows. Socks that are never picked up.