REVIEW: Arby’s Smoke Mountain Sandwich

Arby’s Smoke Mountain Sandwich

Smoke Mountain? Really?

I have to question Arby’s name choice for their mammoth new Frankenmeat sandwich. To me, “Smoke Mountain” sounds like an ‘90s RPG level. Or a rundown laser tag arena that’s gotten progressively seedier since the ‘90s. Or a ‘90s punk band that broke up when the drummer’s dad kicked them out of the garage.

Maybe “Meat Everest” would’ve been a better name, since this the tallest stack of meat I’ve ever held between two buns. Plus I’ve always wanted my lunch to conjure up mental images of Sherpas scaling skyscraping mounds of salted protein.

But I guess “Smoke Mountain” isn’t all bad. It also sounds like the name of a late ‘90s reality show, and this sandwich features all three of Arby’s smoked meats—turkey, brisket, and their freshly debuted pork belly—living together under one bun, Real Housewives-style. Plus it did instantly make my car smell like a smokehouse, so much so that I half-expected a pot-bellied butcher to appear in my back seat and call me “Lloyd” in a Brooklyn accent.

I carefully handled my Smoke Mountain like a quiet mountaineer, trying to prevent an avalanche that would spill three kinds of animal onto my carpet. I bisected my beastly ‘wich—which was roughly the size of a baby Mayor McCheese’s head—for a better look (and taste). Slicing through it felt downright surgical.

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The durable star-cut bun does a good job of holding its meaty tenants, and even though its chewy, densely floured innards don’t taste like much, the bun never turns to meat juice-soaked mush. The crimson barbeque sauce pocket slathered on the bun provides a welcome layer of peppery tang. It’s zippy, yet not offensive or spicy, like a grown-up Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Arby’s should bottle this sauce and call it “Angsty Teen Ray’s.”

As the world’s second biggest fan of onions (the first is Shrek), I loved the onion strings that bathe in the Smoke Mountain’s barbeque sauce. They’re oily and crisp, yet compellingly lengthy. The kid inside me wanted to slurp them up like onion ring-flavored spaghetti. These noodles lay on a bed of gummy, flavorless cheddar cheese that only gives the Smoke Mountain structural support.

Now that we’re past the window dressing, we can talk meats. The turkey is the most boring. It’s got a bit of Cajun zest that dances around its edges, but other than that, this bird just feels like filler.

The brisket is more complex. It tastes like barrel-aged roast beef, with woodsy notes and the smokiest aftertaste of any ingredient here. If this meaty ménage à trois were a sitcom instead of a reality show, the beef brisket would be its Ron Swanson.

The pork belly is the undeniable best of the bunch, as the diced bits are super juicy and savory, with an indulgent touch of fattiness. Each juice-oozing pig nugget tastes like the salty lovechild of a bacon slice and a BBQ spare rib. And given the size of every piece, the pork belly these oinker wedges came from must’ve been chunkier than my backseat butcher’s.

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But even though each part of the Smoke Mountain has its own flavorful intricacies, most people who buy a sandwich called “Smoke Mountain” aren’t gonna stop to smell the Cajun-zested roses. When this sandwich is eaten at once, only the pork belly and onions prevail, with a lingering barbeque sauce aftertaste. I enjoyed the sandwich, but you’re probably better off just buying Arby’s Smokehouse Pork Belly Sandwich.

Unless, of course, you planned on making an “I Climbed Arby’s Smoke Mountain” novelty t-shirt.

(Nutrition Facts – 800 calories, 46 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol, 1910 milligrams of sodium, 50 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and 49 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $6.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Using “fatty pig nuggets” as a sincere compliment. Brisket that tastes aged enough to be my father. Onion ramen. Humming the Price is Right cliffhanger music while I eat.
Cons: A pork belly that swallows up every other flavor. Cheese with the texture of a Fruit Roll-Up. A bun and turkey with as much personality as action movie henchmen. Giving birth to a burger-headed baby.

REVIEW: Velveeta Original Stuffed Grilled Cheese

Velveeta Stuffed Grilled Cheese

The combination of pale crust and it laying in a pool of its orange innards, made my microwaved Velveeta Stuffed Grilled Cheese look like the victim in a Law & Order crime scene. The vic, I mean, the snack looked like the Hot Pocket’s little brother.

I thought, “It looks bad, but maybe it tastes good.”

Nope.

The crust was gummy enough that it felt like I was chewing on raw dough. The cheese, which I scraped up and dumped onto the cheese pocket, had that familiar Velveeta flavor, but it was gritty for some reason. Then I thought, “Okay, the first bite was bad, but maybe the second will be better.”

Nope. It was still bad.

I didn’t want to eat another bite. I didn’t even want to look at its pale crust. To psyche myself up, I yelled, “Do it for science!” But I ended up throwing away the rest of it. I’d show you photos of the microwaved stuffed grilled cheese, but I do not want to ruin the rest of your day.

Fortunately, there are two other ways to prepare them — toaster oven and conventional oven. I went with the toaster oven because I thought a conventional oven was overkill for these.

If there’s a downside to using an oven it’s that the instructions say you have prepare two stuffed grilled cheeses at the same time. So if you have no friends, family, roommates, or neighbors you’re friendly with, you’re going to be eating both of them and the 80 percent of your daily saturated fat they have.

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But, that’s not a completely bad thing. Because while they’re barely edible when microwaved, they’re downright delicious when prepared in a toaster oven. The crust had the crunch and butteriness of the toasted bread of grilled cheese sandwiches. And the cheese, which stayed in the crust, was warm, gooey, and tasted like good ol’ pasteurized prepared cheese product. Every bite I took reminded me of the grilled cheese sandwiches I’d make for myself when my parents felt I was responsible enough to use a stove at age 26.

If my review has convinced you to purchase a box of Velveeta Stuffed Grilled Cheese, I beg of you, please prepare them in the toaster oven or regular oven. Don’t be impatient and cook them in the microwave. Patience is a virtue. And patience is a Velveeta Stuffed Grilled Cheese you’ll want to eat.

Purchased Price: $6.34*
Size: 6 sandwiches
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 sandwich) 240 calories, 90 calories from fat, 10 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 630 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein.

*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.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I love festivals.

I can’t help it.

I haven’t encountered a pig race, funhouse, or merry-go-round I don’t enjoy. Bring on your strong man contests, your ring tosses, your wooden roller coasters of questionable integrity. Why, between the bells, balloon animals, and clinkity clank music, there’s enough joy here to make a circus look like a film noir.

So it should come of no surprise that I was drawn to these Hostess Caramel Apple Cupcakes. I always, always, always make a moment of having caramel apples at Fall Festivals. I once consumed five of them before going into the corn maze, where I proceeded to get lost for three hours…BUT I survived! All credit goes to caramel apples.

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Out of the gate, these cupcakes are lookin’ fine. There are smells of cider, crackles of caramel frosting, and red squiggles, all squished in an authentic “I got shipped in a truck and thrown on a shelf” way. Everything is perfect. Resistance is futile.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is one peculiar cupcake. It’s admirably different, in its own pudgy, small, charming way. There’s the spongy, floury cake, which has bits of woodsy, warm cinnamon and some sort of tanginess that feels like a moderate hint-and-nudge toward the apple, although it speaks more toward a blend of the formerly mentioned cider and melted Jolly Ranchers.

Next up to bat is the crackly top glaze, which tastes of honey and caramel and molasses and vanilla and the burnt top of crème brulée all smooshed together. It’s like an unpaid syrup-harvesting intern got lost in the woods and decided to mix all the sugars. It’s confusing and brilliant, much like interns themselves.

And then there’s the caramel filling. In a color that’s not nearly as terrifyingly brown as the cover portrays, it seems Hostess has repurposed the light, extremely sugary caramel fluff from the Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes and smashed it in here. Fluffy and sugar-forward, this stuff is less discreet than a mammoth in the knitting aisle. Its strong blast of Cool-Whip-like sugariness levels out the cinnamon of the cake quite nicely. Between these fluffy insides and the caramel-frosted top, caramel becomes the star of the show.

Just one thing: what happened to the apple?? Sure, there was that Jolly Rancher cider thing, but it came without chunks. It came without dices. It came without nibbles, pieces, or slices. What a tragedy. The cake could’ve benefited from a Hulk smash of tart apples. Even real applesauce or apple juice would do. This hint of flavoring? Would make an apple-loving Hulk cry. Don’t make Hulk cry!

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But let us not dwell on the tears of giants. As it seems to go, the simplest pattern for my enjoying something usually goes 2 moments of curiosity + 1 dose lack of self-control x 8 tons of the positive or negative feedback on tastiness, and these? Are good. The cake is soft and cinnamony, the crackly frosted top stays true to its caramel name, and the inner frosting is a delicious, crazy sweet fluff, and, if you close your eyes and make a wish, it all has a slight echo of something apple-y (although you have to wish really, really hard). Can these be a little too sweet sometimes? Are they a little unbalanced? Would I like to see more apples? Sure, but, on the whole, these cupcakes are peculiar and delightful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat five of them and go find a corn maze I can get lost in.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 1 box/8 cakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Soft, cinnamony cake. Crackly caramel frosting top. Fluffy, sweet insides. Syrup-harvesting interns gone amok. Corn mazes. Roller coasters of questionable integrity.
Cons: Where be the apples, yo? Questionable presence of “Hydrogenated beef tallow.” May make Hulk cry. Getting lost in a corn maze for three hours.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Cinnamon Donut Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies

Limited Edition Cinnamon Donut Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies

The judge pounds his gavel: “I hereby call this court to order. Today we’ll handle the case of Dan vs. Nabisco. The prosecutor may present his case.”

I’ve decided to represent myself. No lawyer would understand: “Your honor, I’m suing Nabisco’s new Chewy Cinnamon Donut Chips Ahoy! cookies for their misleading packaging design.”

The judge looks at me, as I rustle through my bag and spew crumbs onto the courtroom floor: “If you’re suing them, why are you still eating the accused cookies?”

I roar to life, passionately spraying another projectile sandstorm of sugary cinnamon crumbs across the room: “Because I expected so much more!

“Ladies, gentlemen, and anthropomorphized snack food mascots of the court, I love these Cinnamon Donut Chips Ahoy! cookies. In fact, I love them so much that they’re probably the best limited edition cookies I’ve tasted in years. But it’s the ones we love the most that end up hurting us.

“I present Exhibit A: a package of these backstabbing cookies. Aside from the massive cinnamon donut on the front — which doesn’t actually appear inside — the primary offenders here are the ‘Limited Edition’ leaves. You see, my mind has been conditioned by Mrs. Buttersworth to equate orange and yellow leaves with maple syrup flavoring.

“So imagine my shock and disgust when these Cinnamon Donut cookies contained no maple flavoring whatsoever. All they had was a whole lot of deliciously doughy, buttery, and bakery-fresh donut flavor!

Limited Edition Cinnamon Donut Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies 2

“But the lies don’t stop there. These disks roped me in with an authentically decadent cider mill aroma, but they don’t even look like real cider donuts! Where are the buxom, golden fried curves? Where’s the coyly puckered hole in the middle?

“They’re both gone and replaced by a granular, hyper-chewy texture that melts in my mouth like half-baked pastry dough. And don’t get me wrong, your honor, these cookies taste like cider donut dough, too. The buttered and browned base is both sugary and eggy, with sweet bursts of cake flour.

“But the apple and cinnamon donut-flavored chips suckered me in for the long con, trying to distract me from Nabisco’s shamelessly maple-free fraud. See, these creamy chips are like coagulated cones of cream cheese glaze. They explode with flavor like a Cinnabon center stuffed with applesauce!

“Their inconsistency betrays them, though. These cookie con men will sometimes lose their subtle apple taste, and sometimes they’ll taste like waxy, floral ‘Fall Harvest’ scented candles from Bath & Body Works. Heck, a couple times I even swore they tasted like pumpkin cheesecake.

Limited Edition Cinnamon Donut Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies 3

“So yes, your honor, Cinnamon Donut Chips Ahoy! are great limited edition snack cookies. They have all the goodness of raw sugar cookie dough without the salmonella, and all the goodness of a cider mill without the handsy haunted house workers.

“However, it’s tough to justify buying them over real apple cider donuts, unless you’re a maple-loving masochist or the type of person who can’t finish a dozen donuts without them going stale. Because at the end of the day, these Cinnamon Donut Chips Ahoy! aren’t donuts. They’re merely cookies wearing donut Halloween costumes.

“And that, your honor, is both their gift and their true crime.”

The judge, clearly affected by my plight, wipes away a single tear: “I declare Cinnamon Donut Chips Ahoy! cookies guilty, for covering up their felony of syrup deception behind a thick alibi of deliciousness. How would the defendant like to see them executed?”

I pull out my thermos and pour a hot cup of coffee. I’ve already known the answer to that question for days.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 130 calories, 50 calories from fat, 5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 15 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 9.5 oz package
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Authentic cinnamon donut pantomime. An edible trip to the cider mill in late summer. The first ever complimentary use of the word “coagulated.” Coming soon from The Impulsive Buy: 12 Angry Kool-Aid Men!
Cons: Not maple-flavored. Playing for second place against real donuts.. Unexpected Yankee Candle flavor outbursts. Sobbing and bobbing for more apple flavor. A criminal lack of corrugated, scrunched-up donut holes.

REVIEW: Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies

Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies

Hi, everyone.

I’m here to accept this Cookie of the Year award on behalf of Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies. They couldn’t be here because…well, because I ate all of them.

First off, I’d just like to congratulate and thank the other nominees. I’m not really sure who any of you are, because this award is entirely made up by Nestle Toll House, but you all did a great job this year and should feel really proud. Except for you, Swedish Fish Oreos. You were not nominated for this fake award and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies 2

Next, I want to thank “break and bake” technology. Thanks to you, making sugary, fattening cookies is SO much easier! No more worrying about whether I have enough flour on hand or if the eggs have expired…I can just open the package, break the premade dough along its perforations, and 10-11 minutes later I have some perfectly baked cookies. And another 10-11 minutes later, I have a stomach ache from inhaling those perfectly baked cookies.

The sugar cookie dough is really what made this whole thing possible. It’s sweet and buttery, with just a hint of floury goodness. Its performance doesn’t take any risks, but it doesn’t have to. It’s the same sugar cookie flavor we know and love from Nestle Toll House–a real classic.

Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies 3

The Butterfinger Baking Bits did a pretty good job in the starring role, too. Their stick-to-your-teeth presence is definitely noticeable, and shows their peanut buttery range through a dynamic sweet and salty combination. As enjoyable as that peanut butter element aspect is, I really wish there had been more of it from start to finish. It just popped up here and there, upstaged by the fantastic sugar cookie dough. But those occasional cameos are really satisfying when they do happen.

I’ve got to say, I’m a little surprised that the milk chocolate took such a minor role in this whole project. When it’s there, it’s creamy and sweet, but I was hoping for a lot more of it. When I think of Butterfingers, I think of a crispy peanut butter center enveloped in a creamy milk chocolate coating. This cookie nailed the peanut butter part, but didn’t quite reach its full milk chocolate potential. With a better peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio, I have no doubt this cookie would go down as one of the all-time greats.

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Having said that, Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies wouldn’t have won this award without good reason (okay, actually, they did). The sugar cookie dough does an incredible job carrying the cookie, and the Butterfinger Baking Bits mimic the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar quite well. The milk chocolate flavor is a bit underwhelming, but hey, not everybody can be the star of the show. Let’s all raise a glass of milk to the 2016 Cookie of the Year: Nestle Toll House Cookie of the Year Butterfinger Baking Bits Cookies.

Thank you for allowing me the honor of devouring them.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cookie – 80 calories, 30 calories from fat, 3.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protei.)

Purchased Price: $2.50
Size: 16 oz (makes 24 cookies)
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sugary and rich sugar cookie dough. Peanut butter flavor shines through sweet and salty buddy cop duo. Baking Bits stick to your teeth just like an actual Butterfinger. Giving acceptance speeches just for eating cookies.
Cons: Totally made-up award. Milk chocolate flavor could have been better. Swedish Fish Oreos.

REVIEW: Chips Ahoy Thins Original Cookies

Chips Ahoy Thins Original

Nutter Butter Thins.

Ginger Snap Thins.

Nilla Thins.

belVita Thins.

Teddy Graham Thins.

Famous Chocolate Wafer Thins.

Pinwheel Thins.

Oh, hello there!

I’m just going through a list of Nabisco cookies that have yet to be thin-ified by Mondelez International.

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After the success of Oreo Thins, which I’ve said are better than regular Oreo cookies on numerous occasions to random people in the cookie aisle who didn’t ask for my opinion, Nabisco has given the thin treatment to the beloved(?) Chips Ahoy. They appear to be slightly more than half as thin as the original, but they aren’t as thin as those chip-like cookies out there.

Oh. Why is there’s a question mark in parentheses? Because I’ve been told by numerous people in person and on the internet that the mass produced snack is a sad excuse for a chocolate chip cookie. For the record, I do not feel this way.

But here’s a better use of a question mark: Are Chips Ahoy Thins better than regular Chips Ahoy cookies, much like I believe Oreo Thins are greater than regular Oreo cookies?

Yes(?)

Why is there a question mark there? Well, why is there an exclamation point after Chips Ahoy? It’s unnecessary and it makes you think there’s more to it than there really is, but there isn’t.

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The flavor of Chips Ahoy Thins isn’t exactly like the regular variety, but in no way will it make you think of anything other than Chips Ahoy. I think the chocolatey chips are a little more pronounced since there’s less of the cookie part and that’s about it. As someone who enjoys Chips Ahoy, I think they taste fine and if I was Santa Claus (Maybe I am. HO! HO! HO!) I’d enjoy these with a glass of milk.

But what makes these better in my mind is their molar-satisfying, head-rattling crunch. They have a more gratifying crunch than a regular Chips Ahoy, but they’re not as crispy as the previously mentioned cookie chips. Their combination of flavor and texture make them hard to stop eating. I want to eat these like I do potato chips, which is the same thing I experienced with Oreo Thins.

Basically, Chips Ahoy Thins are a different experience of something you know and love, if you love Chips Ahoy. I imagine it’s like discovered in unattempted part of the Kama Sutra or watching Game of Thrones in a different language.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 cookies – 150 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 30 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.00
Size: 7 oz.
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like Chips Ahoy, but maybe a little more chocolatey. Gratifying crunch. Combination of flavor and texture makes it hard to stop eating. Game of Thrones. Kama Sutra.
Cons: Just a thinner version of Chips Ahoy. Using weird question mark references in a review. Too easy to eat a dozen in one sitting. Giving snack opinions to strangers in a store.