REVIEW: Harvey’s Stuffed Cheeseburger (Canada)

Harvey's Stuffed Cheeseburger 1

There’s something irresistible and just a little bit illicit about a hamburger that’s stuffed with cheese, isn’t there? I mean, biting into a juicy hamburger patty only to be greeted by melty, oozing cheese — who can resist that? At the same time, you know it’s something you probably shouldn’t be eating. To paraphrase R. Kelly, your mind will be telling you no, but your body… your body will tell you yeah.

Still, though it’s an amazing idea in theory — and a simple one no less — can a fast food chain, burdened by the rigors of mass production, get it right? Burger King tried it a few years back, but instead of stuffing the burger with a molten core of cheese, they just mixed bits of cheddar into the beef. This removed the gooey cheese pocket altogether (i.e. the whole reason why stuffing a burger with cheese is so appealing) and greatly diminished the cheddar flavour by interspersing it so thoroughly with the beef.

Leave it to Burger King to get something as simple as stuffing a hamburger with cheese wrong.

Harvey’s is generally a cut above BK, so I sort of figured they had a better chance of getting it right. My biggest problem with Harvey’s in general is that all of their burgers have that vaguely rubbery, somewhat hot-doggy texture that most industrially produced frozen patties tend to have. This is a little less pronounced with their higher-end Angus burgers, which seems to be the foundation of the stuffed cheeseburger, so that’s good at least.

Harvey's Stuffed Cheeseburger 2

Happily, I can say rather conclusively that this burger gets the fundamentals right: yes, it is properly stuffed with cheese, and yes, that cheese is oozy and melting. So that’s Harvey’s – 1, Burger King – 0.

The burger itself is typical Harvey’s; it has that oddly chewy, processed texture, but it’s still better than the average frozen burger (it at least retains some beefy flavour and texture, which is more than I can say for some of the bottom-of-the-barrel frozen patties that I’ve had).

As is the traditional Harvey’s way, you can choose your own toppings from behind the glass; I tried to top my burger as close to the publicity shot as possible, so I went with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. The burger in the picture is also topped with ketchup and mustard, but since I didn’t want to overwhelm the taste of the cheese, I went with mayo instead.

The aforementioned molten core of cheese is fairly abundant, and though it falls somewhere in the taste/texture spectrum between Kraft Singles and Cheez Wiz, it’s satisfying. It doesn’t have the strongest cheddar flavour, but it’s certainly fine for what it is. It’s also nicely spread out inside the patty — aside from the outer edges, pretty much every bite has cheese (note to self: start a band so you can release an album called “Every Bite has Cheese”).

Let’s face it — there’s very little here that tastes like real anything, but it’s pretty good in the same way that a Twinkie is pretty good (actually, I prefer Twinkies, which I like more than I should probably admit in a public forum, but you get what I mean). It’s far from a perfect burger stuffed with cheese, but it’s still a burger stuffed with cheese. Try to resist that. I dare you.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on the Harvey’s website.)

Item: Harvey’s Stuffed Cheeseburger (Canada)
Purchased Price: $6.49 (CAN)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Harvey’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Melty, gooey core of cheese. Decent hamburger. Realizing that you should always listen to your body over your mind.
Cons: Cheese only mildly tastes like cheese. Burger is vaguely hot-doggy in texture. Not as good as a Twinkie.

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: McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 1

McRibs, McNuggets, McFlurries — I love ‘em all. Want to know the truth? Just slap a “Mc-” prefix in front of any remotely edible substance and I’ll gladly give it a taste. McPossum, anyone?

And that’s why I’m slightly upset that these McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks aren’t actually called “McMozzSticks” or a similar clumsily-formed name. According to The Wire, these breaded, fried strips of cheese are currently being test-marketed at select McDonald’s restaurants in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

Because I happen to live in the state that gave the world Bruce Springsteen, Tony Soprano, and Teresa Giudice, I’ve been granted the privilege of trying these mozzarella sticks. By the way, do you guys want Teresa Giudice? We’ve had enough of her.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 2

For only a single dollar, I received three tiny mozzarella sticks and a packet of marinara dipping sauce. According to the accompanying cardboard box, the mozzarella sticks are made with “real mozzarella.” I’m glad to see McDonald’s chose to forego using fake mozzarella in their product. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a fake. That’s why I threw out all of my Milli Vanilli CDs, refuse to buy Chanel handbags in Chinatown, and will only look Pamela Anderson straight in the eyes.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 3

Lucky for me, McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks were nothing but the real deal. The breading was well-seasoned and evident in each bite, but stopped short of overwhelming the mozzarella flavor. Although the mozzarella sticks weren’t hot enough for the cheese inside to ooze, they were still warm enough to be satisfying. The exterior was slightly crisp from the fryer, and each mozzarella stick maintained its shape when handled. Let’s face it — nobody wants a soggy, flaccid cheese stick. (Ladies?)

Though smaller in size than I had anticipated, the mozzarella sticks had exceeded my expectations, rivaling more expensive versions of the same product sold at other chain restaurants. I was ecstatic, floating in a state of cheesy bliss…

Then, I made a mistake.

I dipped my second mozzarella stick into the marinara sauce.

There are no words to describe the pain.

McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks 4

I’ve eaten a lot of McDonald’s products over the years. Many of them were delicious, many of them were tolerable, but very few were truly awful. Alas, this single packet of marinara sauce is the undisputed worst-tasting item I’ve ever experienced at a McDonald’s restaurant. (As a disclaimer, I’ve never tried that strange-looking black hamburger McDonald’s Japan recently launched.)

Each taste of McDonald’s marinara sauce brings to mind overcooked tomato sauce saturated with excessive amounts of oregano in an attempt to cover up the flawed flavor. As opposed to the smooth, tomato essence of a slow-cooked red sauce, McDonald’s marinara is slightly bitter, producing a mild burning sensation at the back of the throat. In short, McDonald’s has failed to replicate any positive aspect of an Italian marinara sauce. Their bastardization would make your little Italian grandmother cry for an hour, beat Ronald McDonald with a rolling pin, and then beat you with a rolling pin — just for good measure.

Disregarding the botched marinara sauce, these McDonald’s mozzarella sticks are worth a try. Sure, they might be small, but their low price makes the temptation of buying twenty-five boxes hard to resist. If these become a regular item on the McDonald’s menu, I will definitely order them again.

But take heed of my warning: if you ever purchase these mozzarella sticks, please, for the love of God, just throw out the sauce.

(Nutrition Facts – No nutritional info available on McDonald’s USA website.)

Item: McDonald’s Mozzarella Sticks
Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Mozzarella and seasoned breading evident in each bite. Not limp and flaccid. Only one dollar for three. None of that fake mozzarella nonsense.
Cons: Cheese doesn’t ooze. Marinara sauce is indescribably awful. Rolling pin beatings.

REVIEW: White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers

I’ve never lived on the East Coast, which means I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at White Castle. I can’t decide if I just used the word “pleasure” sarcastically, because, while having never been there, I have heard much about the establishment. I’ve heard White Castle burgers are magical, like crack.

Wait, calling crack magical isn’t a good idea. I’ve heard White Castle burgers are magical, like unicorns. It’s said they’re the ultimate hangover cure. I’ve also been told they’re the ultimate hangover cure because you will eat them, and then immediately blast all of last night’s alcohol consumption into your toilet bowl.

They’ve also been called the ultimate drunk food, presumably because anything tastes good while you’re drunk, and you’re already going to be full of regrets in the morning, so why not add the fullness of White Castle sliders on top of that?

So basically, White Castle is just like Taco Bell, except with burgers instead of…whatever you want to call what Taco Bell serves.

I’ve seen White Castle burgers in the frozen food aisle before, but never picked any up. I felt as though they wouldn’t be truly representing the White Castle experience. But then I saw their new Jalapeño Cheeseburgers and I thought, well, hell. I’m not heading to the East Coast any time soon. What better time than now, and what better place than here, on the Internet?

There were both microwave and stovetop cooking instructions on the back of the box. My first instinct was to head straight for the microwave, but then I saw that the stovetop instructions were “for steaming of burgers”. That seemed to indicate that that would be the more authentic way to go, so I decided to give it a shot.

…Except one of the first directions involved using the “steamer insert”. I looked in the box. I looked at the box. I saw absolutely nothing that looked like a steamer insert.

Was I going mad? Had there been a mistake, where the insert was not included? Or had I been somehow bested by White Castle frozen cheeseburgers, which should seemingly be one of the easiest foods to prepare on the planet? Either way, I was lost. Without my steamer insert, I could not cook them on the stovetop.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 2

So, I moved on to the microwave, which had instructions that I could actually follow without questioning my sanity. The burgers (sliders, technically) come in packs of two – open the side of the package, break the connected sandwiches apart, and nuke. Mission accomplished.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 4

The first thing I noticed was that the buns are both soft and chewy. They don’t have much by way of flavor, but they’re generally inoffensive – fluffy, but not intrusive.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 3

Next came the onions. They actually gave a little bit of a crunch, which is impressive for a frozen, microwaved burger. It tasted almost like there was onion flavor in the meat itself. I was impressed by how much flavor they added to the party.

The burger patty had White Castle’s signature punched-out holes in it, which made it look like I just rolled a meaty five. Not bad if you’re playing a 2d6 game. Wow, that took a turn towards nerd super fast.

The meat itself was sub-par. The package claims that it’s 100 percent beef, to which I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but it had about 5 percent flavor. I get the idea that White Castle is pretty much supposed to be shittyburgers, but it was almost like the meat was an afterthought. They didn’t taste bad, they just didn’t taste like much of anything, besides some grease.

The cheese, which was pepper jack, melted nicely in the microwave and added a creaminess that complimented the crunch and flavor of the onions.

The real selling point here was the jalapeños, and they didn’t disappoint. They didn’t set my mouth on fire, but there was a nice jalapeño flavor and heat that built as I made my way through my two sliders in eight bites.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeno Cheeseburgers 5

I was surprised that the flavor was so bold for such a seemingly cheap burger. I have to wonder, though: where were the peppers? I didn’t see any when I flipped the top bun off to take pictures. There wasn’t any pepper texture, unless it was mixed in with the onions. The only other source would be in the pepper jack cheese, which is not really that hot. Mysterious.

White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers come in three packs per box, which means the serving size is two sliders. This is a very odd serving size. As I mentioned, I was able to eat two burgers in eight bites, which is equivalent to quite a small snack. You microwave them inside the bag, so having three would be awkward, and eating four at once leaves you with two stragglers. Perhaps this is some cunning plan by White Castle to get you to buy more than one box at a time.

While neither drunk nor hungover while eating my sliders, I found myself enjoying the White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburger experience. In this case, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. With an unremarkable bun and meat patty, it seems like these burgers would disappoint, but the large presence of the onions and invisible jalapeños added lots of flavor and texture, and the cheese melted nicely and smoothly. While it would make for an awkward meal, a pack of these sliders would be perfectly acceptable as a quick snack or desperate hangover fix.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 package (2 cheeseburgers) – 310 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 560 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugars, 14 grams of protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% calcium, 10% iron..)

Item: White Castle Frozen Jalapeño Cheeseburgers
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 6 cheeseburgers
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Unicorns. Definite jalapeño presence, despite lack of evidence. Nerd jokes about meat patties. Creamy cheese melts nicely. Onions added lots of flavor and crunch.
Cons: Crack. Bun was flavorless. Where’s my steamer insert? Meat patty offered little. Hangovers. Serving size too small, with odd quantity in box.

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.