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.

Arby’s Smoke Mountain Sandwich 2

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.

Arby’s Smoke Mountain Sandwich 3

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: Pizza Hut Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza

Pizza Hut Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza

Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Crust Pizza was a mind-blowing idea when it first came out. Pizza fanatics rejoiced. Nutritionists cried. Dairy farmers pumped their fists and shouted, “Ka-ching!” And dairy cows yelled, “Moo!”

I was super excited about it. But after eating a slice I realized the problem with the Stuffed Crust Pizza was the fact the cheese inside wasn’t different than what’s on the pizza. So if you were to take a bite of it with the pizza, it would pretty much taste like a normal pizza with a double dose of mozzarella cheese.

But Pizza Hut is doing something different with their new Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza. There’s a little mozzarella in there, but the big cheese is, um, cheddar.

Yeah, I don’t know what uppity artisan sandwich shop the folks who work at Pizza Hut’s test kitchen eat at for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches, but for us regular folks, our grilled cheese sandwiches have good ol’ U.S. of American cheese that’s as American as the idea of a grilled cheese stuffed crust pizza. So why doesn’t the orange goo contain it?

Pizza Hut Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza 2

The crust is also topped with butter and breadcrumbs. Not a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, but enough to make some slices look like they’re connected to a chicken cutlet. They also provide a satisfying crunch that the actual crust does not.

Pizza Hut Grilled Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza 3

The ends were quite flat. I don’t know if my pizza was made the right way, but it looks like a bean bag chair that lost a war between it and the butts of an entire football team’s offensive and defensive lines. I thought there wouldn’t be a lot of cheese in it, but as I pulled a slice away, a crown of orange goo peaked out from the crust.

The flavor combination of cheese, butter, crust, and breadcrumbs, doesn’t remind me of a grilled cheese sandwich, but then again, my grilled cheese sandwiches don’t use cheddar or mozzarella. But with the added garlic in the butter, it tastes more like cheesy garlic bread than a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s not a bad thing. I liked its flavor even though it was not what I was expecting. Maybe cheesy garlic bread is what grilled cheese sandwiches at uppity artisan sandwich shops taste like.

While I enjoyed the crust, I thought combining bites of it with the pizza were odd. Not gross, just different because of the cheddar. The pizza itself was typical Pizza Hut fare, so I won’t go into any further detail about that.

The whole point of Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Crust Pizza is to encourage us to eat the crust, and I think it was successful with this pizza. The crust was saltier than the pizza itself and I wish it came with a container of tomato soup as a dip, but I have to say this is the first time I felt like eating the end crust and throwing away the pizza, instead of eating the pizza and throwing away the end crust.

Purchased Price: $17.99*
Size: Large pizza
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 slice) 400 calories, 20 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 860 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 18 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. These are being advertised for $12.99 for a one topping large pizza at participating locations.

REVIEW: Starbucks Chile Mocha

Starbucks Chile Mocha

Some like it HOT and I am one of those humans.

No, I’m not talking about the 1950’s movie starring Marilyn Monroe, but the Scoville scale. Just in case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about: the Scoville scale measures the heat of a pepper from 0 units (bell peppers) to 16MM units (pure capsaicin). I can realistically only handle up to a habanero (350K units) so I’ve been on a mission to increase my capsaicin tolerance.

Along comes Starbucks’ latest drink innovation, the Chile Mocha. I drink Starbucks religiously (who else spent way too much money on Starbucks for Life) and I like heat. Advertised with “ancho and chile spices” and “for those mornings that need an extra kick,” I expected the Chile Mocha to dazzle my taste buds.

In true Goldilocks-fashion, I had to try all three: the Frappuccino, the hot mocha, and the iced mocha. Unfortunately, the only thing consistent about the three was that they all came with too much whipped cream.

I started with the Frappuccino. Nothing about the Frappuccino tasted like chile or even mocha for that matter. It was so sickeningly sweet that it tasted toffee-like; maybe the barista used the toffee nut syrup instead of Chile Mocha powder. So, heat was nonexistent. I even tried the Spiced Mocha topping on top which looked like straight cayenne/paprika but actually also had sugar crystals mixed in.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 2

The powder fondly reminded me of a less concentrated version of Lucas Mexican Candy. However, cayenne is only 50,000 Scoville and paprika is, if you’re lucky, maybe 100 Scoville units. Instead of ordering the Chile Mocha Frappuccino, I might as well have just ordered a plain ol’ coffee frap for $1 less and 90 less calories.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 3

I moved onto the iced mocha next. I was immediately a little off-put by the powder sitting at the bottom of the drink. I tried mixing it but the powder at the bottom was just out of straw reach. After my first couple of sips, I felt a very slight warming/heat sensation in the back of my throat. FINALLY!

However, it was short-lived as it quickly neutralized. While the iced mocha was a little more coffee-forward, it still erred on the too-sweet side. Disappointed, I proceeded to eat the whipped cream with tasty wannabe Lucas Mexican Candy power and left the rest of the drink.

Starbucks Chile Mocha 4

Lastly, the hot mocha. At this point, my high expectations were demolished. But, the fact that my first sip actually tasted like a mocha was a great start. Unlike the iced mocha, the heat actually built up. At first, I thought it was way too subtle but as I drank more, I concluded that this level of heat probably works for people not trying to burn off their taste buds (unlike me). If it were any spicier, it would likely be too spicy for some folks. I also really enjoyed the temperature contrast of the cold whipped cream with the hot mocha.

Net-net, stick with the hot mocha. I know it’s still 90 degrees in certain parts of the country, but fall is right around the corner! For my fellow capsaicin enthusiasts, I’m dropping a Ghost Pepper Mocha suggestion in Starbucks’ inbox.

(Nutrition Facts – Tall 12 oz (Hot Chile Mocha with whipped cream) – 270 Calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 29 grams total sugars, 10 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: Varies
Size: Tall
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Chile Mocha)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Iced Chile Mocha)
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Chile Mocha Frappuccino)
Pros: Fondly reminiscent of Lucas Mexican Candy Power. Hot Chile Mocha.
Cons: Too much whipped cream. Frappuccino and Iced Mocha are sugar bombs. Minimal heat.

REVIEW: Burger King Cheetos Chicken Fries

Burger King Cheetos Chicken Fries

Eating Burger King’s new Cheetos Chicken Fries (CCFs) is very similar to going on a Tinder date. You see pictures and read a description of somebody, use a cheesy pick-up line, chat them up for a bit, and then you agree to meet at a bar.

Only when you get there, you find out the person looks nothing like their picture or they just aren’t the person they represented themselves to be online. I mean, you write that you like sailing in your profile but then you tell me you can’t even tie an anchor hitch!?

Cue dramatic piano music.

This was how I felt after eating the newest in the Chicken Fries line. Sure, the box had art similar to a bag of Cheetos. Sure, it says the word “Cheetos” on the box. Sure, they’re covered in a Cheetos breading. Sounds pretty great, right?

Well, the CCFs have one whale of a problem. No, that’s not enough. They have one MOBY DICK of a problem, and it is the fact there is barely any Cheetos flavor on them.

I do not know if it’s because I went on the initial release day and the BK workers hadn’t quite perfected their technique, but the final product tasted like somebody dropped Chicken Fries onto a pile of Cheetos crumbs and a minuscule amount of the flavor rubbed off on them.

Burger King Cheetos Chicken Fries 2

I was expecting them to be bright orange, just like actual Cheetos. Instead, they just look like darker Chicken Fries with some orange specks sprinkled on them. The lady who took my order asked if I wanted a dipping sauce, so I ordered a side of ranch thinking I would not need it. But after eating the third one plain I started dipping so they would have some kind of actual, noticeable flavor.

Burger King Cheetos Chicken Fries 3

I did get a tiny hint of Cheetos flavor but it was all in the aftertaste and I didn’t even notice it until after I ate several of them, and I really had to concentrate and use my imagination. They just didn’t have the cheesy kick many others and I were probably expecting.

I thought maybe my sense of taste had temporarily gone on vacation, but I got an order for my co-worker and he said the same thing, barely any Cheetos flavor.

The best part about the CCFs was, in all honesty, the box art. Woof.

I imagine somewhere Chester Cheetah is blowing lines of Cheetos cheese dust whilst crying, listening to Joe Satriani and uttering words of contempt about Burger King’s hack job of a recipe using his moneymaker.

(Nutrition Facts – 280 Calories, 18 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 890 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams total sugars, 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 9 pieces
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Cool box art. Cheesy pick-up lines on Tinder.
Cons: Hardly recognizable Cheetos flavor. Chester Cheetah having his good name tainted.

REVIEW: Domino’s Chicken Apple Pecan Salad

Domino's Chicken Apple Pecan Salad

A short list of things I never imagined I would do in my lifetime:

  1. Meet Hulk Hogan at a rave
  2. Go nude skydiving
  3. Date a vegan
  4. Help an Eskimo run the Iditarod
  5. Get a salad from Domino’s

So full disclosure, numbers one through four have not happened…yet. Number five, unfortunately, did happen.

Usually the single man’s trip to Domino’s ends with a medium pizza that will get finished in one night. It usually has ham and pineapple on it and it is usually eaten in the company of Wes Montgomery albums and good vodka. Sometimes, though, you have to switch things up.

The Domino’s salads come prepackaged, and when I say prepackaged, I mean factory sealed and then shipped to Domino’s stores. At least that’s what I read.

Factory fresh salad…YUM!

Domino's Chicken Apple Pecan Salad 2

Besides being factory sealed, it is also a salad you have to put it together yourself. How dare they make us do work!

This isn’t the worst tasting salad, but for the price, it didn’t seem worth it in the end.

The main culprits are the spring mix and the chicken. I know greens aren’t supposed to be flashy but the greens in this salad, even with the Ken’s Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing, just weren’t good. I think the factory seal takes some of the freshness away.

The chicken didn’t seem to lose freshness but it didn’t matter, it was like that semi-grizzle-y chicken Subway had years ago. Tastes like nothing and you get those pieces you can’t chew cleanly through, and nobody likes those.

Nothing was really wrong with the cheddar cheese and apples. Those probably had the freshest taste to them, and if those are your freshest ingredients, your salad is in trouble. The cranberries were few in quantity and you won’t complain about it. The salad didn’t need them.

Domino's Chicken Apple Pecan Salad 3

Cover all this with Ken’s Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette and the result is just so underwhelming. The dressing doesn’t have a strong enough sweet-tart taste that a normal balsamic would, and in the case of this salad, more flavor was needed to cloak its shortcomings.

The only part of the salad that stood out was the pecans. I would buy the salad again just for those, no joke. They were so sweet; I think they may have been candied. They reminded me of pralines you find in ice cream.

If I were you, I’d fork over the extra two bucks and get a salad from Panera that you will actually enjoy.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 serving (2 per salad) – 190 Calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 350 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 14 grams total sugars, 13 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $6.49
Size: N/A
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Pecans are otherworldly good. Crazy low in calories.
Cons: Spring mix and chicken leave much to be desired. Dressing isn’t flavorful enough. Not meeting Hulk Hogan at a rave.

REVIEW: Sonic Blast made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Peanut Butter Flavor Funnel

Sonic Blast made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Peanut Butter Flavor Funnel

EXT. SONIC PARKING LOT – DAY

SONIC GUY 1 and SONIC GUY 2 sit in a convertible.

SONIC GUY 1: “I really like these new Sonic Blast Flavor Funnels.”

SONIC GUY 2: “Why are you saying ‘Sonic’ like I don’t know they’re from Sonic? We’re literally at Sonic.”

SONIC GUY 1 smiles uncomfortably.

SONIC GUY 2: “Hold up, didn’t Ben & Jerry’s and Dairy Queen basically just make these?!”

SONIC GUY 1: “Shut up man, they’ll hear you! Don’t ruin the gig! Haha, he’s just joking around, boss.”

FADE OUT.

Those cornballs have been making commercials since 2004!

Sonic the Hedgehog is only 12 years older than those ads. The Seattle Supersonics – who feel like they’ve been gone forever – became the OKC Thunder in 2008! That’s how long these dudes have been shilling for America’s Drive-In.

Sonic Blast made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Peanut Butter Flavor Funnel 2

If you’ve seen our heroes lately, they’ve probably been promoting Sonic’s new “flavor funnels” because Ben and Jerry made “Cores,” and Dairy Queen made “Royal Blizzards,” and that’s just what competing companies do these days. Anything you can do, I can do the same! The new trend is ice cream companies jamming a thin vein of flavor through their flagship products, and pretending its ground breaking.

Sonic took their already existing “Blasts” and shot everything from caramel to Oreo crème to peanut butter down the middle, because why not?

I chose the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blast with the peanut butter flavor funnel, because why not?!

The Blast’s base was vanilla ice cream that was neither offensive nor impressive. It was fine. Bits and pieces of Reese’s cups were blended in, which is never a bad thing.

Sonic Blast made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Peanut Butter Flavor Funnel 3

Once I choked down the whipped cream I wish wasn’t there, the tan flavor funnel core peaked out in all of its Jules Vernian glory. At first glance it was a sight to behold. Then, I tasted it.

The peanut butter’s texture left a lot to be desired. It was gluey, with a consistency somewhere between syrup and Jif Whips. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t usually like my peanut butter to be wet. It didn’t help that while trying to get a nice balance of ice cream to funnel, I ended up basically eating half the funnel in one bite. Said bite was extremely overpowering, and the tiny bits of chocolate didn’t counterbalance it at all.

Sonic Blast made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups & Peanut Butter Flavor Funnel 4

I dug down to see if the funnel reached the bottom of the cup, and it stopped about half way. It was half a funnel! Half of “funnel” is “fun.” That’s not fun!

I only ate about 1/3rd of the Blast, and I’m pretty sure I consumed the entire funnel. Sonic’s website lists the sizes as mini, small, medium and large, but they didn’t even ask, and just gave me the “one size kills all.” It was disgustingly massive.

I paid the over five dollars by card, so I felt bad when the Carhop rolled over and I didn’t have a tip for her on hand. I’d be remised if I didn’t give props to Sonic as well as Venice Beach and old guy hockey leagues for keeping roller blades alive, though.

Look, I’m not gonna say there’s much wrong with vanilla ice cream, weird peanut butter and Reese’s, but this funnel gimmick was completely unnecessary. The Blast sans funnel is probably more satisfying.

To be fair, I only had the one flavor, and you can add as many toppings as you please, so the other flavors might be bigger hits than this one. I may go back for a mini Oreo at some point.

(Nutrition Facts – Large – 1880 calories, 840 calories from fat, 94 grams of total fat, 62 grams of saturated fat, 305 milligrams of cholesterol, 1160 milligrams of sodium, 233 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 203 grams of sugars, and 27 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.39 + $.50 for the Flavor Funnel add-on
Size: Large
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: It’s ice cream and Reese’s. It’s the lazy man’s DQ Blizzard. Sonic Guys making bank. Carhop delivery.
Cons: Weird overpowering peanut butter funnel. Absolutely massive Styrofoam cup. Not enough chocolate bits. Expensive. Look at the nutrition facts for a large. Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton are the REAL Sonic Guys.