REVIEW: Arby’s Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich

Conceptually, I love the idea of a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. I love chicken breast filet, I love the hell out of some ham, and Swiss —- while not the best cheese, necessarily — is still a fine cheese in most circumstances. But the strange thing is, I’m not entirely certain I’ve ever had a chicken cordon bleu sandwich that I actually loved. I guess you could even say that I’ve never had one that chicken cordon bleu my mind. (Ugh. Trust me. I’m as disappointed in myself as you are.)

Anyway, I’d had the original Arby’s iteration more than once in the past, mostly because it’s not something you see often on fast food menus, and I’m a sucker for uncommon menu items. (This is the same reason I can’t wait for Taco Bell’s Grilled Stuft Lobster Burrito, which isn’t a thing, but should be.) Arby’s original CCB was mostly a harmless proposition, but decidedly unspectacular each time. I guess I kept hoping it would get better, which I think is the definition of insanity or something.

Really, it was the chicken’s fault. Crunchy and dull, the quality paled in comparison to the restaurant’s other meats. Large chunks of “breading” hard enough to crack a molar; stringy ropes of flavorless chicken low on flavor but rich in disappointment.

That’s why I was excited to hear that BUTTERMILK entered the equation. Because really, aren’t all the best chickens buttermilked at some point?

Well, it still didn’t work.

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich 2

It’s not that it was bad, really, it was just that it wasn’t good. The filet itself was bigger, juicier, and meatier than its heavily breaded predecessor, but there was a distinct lack of flavor. It was void of almost any discernible seasoning or spice. It simply existed as a big, hot chunk of meat, content to take up space between the “star top bun” which is, you know, a bun with a star shape cut into the top.

Not that the bun was bad. It also just…existed. It tasted fresh, though, and it was warm, so that was good. (I’ve often found buns to be a problem at my nearest Arby’s.)

The closest thing to a true star on this sandwich was actually what they refer to as “thinly sliced pit-smoked ham.” It was plentiful and, when removed from the totality of the sandwich, a decent balance of smoky and sweet.

Arby's Buttermilk Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich 3

There was a nice slice of Swiss cheese — real Swiss cheese, not the White American that fast food barons typically try to sell you — but it sorta got lost in the mix. The mayonnaise was appropriately applied and provided a bit of needed tang, trying in vain to make up for the tasteless chicken breast.

Sadly, it just wasn’t enough.

Overall, it doesn’t seem that buttermilk is bringing enough to the party on Arby’s new chicken sandwiches. And that’s a shame. I was really hoping I’d found the chicken cordon bleu of my dreams, but it’s pretty clear that my quest must continue. (Or I can, you know, just go to Chick-fil-A and get a consistently tasty chicken sandwich without the bells and whistles.)

(Nutrition Facts – 690 calories, 310 calories from fat, 35 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 2000 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 41 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.69 (sandwich only)
Size: N/A
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Ham was inoffensive. It was served super-hot, but I mean, there’s no guarantee that yours will be.
Cons: Bland, flavorless buttermilk chicken. Uninspired. The whole thing felt a little like they were going through the motions. Oh, one of the least healthy options on the Arby’s menu in terms of calories from fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

REVIEW: Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich

Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich

Bacon, like alliteration, needs to be applied carefully.

Try to get avant garde and add it to stuff, like canned vodka drinks, and you might just inspire someone to go vegan. Likewise, start stringing together sounds and letters with too much frequency and you’ll leave somebody more tongue-tied than a 12-year-old beholding his first pair of boobies.

But apply them strategically and they’ll make every sandwich or sentence better.

That’s the case with the Arby’s new Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich, or, as I told the cashier, “the brisket one.”

Arby’s actually debuted its brown sugar bacon last year to mixed reviews. This year they’ve brought it back and given it the benefit of new bun, premium meats, and an exotic-sounding Kentucky bourbon sauce.

Now, when I hear the term “Kentucky bourbon sauce,” I want to think of some grizzled backwoods old man chewing on leftover mutton barbecue and checking the taps of a warehouse filled with cave-aged barrels. The reality is a lot less romantic but still pretty tasty. The whole-grain Dijon mustard with sweet and complex notes doesn’t really have a distinctive bourbon taste so much as it just makes you recall the “beer mustard” you stole from your neighbor’s Oktoberfest party.

Arby’s Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich 2

You’ll forgive the lack of distinctive bourbon flavor as soon as you bite into the sandwich. Four or five different taste and texture sensations converge with a single chomp, producing one of the most satisfying sandwich bites I’ve ever had from any fast food restaurant. There’s the smoky, moist brisket; milky and creamy smoked cheddar cheese; sweet and crunchy bacon; salty and crisp onion straws; and that tangy, complex mustard that makes me want to say something hokey like “please pass the Grey Poupon, ya’ll.”

Even the bun is top-notch. Squishy yet firm, with a sort of pretzel bun malt sweetness aftertaste, it’s the perfect vehicle to suck up the viscous sauce and meaty juices from the biscuit. When Wendy’s and McDonald’s upgraded to “artisan” buns, this is what they should have adopted.

What comes together is a complete and balanced sandwich in which neither sweet nor salty wins out, and where those looking to get an authentic smoked meat smorgasbord will find plenty of indulgence in strong notes of hickory and oak.

Look, I’ll admit it: Arby’s brown sugar bacon is Candyland sweet on its own and the Kentucky bourbon sauce is more whole grain Dijon beer mustard than anything else, but neither detail seems to obscure the fact that the Bourbon Bacon & Brisket Sandwich is really damn good (also a bit tough to say, but that’s beside the point.) While the $5.99 price may scare some customers away, Arby’s has proved that the sum of its sandwich components are well worth it, making the new Bacon Brown Sugar Bourbon Sandwiches some of the best I’ve ever had from the chain.

(Nutrition Facts – 710 calories, 360 calories from fat, 40 grams of fat, 15 grams of sat fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 1610 milligrams of sodium, 48 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 43 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Hearty and meaty sandwich with layers of smoky and beefy flavor. Brisket good enough to eat even in Texas*. Bourbon sauce is the best tasting mustard you’ve ever had. Great melted and creamy texture from the smoked cheddar cheese. Hands down the best bun in premium fast food sandwiches.
Cons: Glazed texture of bacon lacks chewy fatty goodness. “Bourbon” taste may not be as authentic or prominent as some would like. Frankly, one of the worst tongue twisters in fast food history.

*I live here. I can say this.

REVIEW: Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries

Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries

Arby’s Curly Fries were already delicious.

How delicious? I’d happily munch away on them until the double helices of my DNA begin to resemble those perfectly breaded and seasoned potato corkscrews.

But now Arby’s has decided to load ‘em up with shredded cheddar cheese, cheddar cheese sauce, and bacon. It’s the fast food equivalent of stuffing cupcakes inside a birthday cake or super gluing Emma Stone to Emma Watson.

But wait! Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries also come drizzled in a Parmesan peppercorn ranch sauce! So cram an Oreo into those cupcakes and throw Emma Roberts into the mix, because we’re going for full excess here.

I don’t know why Arby’s wants to mess with a classic, but as long as they don’t start calling them “Shemp Fries,” this hungry stooge will try them anyway.

Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries 2

Gazing upon my potato and cheese volcano, I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. A fork seemed too formal, using my hands seemed too barbaric, and actually physically tackling it seemed like a hernia waiting to happen. But then I realized I was snapping photos of greasy potatoes all alone in a deserted Arby’s, so if the crippling weight of my impending existential crisis didn’t kill me, a little cheddar under my fingernails wouldn’t either.

I took a carefully assembled “one of everything” bite, and holy mooing goo, Batman! That’s a lot of dairy! Seriously, between the (appropriately) buttery and milky buttermilk ranch sauce and the creamy cheddar components, it was like my Arby’s chef grabbed a cow, gave her a good shake, and told ol’ Bessie to fire on all cylinders.

Upon closer taste-spection, the fatty tang and zesty finish of the ranch became more pronounced. It overpowered the mild cheddar, which was as far from “sharp cheddar” as a plastic spork is from Excalibur.

Like some weird sequel to Animal Farm, one of the rare shards of haphazardly sliced bacon would occasionally attempt a futile rebellion against its dairy overlords by contributing a charcoal-seasoned, porky twang, but it was often too faint to taste.

Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries 3

I’m relieved to say that beneath this class struggle of tang, cheese, and sporadic meatiness, the garlicky and peppery Curly Fries that we all know and shove into our hungry mouths still provide a familiar and tasty flavor base. I suppose even the cruelest ranch dictators can’t take away our seasoned potatoes.

Your enjoyment of these Loaded Curly Fries will ultimately hinge on how you feel about tangy ranch, since the bacon and cheese is more cosmetic than flavorful. I thought the sauce/fry combo was tasty at first, but I grew tired of it over time and eventually found myself wishing instead for some plain Curly Fries that wouldn’t coat my hands with multiple barnyard animal products. I recommend splitting this one with friends to retain the brief novelty.

I ate mine fresh, so they were crispy, but I’ve heard bad things about what happens to these fries’ structural integrity over time. So for science, I saved half of my dish and let it be my passenger seat companion while I ran errands (I even turned the heated seat on for it, because I’m a nice guy).

Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries 4

Checking back two hours later, the fries had taken on the slimy texture of oiled calamari. Four hours later, my specimen had coagulated itself into a mushy Lovecraftian horror. The moral of the story? Eat these as quickly as your stomach and social setting will allow.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bury this thing before it becomes sentient.

(Nutrition Facts – 700 calories, 420 calories from fat, 46 grams of fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 1990 milligrams of sodium, 57 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein..)

Item: Arby’s Loaded Curly Fries
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Same Curly Fry goodness beneath the goopy-ness. The appreciated zest of Emma Roberts…err, I mean ranch. Savory pork uprisings. Orwellian cheese jokes (thanks, 9th grade English class!). Distantly echoing applause from the National Dairy Council.
Cons: Eventual ranch fatigue. The crushing, creamy hoof of the “moo-geoisie” (thanks, 10th grade history class!). The oppressed cheddar and bacon proletariat. Rapid devolution into something that belongs in a Korean horror movie. Questioning my life choices in the middle of Arby’s.

REVIEW: Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich

Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich

“Honey, what are these for?” she asked.

She picked up a warm, paper-wrapped disc out of a box full of them.

“Those?” he said. “Don’t touch those. Those are for Halloween. They’re for the neighborhood kids.”

“These are hamburgers,” she said.

“It’s actually roast beef,” he said. “From Arby’s. The Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich. But, yeah, I thought we’d do something different this year. Spice things up.”

“You can’t possibly be serious,” she said.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because,” she said, “these are sandwiches. Every year you try to switch things up and every year we get soap on our windows. Remember 2013? You gave out Dixie cups full of sweet tea.”

“Topped with Torani syrup,” he said. “Let me make an argument here. The Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich is sweet as hell.”

“Yes, I remember,” she said. “I had one too.”

Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich 3

“It’s so sweet, it’s pretty much just like eating candy,” he said. “Weird to think that, right? Because it’s got roast beef in it. It’s also got vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce. And cheese and a Dijon sauce. But you had one too. The sugar bacon is insanely sweet. You remember how everything spun out of control so quickly? I took a few bites and I immediately was looking for an Oompa Loompa to come stuff me into a sack.”

“The brown sugar bacon was good and thick but the sugary glaze is so strong that it’s the only quality that stands out. There is no smokiness or discernible meat flavor, just a chewy texture and sweetness. The texture of the entire sandwich is pretty good though, actually. The roast beef had a substantial feel and the whole thing is a pretty hefty gut bomb. The King’s Hawaiian bun has a pleasant softness that contrasts very nicely with the snap of the lettuce. The tomato is pretty limp though. You remember how sweet it was?”

“Yes,” she said. “And I am a fan of the normal roast beef sandwich. This really broke the orbit of flavor. The pile of roast beef was made dull, overshadowed by the sweetness of the bacon. It might as well have been paper mache. The sandwich just didn’t have the balance needed to pull it off.”

“There were a few bites of equal distribution of flavor in there and they were high points. But I would say there were only three or four instances of that. It’s hard to disregard the sweet tooth wet dream when even the bun has a sugary tinge to it. Although on the back half, I slathered on the Arby’s horseradish sauce and it made it a bit better.”

“I liked it with the horseradish sauce too,” he said.

“Did you plan to give out the sauce during Halloween too?” she asked.

“No. I didn’t know how to siphon it out of that little dispenser at Arby’s,” he said, sheepishly.

“You weren’t even going to add the stuff that made it halfway decent?” she asked.

He didn’t say anything.

Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich 2

“I know,” she said. “I know the sandwich tastes like candy. And it seems cool to do something for the sake of being different. But not everything has to be redefined to be on your terms. You’re part of this culture too, you know. Halloween is all of ours. It’s for everybody. You don’t have to change it to enjoy it. Just go with the flow. You’re not boring. You’re not predictable. You’re not a cliché. And even if you were, who cares?”

There was a pause. He stared out of the window.

“You’re right,” he said, his giant green fingers reflexively touched the bolts in his neck, then massaged his temples as he sighed. “You’re always right. Let’s just give away Twix this year. Full size.”

He paused again. “You know, for us, everyday is…”

“Yes, yes, honey,” she said, as she leaned on his shoulder, her lightning-struck hair brushed against his worn suit jacket. “For us, everyday is Halloween. I know. But seriously. It’s July. And you got a whole box of these!”

“I bought sixty of them,” he said.

She laughed. “What the heck are we going to do with all these sandwiches?”

“Let’s burn them,” he smiled.

They stacked them in the middle of the room and threw a lit matchbook into the pile. As it went up in flames, he suddenly remembered he feared fire and ran into the hills. She sighed.

(Nutrition Facts – 720 calories, 280 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 170 grams of cholesterol, 1620 milligrams of sodium, 67 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 27 grams of sugar, 42 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef Sandwich
Purchased Price: $5.79
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Hefty. Good texture. Soft bun, crisp lettuce. Use horseradish sauce to help it taste more rounded.
Cons: Roast beef is dulled by sweetness. Expensive.

REVIEW: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips

There have been very few things fast food companies have done to make me upset in the nearly three decades I’ve been alive. Sure, there have been lots of occasions warranting mild annoyance, like when the price of the McDouble inevitably went above a buck or when the guy at Domino’s refused to bake a Twinkie inside of my pizza for scientific inquiry. But those times when I’ve had my heart broken over price fluctuations or menu discontinuations? Only a handful.

The debut of Arby’s delicious housemade chips in May 2013, followed by their cancellation only a few months later, was one of those times.

Like a teenage summer romance, those chips transfixed me that spring; enamoring me with their crunchy ridges and zesty seasoning, tempting my taste buds by showing a little skin, and holding my undivided attention from a myriad of suitors like Mozzarella Sticks and Onion Rings. And then, nothing.

Not even an “it’s not you, it’s me and the proliferation of limited time only menu items across the fast food marketplace” line. One day they were gone, and since then I’ve bounced around from side to side, never quite content amidst short-lived flings with pretzel bites and hushpuppies.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 2

I know I should have more self-control now that the chips have returned. I should have the perfect cover story about having moved on and fallen for a sweet potato fry or something. But I don’t, and even though the chips have changed their outward appearance-adopting a Garlic Parmesan seasoning and now coming pre-bagged—their taste is just like I remember.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 3

The potato flavor is deep and meaty, as if some chuck wagon Idaho cowboy (do they have cowboys in Idaho?) just pulled the potato from the ground and fried it. The exterior isn’t overly crunchy like store-bagged chips; instead it’s got a smooth and slightly oily mouthfeel, but in a good way which allows you to appreciate the subtle flavors developed during the frying process.

Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips 4

I was worried at first when I didn’t see much in the way of seasoning powder on the chips, but each spud has a pronounced roasted garlic flavor. The parmesan might have been the only flavor lacking, although there’s a part of me which appreciates the subtleness of its taste. Too often anything with “parmesan” in the label is weighed down with buttermilk solids and a generic ranch flavor. But these chips deliver a more sophisticated parmesan flavor which accentuates and doesn’t stand in the way of the natural potato flavor.

If you are anything like me and were a fan of the first iteration of Arby’s Housemade Chips, then you’re going to love the new Garlic Parmesan look. The deep and rich potato flavor is just as I remember, and while the chips aren’t quite as crunchy and the whole size and bagging issues are going to make our relationship a bit more complicated, the roasted garlic flavor definitely makes up for the changes. Will I get burned again when Arby’s yanks them from stores? Of course. Is it going to stop me from loving these now? Hells no.

(Nutrition Facts – 290 calories, 14 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar, 1 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s Garlic Parmesan Housemade Chips
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 2 oz.
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Robust potato flavor puts French fries to shame. Enjoyable crunch but still enough give to make for an enjoyable texture. Deep and meaty roasted garlic flavor tastes fried into the chips. Far better than any bagged chip.
Cons: Less chips for the same price of the chips marketed in 2013. Pre-bagged chips begs the question of just how “fresh” they are. Subtle parmesan flavor might not be for everyone. Slightly undersalted. Inevitable heartbreak when discontinued.

REVIEW: Arby’s King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich

Arby's King's Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich

I know few things about Hawaii. I do know the most famous celebrity is that Hawaiian Punch guy with that crazy hat. I also know that Hawaiian luxury resorts will kindly let you sleep for free when you go through a bad breakup (thanks Sarah Marshall). And I know that King’s Hawaiian bread is the best I’ve stuffed in my mouth since challah with its eggy pleasures.

Intrigued by the small four packs sitting harmlessly by the supermarket deli, they sat there engulfed in the smells of fried chicken and briny olives. The first time I picked them up was a lark but when the slightly sweet, rich taste seduced me, I was forever captive. I rarely leave the supermarket without buying a 4-pack of King’s Hawaiian rolls or sandwich buns.

I also have a strong penchant for fried fish sandwiches. While most gravitate towards Quarter Pounders or Big Macs, I go for the Filet-O-Fish. Even though it contains a lifeless fried rectangle with a flaky nondescript soylent green kind of protein, I love the Filet-O-Fish.

So imagine my fervor when I discovered the Arby’s King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe sandwich? Too many apostrophes aside, I was so excited that I immediately drove to the nearest Arby’s.

Arby's King's Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich 2

The sandwich was almost four and a half inches in diameter and the bun was similar to the King’s Hawaiian sandwich rolls. There was no mistaking that the roll made an impact visually because that slight sheen demanded that I pay fucking attention. I sank my partially brushed teeth into the softly toasted bun and into the crispy and flaky “wild caught Alaskan Pollock.” I can hear you scoffing. I am too. Regardless, if the fish was wild, I was impressed because it was not greasy.

Also, the rolls did not disappoint. They were slightly sweet, soft, and rich. They delivered, but that, surprisingly, contributed to the problem.

Arby's King's Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich 3

The sweet bread combined with the sweeter tartar sauce overwhelmed the sandwich. I couldn’t even taste the pickled chunks in the tartar sauce and it just killed the Alaskan pollock. There was too much tartar sauce on my tomato and lettuce.

The textures were pleasant enough but the slightly sweet bread on top of the sweeter sauce just shoved the fish aside like my Mom does when I try to hug her. Worse, the cheddar cheese was gloppy and lifeless. It wasn’t melted enough and it made no impression on the fish or the prized King’s Hawaiian roll.

Arby's King's Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich 4

I was a bit sad the Arby’s King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe didn’t live up to my expectation. Additionally, the $4.25 price tag is a bit too pricey and makes the term “Deluxe” really seem like an overstatement. The sandwich doesn’t balance as well as McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish. In fact, I’ve had government cafeteria fish sandwiches that tasted better. It’s a tolerable sandwich if you ignore that “deluxe” price, but otherwise I don’t think it’s really worth it.

(Nutrition Facts – 790 calories, 320 calories from fat, 36 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 1140 milligrams of sodium, 89 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 24 grams of sugar, and 28 grams of protein.)

Item: Arby’s King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.25
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Wild caught Alaskan Pollock was crispy and flaky. The King’s Hawaiian roll was sweet and rich.
Cons: Too much tartar sauce. The lifeless cheese slice. Deluxe price.