REVIEW: Arby’s Meat Mountain

Arby’s Meat Mountain

Not since the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Most American Thickburger – or maybe that one Pizza Hut variation that had pigs-in-a-blanket as the crust – has there been a fast food offering as audacious as Arby’s Meat Mountain.

So monstrous this tribute to American ingenuity/gluttony that the cashier actually ASKED me if I was serious when I ordered it. In fact, I had to tell her “yes” no less than three times before she rang up the purchase.

Arby’s Meat Mountain 2

You remember those old episodes of Scooby Doo when Shaggy would get the munchies and come marching out of the kitchen with a towering sandwich filled with who-knows-what all the way to the ceiling? Well, that’s pretty much what Meat Mountain is. Underneath one greasy star-cut bun, you get all of the following ingredients: angus beef, cheddar cheese, chicken tenders, corned beef, pepper bacon, pit-smoked ham, roast beef, roast turkey, smoked brisket, and Swiss cheese.

So basically, it’s like eating Noah’s Ark in sandwich form. It’s a 1,000-calories plus behemoth that doesn’t even fit in the company’s stock wrappers – my order came in a wadded up ball of wax paper that, folded out on the table, came out to nearly two feet in length.

Arby’s Meat Mountain 3

Arby’s Meat Mountain 4

In that, I suppose Meat Mountain is more of a limited-time-challenge than a limited-time-offering. You don’t eat it for the pleasurable gustatory sensation, you eat it because it’s a direct threat to your manhood (or womanhood.) One does not simply review Meat Mountain; rather, one seeks to survive it.

Not that it’s a surprise to anybody, but the sandwich is definitely a hassle to eat. It’s so big you really can’t fit your mouth around it without taking out a layer or two of meat first, so you may find yourself tearing chunks of Meat Mountain apart instead of shoveling it down your throat (let’s call that one the velociraptor technique.)

Arby’s Meat Mountain 5

Does the medley of meats come together harmoniously? Not really, but it’s still pretty awesome. It’s not so much the divergent tastes of the product that’s weird as it is the alternating textures. One bite it’s crunchy and a little spicy, the next it’s sinewy and chewy and just a wee bit soggy. That said, getting a mouthful of cow, chicken, pig and turkey all at once does make you feel like a khakis-clad T-Rex, and ultimately, that’s the feeling you’re paying $10 for.

One look at this thing and you’ll know right away whether or not you can handle it. Just one word of caution for all you iron-stomached adventurers out there, who think you’re ready to go napkin to napkin with this mammoth burger: while the sandwich isn’t as oily as you’d expect, it is unbelievably salty, packing a whopping 3,000-plus milligrams of sodium. So be sure you have a cola nearby before tackling this beastly creation – or at the very least, a sizable armada of Arby’s sauces.

Arby’s Meat Mountain 6

(Nutrition Facts – 1,030 calories, 460 calories from fat, 51 grams of total fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 225 milligrams of cholesterol, 3,640 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, 87 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $10
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Being able to eat an entire barnyard in one sitting. The feeling of savory, crispy bacon dancing next to corned beef on your tongue. Dipping your turkey-chicken-beef-ham-bacon sammich into a pool of horseradish-pepper-ketchup-and-honey-mustard sauce and realizing what it’s like to be the king of all existence for a few fleeting seconds.
Cons: EVERYTHING is super-duper-extra-salty. Some of the meats don’t gel together well at all. The look on the cashier’s face when you ask if it comes in a vegan-friendly version.

REVIEW: Arby’s Venison Sandwich

Arby’s Venison Sandwich

Note: This guest review was written by our internet buddy Russ Shelly from What’s Good at Trader Joe’s.

Tension and anticipation filled the cool early morning, day after Thanksgiving air. The nervous glances and small talk only added to the edge. The crowd was gathering, just moments before opening, and we all knew what we there for. The only question was, who would be first, and who would be left empty-handed. There were just limited quantities, after all. We all knew it.

Slowly, the manager approached. The door was going to be unlocked. This was the moment. We all pressed in, just waiting for that click…

The kindly manager opened the door, nervously smiled and cheerfully said, ”Welcome to Arby’s!”

What, you thought we were lining up at Macy’s on Black Friday for $50 off an at-home hair removal kit? Don’t be ridiculous, this was all about the Arby’s Venison Sandwich being testmarketed at select stores only.

Gotta say it: For this sandwich, Bambi’s mom has got it going on. It’s a very simple construct: A 5.5-ounce slab of marinated deer steak, a semi-generous splash of juniper sauce, and onion straws all held by the typical Arby’s star cut bun used in their other specialty sandwiches.

Arby’s Venison Sandwich 3

Let’s break it down, starting with the obvious star: the venison. Apparently from farm-raised deer in New Zealand, the meat is marinated in a simple spice blend of garlic, salt and pepper, with the pepper being the strongest element. The steak is slow cooked, sous-vide style, for several hours resulting in a tender, medium-well cooked steak that is lean without any elements of stringiness or chewiness. If you’re not familiar with venison as an edible meat, think high quality beef, and that’s a decent enough approximation for the uninitiated. There’s not a lot of inherent gamey flavor, which some will see as a plus.

Arby’s Venison Sandwich 2

The sauce and straw sidekicks really add to the overall appeal. It’s a sweet-style barbecue flavor for the sauce, with juniper berries adding a unique, slightly sweet yet tart tinge. Maybe the berries were my deer’s last meal. That’s…perhaps morbid. But it’s a good thing, as the berry flavor adds a “wild” dimension that a typical BBQ sauce wouldn’t. The onion straws put in a clean, crispy bite, with a little grease, with the onion flavor helping bridge the gap between the garlic and pepper of the deer and the sweetness of the sauce. In a lot of ways, the onion straws are like Lebowski’s rug: easy to overlook, but they really tie it all together. No cheese or lettuce or tomato here, and none are needed.

If there’s a weak spot for the sandwich, it’s the bun. Not that it’s bad bread – it isn’t. But it’s much bigger than the deer steak, and while it’s up to the task of holding it all together without getting overwhelmed, the overall feel of the sandwich is that it’s a tad too bready. Where the steak was a little thinner, or there wasn’t as much onions or sauce, the bread really took over and dampened the much more flavorful elements.

The Arby’s Venison Sandwich was rolled out in a testing phase in only 17 Arby’s locations nationwide, most of them in popular hunting areas. Gathering by the amount of camo in the crowd, and the fact that I had only about the fourth most impressive beard (male division), it’s a hit. Within twenty minutes, the store I was at (Bellevue, PA) had sold out of at least 75 percent of its allocated inventory…and that is slow sales compared to other restaurant sites. But then, again, it was 10:20 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, so much of the nation was either a) shopping for $5 off electronic toothbrushes or b) recovering from riding the turkey-and-gravy train from the day before.

I’ll admit I wasn’t even hungry when I sat down to eat the sandwich, but when my first was polished off, it was good enough for me to consider having my second right then and there. I settled for taking it home and reheating for dinner, which worked better than one would expect.

Gauging by the enthusiasm of the rest of the dining room as well as the friendly Arby’s managers roving around asking for input, there seems to be a good shot of the venison sandwich catching on as a much wider release. It’s superb meatcraft, and I already can’t wait for the commercials with that deep gravelly booming voice.

Here’s to hoping that in 2017 the venison will be coming to an Arby’s near you.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available.)

Purchased Price: $5 (test market price)
Size: N/A
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Expertly made venison. Awesome sauce. Being lucky enough to eat not one but two of these before any of you even had a chance.
Cons: A bit too bready at points. Reliving the death of Bambi’s mom.

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: 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.