REVIEW: Starbucks Fruitcake Frappuccino

Starbucks Fruitcake Frappuccino

Starbucks putting out a Fruitcake Frappuccino is strange because the holiday baked good is not universally beloved.

To me, the fruitcake is not a horrible dessert. But it’s not something I jump at when I’m being bombarded every holiday season by more appealing treats. There’s red velvet cakes, chocolate cupcakes, sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and the list goes deliciously on and on. It’s like that email you’re not excited to reply to that gets pushed down your inbox. And by the time you get to it, its too late to do anything, so it ends up in the trash.

While there’s a good chance fruitcakes gifted to me will end up in the rubbish, I can’t say the same about Starbucks’ Fruitcake Frappuccino. It’s better tasting than any fruitcake I’ve ever had, but it’s also damn annoying to drink.

The blended beverage features a Hazelnut Frappuccino base with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and ice. Then it’s topped with whipped cream, caramel dots, and a matcha sprinkle.

Starbucks Fruitcake Frappuccino 3

The dried fruits are cranberries, golden raisins, zante currant raisins, and cherries. The fruit bits made the beverage look festive, but their flavors were hard to distinguish individually when drinking it. 

Starbucks Fruitcake Frappuccino 2

The cinnamon, caramel, and hazelnut base gave the beverage a brown sugar, pastry-like flavor. That, combined with the dried fruits, helped the beverage fit the fruitcake flavor profile. To be honest, it was a bit weird to be chewing on a beverage, but at the same time it was an appropriate texture. The matcha powder seemed odd, but I thought it added a sweet nuttiness, helping it come close to matcha-ing (I’m sorry) the flavor of fruitcake.

While the chewy dried fruits helped me imagine the taste and texture of fruitcake, they also made the coffee-less Frappuccino difficult to consume. On several occasions the dried fruit pieces that weren’t blended well ended up clogging the straw. So if your local Starbucks happens to be near a bubble tea shop, I recommend swiping one of those wider straws made to suck up tapioca balls.

As someone who’s somewhat indifferent about fruitcake, I’m a bit surprised I enjoyed Starbucks’ Fruitcake Frappuccino. If your feelings for the holiday dessert/paperweigh are the same as mine or lean towards the positive side, you might also enjoy it. But do it quick because, unfortunately, it’s available only for a few days.

(Nutrition Facts – grande with whole milk and whipped cream – 430 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 66 grams of sugar, 6 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.45
Size: Grande
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It does remind me of a fruitcake. Better tasting than any fruitcake I’ve ever had. Cinnamon, caramel, and hazelnut base gave the beverage a brown sugar, pastry-like flavor. The dried fruit gives it some fiber.
Cons: Annoying to drink through a straw because of the dried fruit clogging it. A little weird to be chewing on a beverage. Available for a very limited time.

REVIEW: Jack in the Box Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Jack in the Box Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Jack in the Box’s Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken…

No, wait. That’s not accurate to me.

Jack in the Box’s Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken Sandwich doesn’t deserve to have “Ranch” in its name, because, as I ate through all 672 calories, I tasted very little of it.

The limited time only menu item comes with a spicy “ranch” sauce, a spicy pepper jack cheese, and a spicy, crispy chicken fillet. It’s also topped with lettuce, tomato, and bacon on a buttery bakery bun. It’s surprising I didn’t taste much of the ranch sauce because a layer was spread on the top AND bottom buns. And to make sure it was the right sauce, I licked both buns.

But the spicy ranch sauce, along with the pepper jack, did help give the sandwich a mild heat that built up the more I ate. After trying the ingredients individually, it turns out the sauce and cheese are spicier than the chicken fillet.

But without the ranch flavor, the sandwich is a glorified Jack’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Actually, I take that back. Even without the tangy ranch, it’s still a good sandwich and slightly better than the Spicy Chicken Sandwich because of the bacon and it’s spicier.

Jack in the Box Pepper Jack Ranch Spicy Chicken Sandwich 2

The chewy, but not crispy bacon added a nice smoky element and, apparently, I’ve pleased the Bacon Gods because every bite had a little bit of pork. While the bacon wasn’t crispy (but is it ever at fast food places?) the chicken’s breading along the edges had a satisfying crunch. The chicken fillet itself was easy to bite through despite being a little dry and I got three tomato slices (BONUS!!!).

But an extra tomato slice doesn’t make up for the lack of ranch flavor. But it has pepper jack, it is spicy, has chicken, and is a sandwich, so I guess it fulfills the rest of its name.

(Nutrition Facts – 672 calories, 349 calories from fat, 39 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 1392 milligrams of sodium, 49 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 34 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price:
Size: N/A
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Spicier than a Jack’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Bacon adds a nice smoky element. Chicken fillet has crispy edges. Bonus tomato!
Cons: Ranch flavor is lacking. Lettuce never looks like what’s in the promo photos. Doesn’t deserve the “ranch” in its name. Might not have enough spiciness for head heads.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Pan Pizza

Papa John's Pan Pizza 2

Let’s have some real talk about my relationship with Papa John’s.

I’ve been walking the Papa John’s beat for TIB for some years now. New menu item, new toppings – if it’s got that new car, er, pizza smell, I’m on it.

But this doesn’t mean I have some sort of love affair with Papa John’s. You know what I do have a love affair with? Laziness. If every item I wanted to review could be delivered to my door in 40 minutes, I would be very rich in Oreos and very, very poor in dollars.

But there’s no “weird Oreo flavor of the month” delivery service (yet), so instead I find myself reviewing a lot of weird pizza. And that seems to mean reviewing a lot of Papa John’s.

This time around, Papa John’s isn’t doing anything weird. In fact, they’re coming out with something that’s a bit of a classic: the pan pizza.

Papa John's Pan Pizza

Look at that fancy pants box. Or should I say, fancy PANS box. Anyways, Papa John stands smugly in the upper-right corner of the box, compelling you to marvel at his black-and-gold special pizza box that tries to look for all the world like a package of Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Seducing. Beckoning. Pizza.

I always thought that pan pizza was the same thing as deep dish pizza, because I had no culture. I’ve since learned myself, but I actually had to look up what pan pizza really is. What it boils down to is that, instead of being hand-tossed, the pizza is baked in an oiled pan with the dough just sort of shoved up against the edges, resulting in a thicker crust with crispy edges.

Or, as Papa John puts it, “Why do we bake it in a pan? Because it bakes our fresh dough into a thick, hearty crust that’s light and fluffy with crispy edges and cheesy caramelized goodness.”

Since it’s all about the crust here, I’m going to ignore the toppings. (For the record, I chose the Pan John’s Favorite.)

I’mma be real with you – Papa John’s hand-tossed crust is not my favorite. It always seems a little undercooked to me. That said, their pan crust is a study in contradictions.

Papa John's Pan Pizza 4

On the one hand, the outer crust was definitely crispy and somewhat buttery – I enjoyed those aspects of it much more than a regular Papa John’s crust. Also, the cheese goes all the way to the edge, so I didn’t feel like I was left with a half-cooked breadstick at the end of my slice of pizza. The crust under the toppings was chewy without being soggy – also good.

But then there was the flavor. Papa John’s says that the dough is made fresh and with only seven ingredients: flour, extra virgin olive oil, cold-filtered water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil. Yet, there was an odd, artificial flavor that I couldn’t quite pin down. Given that none of the ingredients are actually artificial, the best I could come up with was the flavor of spoiled oil. If this was the case, then maybe I just got a bad pie?

Papa John's Pan Pizza 3

Papa John’s came so close to giving me a crust I really enjoyed with their Pan Pizza – crispy, crunchy, buttery edges that didn’t even need the included dipping sauce that I usually require in order to ingest the crust of their pizza. But then they went and gave it some weird undertone of flavor that made me feel like I was eating something that wasn’t quite right. So close, Papa, so close.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 870 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: 12” pizza
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not left with a doughy breadstick crust. Fancy, seductive box. Crispy edges. Toppings to all the way to the edge.
Cons: All food should be available for delivery at all times. The artificial/spoiled flavor taints the whole pizza. Only available in one (pretty small) size.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

By now, we all know Wendy’s can do bacon right. But how well can they implement sriracha sauce in their tried-and-true menu favorites?

Unfortunately, Wendy’s latest special edition side dish kinda’ falls in that unhappy middle ground between slightly above average and good-but-not-really-remarkable. And in today’s hyper-competitive fast food French fry variation wars, the only thing worse than being bad is being just sorta’ OK.

The fries come doused in a thick goulash of melted cheddar cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, chopped up Applewood-smoked bacon, and a sprinkling of sweet chili sauce-imbued aioli. From the get-go, the biggest problem is that the dish just doesn’t taste sriracha-y enough. The flavor is there, but it’s way too muted. In fact, it’s so faint that at first, you don’t even realize sriracha sauce is in the mix. It just tastes like some random (and fairly generic) hot sauce.

Problem two are the fries themselves. They’re just too thin and way too salty, and strangely, they don’t do a very good job of absorbing the sriracha cheese and bacon juice flavors, either.

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries 2

But there are some positives. The cheddar cheese sauce is very thick and flavorful, and if you stir the mixture around enough you do start to pick up a more noticeable sriracha taste. The absolute best aspect of the dish, however, is the bacon. Wendy’s is rightly considered the go-to fast food place for bacon junkies, and the pieces in this new L-T-O offering are huge, plump, juicy, and super-duper crispy.

Essentially, what you are getting is the chain’s standard Baconator Fries with a meager, almost unnoticeable splash of sriracha. It’s all quite flavorful and fairly filling, but the aioli is just too weak to go out of your way to experience.

And one final word of warning: this stuff is so greasy you’re probably going to need twice as many napkins as your local Wendy’s has in stock. Take heed, potential consumers: Wet-Naps are strongly encouraged for this one.

(Nutrition Facts – 600 calories, 350 calories from fat, 39 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1110 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: An absolute ton of bacon. A very savory cheddar cheese sauce. Eating fries out of plasticware that looks like something out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.
Cons: The sriracha flavor is almost undetectable. A bit too much salt on the fries. Getting half a pound of grease on your palms just opening the container.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Taco Salad

Wendy's Taco Salad

I am firmly a child of the 90’s. If you don’t believe me, take a walk around my childhood home, where you’ll see way too many Lifetouch grade school portraits of me with hair moussed up to the heavens (thanks Mom).

Don’t get me wrong, though – the 90’s were a blast. I fondly remember spending weekends developing recipes with my younger sister’s Fisher Price plastic kitchen to feed to my collection of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers action figures (the Megazord was a picky eater).

And now, it seems like the 90’s nostalgia has caught on with everyone else, because there’s been no shortage of remakes over the past couple of years. From Fuller House to French Toast Crunch, everyone wants a piece of the action, no matter how horrible the reboot may be.

Take Wendy’s Taco Salad, for example. America’s second-favorite redhead (after Ronald, of course), has apparently caved into the demands of their “loyal taco salad fans” (their words, not mine), and brought back this classic dish for millennial mouths to try.

Now, before I get any angry letters from fast food historians, yes, Wendy’s did originally release the Taco Salad in the 80’s, but since they’re solely marketing this from a 90’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to lace up my L.A. Lights to head on over and sample it for myself.

Like any other fast food salad, Wendy’s Taco Salad is built on a bed of iceberg and romaine lettuce. The bed in this example is clearly a California King, because this salad is overwhelmed with lettuce. It’s as if Wendy’s forgot that there were supposed to be other toppings on this salad and went crazy with the bags of salad mix.

Wendy's Taco Salad 2

On top of the lettuce extravaganza, Wendy’s has placed a smattering of diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. I must have visited on the cook’s first day, because the pieces of tomato I received were all from the edges, and lacked any juice or flavor. Similarly disappointing, the cheese was heavily processed, and had a firm mouthfeel.

Along with the aforementioned mattress o’ lettuce, Wendy’s provides a selection of toppings to accompany the salad. These toppings – chili, tortilla chips, “signature salsa,” and light sour cream – come on the side, a sort of “taco kit” to allow you to garnish your salad as you please.

In true TIB fashion, I went all in on the toppings. While I appreciate the customization opportunity, the minuscule bowl Wendy’s provided made it difficult to mix everything together. The tortilla chips were humorously oversized for the salad, and lacked a distinctive salty kick. Their partner in crime, Wendy’s “signature salsa,” was equally as upsetting, as its sour notes overwhelmed any discernible tomato flavor.

Wendy's Taco Salad 3

The standout here was the chili – while suspect in origin, its strong tomato and cumin flavor brought some much needed zest to the salad. In fact, the chili really brings the only semblance of flavor to the salad, as it’s not served with any dressing. If you don’t conserve your chili wisely, the salad turns into a real slog to eat.

While I appreciate their play for nostalgia, Wendy’s Taco Salad should go the way of Hammer Pants. You shouldn’t touch this.

(Nutrition Facts – 660 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1820 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 32 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: Full-size salad
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Having an excuse to break out my Pogs. Flavorful chili. Jamming out to fast food training videos.
Cons: Reminding my mom that mousse exists. Ridiculous amounts of roughage. Sour salsa.