REVIEW: Totino’s Supreme Stuffed Nachos (2016)

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme

If ramen noodles are the Usain Bolt of cheap eats for students, drunkards and poor folks the world over, then Totino’s is surely…whoever happens to be the second fastest guy in the world.

Okay, now some of what I’m going to say will sound made up, but unless Wikipedia is riddled with errors (which has never happened), this is the God’s honest: Totino’s was founded in Minneapolis in 1951 (!) by Rose and Jim Totino (!!) as a take-out pizza joint (!!!). They eventually expanded to a full-service restaurant (!!!!) that finally shuttered its doors in 2011 (!@#$%!!).

I know, right?

Anyway, in 1993, Pillsbury-owned Jeno’s pizza rolls (first created by Jeno Paulucci in 1968 as “an egg roll filled with pizza ingredients”), were rebranded as Totino’s, and the rest is history.

If you are alive, and human, you have had a Totino’s Party Pizza (the idea of throwing a party involving Totino’s never ceases to make me laugh). You have also had Totino’s Pizza Rolls.

The “pizza” is by no means a real pizza; now, that’s not to say it’s bad. It is a small, crispy disk of bread-like material covered with an amalgamation of hydrogenated oil-based cheese substitutes, flavorless ketchup, and salt-bits masquerading as various types of meat toppings. It regularly retails for $1.39 in my area, and can often be found as a 10/$10 deal.

It has its place as a late-night regret.

It is also a wildly successful brand, producing 240 MILLION discs per year.

So it is no wonder that they would also try to corner the market on another beloved American institution, the frozen, pocket-based delicacy. Not that this is their first attempt. The ORIGINAL Stuffed Nacho from Totino’s was introduced in 1996 and then discontinued, leaving a trail of heartbroken and hungry snack aficionados in the wake.

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 2

The Totino’s Stuffed Nacho is a triangle pizza roll filled with nacho-inspired ingredients. For the sake of this review, I went with the “supreme” variation. The box promised me “taco seasoned chicken and beef pizza topping, red bell peppers, jalapeños and cheddar cheese rolls in a crispy crust.”

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 4

The first thing you should know is that you can’t taste ANY of it. There was no heat from the jalapeño, no sweet tang from a red bell pepper, no possible way a chicken ever saw the killing room floor. There may have been cheese, but only in the way that we know God loves us.

The shell was different from a standard pizza roll in that it was corn-tasting. Not in an ACTUAL corn tortilla respect — and not even in a corn chip way — but in the way that Nestle manages to conjure a vague corn-ambiance from its Beef Taco Hot Pockets effort.

The beef too was not unlike the aforementioned BTHP. It was a chewy approximation of meat, but if you received something like it anywhere other than here (Taco Bell included), you’d curse out the proprietor and demand a refund. It has that signature taco taste, though, achieved through “spice” (a real ingredient on the label), as well as onion and garlic powders.

Totino's Stuffed Nachos Supreme 3

Anyway, does this taste like an elf in the Totino’s factory magically impregnated a pizza roll with a plate of delicious nachos? Not a chance.

Would I buy them again, however? Eh, maybe. They seriously weren’t awful — in the same way that pizza rolls and Totino’s pizza discs aren’t awful. But at $4.59 (!) for a 34 count box (NOBODY NEEDS THAT MANY OF THESE THINGS!!), it’s prohibitively expensive. You know, for the target demographic: students, vagabonds, and drunks.

(Nutrition Facts – 6 rolls – 220 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 420 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.59
Size: 17.4 oz box
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Vague taco qualities. You don’t have to think much about it. Nice face-stuffing quotient
Cons: Pretty one-note. Idea of “nacho pocket” isn’t a bad one, but execution on this offering lacks. Per Wikipedia, Consumer Reports rated Totino’s as “only fair for nutrition.” Because, duh.

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: Ben & Jerry’s EmpowerMint Ice Cream

Ben & Jerrry's Empower Mint

What’s that old adage about pizza and sex? I think it’s something like, “Hey, both of these things are good, even when the quality is less than ideal.” Well, ice cream is sort of the same way. I mean, when was the last time you took a large spoonful of ice cream and immediately spit it out in disgust? Never, that’s when.

But that’s not to say that all ice cream is necessarily created equal, either.

Eschewing brick and mortar operations where your cone is packed by a surly teen, and the potentially terrifying experience that comes with purchasing something from a rusty truck piloted by an angry man of some vague, eastern European origin, one is left with the dizzying array of options from the local supermarket.

As a generally indecisive person, the ice cream aisle cripples me. So I just always go with what I know: Ben and Jerry’s. The two cordial hippies from Vermont really do make a fine ice cream. Really, it’s hard to find a bad entry in their catalogue. They’ve made an art-form — and a gajillion dollars —- out of something simple: quality ingredients melded together masterfully in interesting ways with complete disregard for the health of the partaker.

God bless them, I reckon, for giving the people what they want.

And EMPOWER mint (that’s how it’s spelled on the label, anyway) is no different. The packaging explains that it is “peppermint ice cream with fudge brownies and fudge swirls,” and brother, that packaging ain’t lying.

Ben & Jerrry's Empower Mint 2

Pulling the top off is like crashing your car into a candy cane factory and it only gets more insane from there. The base cream is exactly what you’d expect: an overPOWERing amount of mint (haha, get it?). And, as a fan of mint ice cream —- typically featuring chocolate chips, though -— I enjoyed this aspect. Your mileage may very.

Not too far beneath the surface, you’ll encounter something chewy and dense and absurdly chocolaty… this is the brownie. It sticks your teeth together and makes your heart hurt, and man, is that good brownie chunkage.

Interspersed between the mint and the brownie explosion are delectable teases of fudge ribbon. It tastes like hot fudge, only not hot and a little less pliable.

Ben & Jerrry's Empower Mint 3

Everything in this ice cream works together toward the greater good: giving the recipient a terrible stomachache after imbibing far too much. And maybe that’s the point? Freedom of choice? This ice cream carries some sort of political agenda, as many of B and J’s treats do. The label proclaims “Democracy is in your hands,” and that’s true enough, I guess.

If I had some sort of vote pertaining to his particular iteration, though, it might be: let’s add some kind of nut, dudes. Because, really, that’s my only complaint. Everything is smooth, creamy, and soft. Why not chuck in some chopped walnuts? The texture variation would provide a welcome break and, I mean, don’t all sane people like nuts on or in their brownies?

In the end, though, this is a minor quibble and EMPOWER mint is just fine on its own. Although it doesn’t seem like rocket science to combine mint ice cream and gigantic, pulsating hunks of brownie (oh, and the fudge swirls), I guess nobody had really done it before. Kudos, gents, enjoy your next million.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 270 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 75 milligrams of cholesterol, 80 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: 2 for $7
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Delightful. The Full Minty. Super Brownied. Cures what ails you.
Cons: Richer than the people who make it. Holy fat, calories, etc. Could use some sort of crunch, maybe.

REVIEW: Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef

Food trucks are all the rage these days. (Or, you know, they were like, a couple of years ago. Tell you what—go back in time a couple of years, read this review, and vigorously nod your head at my lede. Thanks.)

In fact, there’s a good chance you’re probably eating at a food truck this very instant. So am I. But while your Food Truck Experience likely involves artisanally crafted meatballs or, say, some sort of Cajun-Korean fusion sandwich, mine was a Hot Pocket.

You know, Hot Pockets.

Bastion of the down-trodden. Savior of the late night drunkard.

Like food trucks, Hot Pockets were once a cool, exciting happening; but that era went out with the Sega, Reebok Pumps and, SNL being water-cooler conversation. Where once stood a delightful, microwavable rectangle of deliciousness now sits a flaccid box of mediocre ingredients and un-melted cheeses.

Hot Pockets, how I miss thee.

But like your Milli Vanilli cassette and your Hyper-Color shirt, there is a time and place for the HP. A quick-fire lunch. A late night when you’re legally too drunk to make it to Taco Bell. A bizarre occurrence where you’re angry at your colon. These are all prime examples of when one SHOULD pull open the plastic, insert the meat-chunk into the crisping sleeve, and prepare to wreck your toilet.

If you’re doing that, though, be wise. The optimal Hot Pockets flavors rank as such: 1) 4 Meat & 4 Cheese Pizza 2) Beef Taco 3) BBQ Recipe Beef (lol at that name, by the way—“recipe.” What??) 4) Steak & Cheddar 5) Philly Steak 6) “Hickory” Ham & Cheese 7) Meatballs & Mozzarella 8) Any of the “Breakfast” Pockets.

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 1

This new Pocket—the one I had, apparently “inspired” by a food truck—would be like, 63rd on the list.

According to the box, it was engineered in conjunction with “Komodo Food Truck” which stands for “Dangerously Good Food” and “a gourmet experience like no other.”

Per my Google searching, “Komodo Food Truck” is “a real thing,” but good lord, I’m not sure how they’d ever be okay with such a lackluster representation of their brand. (Oh, well, money.)

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 2

This thing was garbage, plain and simple. Oh sure, it looked fine from the outside—normal-ass Pocket proceedings. Inside, however, lurked an adventurous mush that appeared to be some sort of miser’s answer to beef stew. There were carrots — lots of them — and a few disingenuous peas, and some brown paste. I saw a few errant specks of “angus beef” but that seriously could’ve been my imagination. Because I didn’t taste them.

Hot Pockets Food Truck Spicy Asian-Style Beef 3

Instead, I tasted sweet, crunchy carrots and a dull hint of heat (the box brags that there are jalapenos involved). Point being, this thing tasted like a warm mass of microwaved newspaper that your grandmother spit out her mostly-eaten piece of grape hard candy into. It was grotesquely sugary and there was but a singular beef to be found.

And really, is that what we want in a Hot Pocket?

Because I thought we demanded better.

But maybe that’s today’s thinking, really. This…entitlement. Maybe I’m viewing this through the lens of a modern man who knows that Milli Vanilli was a grand disappointment, that Pumps won’t make me a better basketball player, and that SNL maybe hasn’t been funny ever. (Or, for arguments sake, it’s funnier than ever and the era we fondly remember was actually mostly pretty bad, save a handful of sketches.)

Anyway, don’t buy this Hot Pocket if you see it loitering. Holy shit, it’s bad and you’ll regret it.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Pocket – 290 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 500 milligrams of sodium, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.00 (on sale)
Size: 2 sandwiches
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Um, nostalgia? Cheap. Sega Genesis.
Cons: Microwaved awfulness. 63rd best Hot Pocket. Grandma’s hard candy. Carrot City.

REVIEW: Sonic Ultimate Chicken Club Sandwich

Sonic Ultimate Chicken Club Sandwich

In olden times, Sonic was the bee’s knees.

Their cherry limeades were refreshing, you could assault your tater tots with a respectable kind of chili and a delightfully processed cheese-product, and their burgers were served both hot and fresh. (Oh, and the foot long chili-cheese coneys. Man, those things were boss.) The carhops skated their way to your door with a smile, the milkshakes were of out-of-sight, and former teen idol Frankie Avalon was all over their advertising spots imploring you to drive in and stuff your face with nostalgic abandon.

Then everything fell apart.

Frankie left to go do, I don’t know, Frankie Avalon things. The smiling carhops were replaced with an unwholesome blend of surly teens and recent parolees. The food quality —once an oasis of flavor in a sea of grey-meat, limp-French fried fast food inequity — fell off. And then, you know, those two dudes showed up blabbering inanely in their car.

But look, get ready because Sonic is changing the game, you guys. Enter The ULTIMATE CHICKEN CLUB. (All caps mine, and added for emphasis.) I mean, it’s got “ultimate” RIGHT there in the name, so you know it’s legit. In fact, why aren’t you eating one right now?

Well, I’ll tell you why you aren’t: because it’s a swing and a miss.

Now, it’s not a “swing and totally miss, spin in a cartoon circle and fall on your butt” kind of thing. Maybe it’s akin to a foul tip or perhaps a valiant effort on a devastating curveball.

If you’re familiar with the concept of a “club” sandwich, you know what’s going on here — it mostly means someone added bacon and tomatoes. Sometimes there are toothpicks and diagonal cutting involved, but generally not on fast-food chicken sandwiches.

Sonic Ultimate Chicken Club Sandwich 2

Anyway, in this case, it was cold black bacon and mealy garbage tomatoes. They rounded out this trip to Terror Town with some inoffensive, but useless, shredded lettuce, a thin, runny mayo (they claim is was black peppercorn mayo, but they’ve given me no reason to take them at their word), a sweaty slice of flavorless cheddar cheese, and a tempura-ish battered chicken breast filet that was as thick as a new package of loose-leaf notebook paper and just as delicious.

This sandwich was, in 13 words, a loose conglomeration of mediocre ingredients melded together in an orgy of disappointment. It tasted like a flavorless collection of toppings atop a bland chicken-block. Your uncle Gary does better at his Memorial Day cookouts, to be sure.

Really, the best thing this sandwich had going for it was the soft, fresh brioche bun, because it’s like that old adage goes, “everything’s better on brioche.”

Sonic Ultimate Chicken Club Sandwich 2

There wasn’t anything new or interesting here, but honestly, that’s fine and it wasn’t the problem. Not every limited time fast food offering needs to reinvent the wheel. Let’s leave the stuffing and cramming and nachofication of America to those zany R&D people at Taco Bell. But in the meantime, you can win a lot of points with a solid chicken club sandwich. If you’re gonna do it, though, do it well. And if the execution leaves so much to be desired, maybe think about canning the “Ultimate” tag.

(Nutrition Facts – 1000 calories, 580 calories from fat, 64 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 gram of trans fat, 100 milligrams of cholesterol, 2070 milligrams of sodium, 65 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 39 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.79 (sandwich only)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Sonic
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Respectable brioche. Frankie Avalon. Nostalgia. It’s fairly sizable.
Cons: As tasty as notebook paper. Burnt bacon. Sweat-cheese. 1,000 calories! The two annoying dudes blabbering in the car may have killed Frankie Avalon, we don’t know that they didn’t.