REVIEW: Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s Hand-Breaded Chicken and Waffle Sandwich

Carl s Jr Hand Breaded Chicken and Waffle Sandwich Full

The origin of fried chicken and waffles has been hotly contested as the dish has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade. I’m inclined to believe the Well’s Supper Club story, a restaurant started in 1930s Harlem that hosted hungry jazz musicians after their late night sets. Having leftover fried chicken from the night before and waffle batter ready for the impending breakfast service, the cooks would throw together the now iconic dish out of necessity. It quickly became popular around the clock.

Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. has now introduced a sandwich version, placing their hand breaded chicken breast between a Belgian waffle and adding a drizzle of maple butter sauce. The inviting maple syrup smell wafts out of the fast food bag, while the less inviting $5.99 price tag for a breakfast sandwich sets the expectations high.

Carl s Jr Hand Breaded Chicken and Waffle Sandwich Top

The hand breaded chicken breast has a light crispy coating that is fried to perfection. While it could benefit from a stronger punch of spices in the breading, they are well balanced with one another. The brined chicken is extremely juicy and flavorful with the one drawback of being just on the verge of too salty.

Carl s Jr Hand Breaded Chicken and Waffle Sandwich Split

The waffle walks the line admirably of being durable enough to not make a mess yet still tender enough to be pleasant to eat. It is slightly dense for a Belgian waffle but has the right subtle hint of sweetness. The main issue is that it is a small waffle that was then split in half to make the sandwich as opposed to utilizing two small waffles together. This leaves the waffle bun very thin and easily overpowered in flavor and texture by the chicken.

The maple butter sauce glazes the top of the chicken perfectly but predictably seems to be butter-flavored pancake syrup or maple-flavored corn syrup. It adds a necessary sweetness and maple flavor that ties the sandwich together. Not using real whipped maple butter seems like a missed opportunity that would have easily elevated the offering. Regardless, there was just the right amount of sauce without turning the waffle soggy and making the whole sandwich a sticky mess.

In my opinion, a plate of chicken and waffles is not complete without hot sauce, so I requested some at the drive-thru window. But despite assurances, I drove off with none in my bag. After evaluating the sandwich on its own merits, I used a cayenne hot sauce I had at home to see how it would fair with the addition. The heat and vinegar paired perfectly with the chicken and waffle sandwich, making me instantly regret already giving the second sandwich to my wife.

Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. has made the Chicken and Waffle sandwich available all day. It makes a good pairing with your morning coffee or a late night snack to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings. Just be sure to bring a coupon and have your own hot sauce ready.

Purchased Price: 2 for $6 with coupon (regularly $5.99)
Purchased at: Carl’s Jr.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 560 calories (other nutritional numbers weren’t available at time of publication)

REVIEW: Cheez-It Loaded Popcorn

Cheez It Loaded Popcorn Bags

What is Cheez-It Loaded Popcorn?

The well-known cheese cracker brand, turning 100 years old in 2021, branches out to test its flavors on popcorn. While Cheez-It uses the term “Loaded” in bold print, the popcorn comes in the two very straightforward flavors of cheddar and white cheddar.

How is it?

Cheez It Loaded Popcorn Cheddar

When first trying the cheddar popcorn, the initial salty notes were quickly followed by an unexpected hit of sweetness. I had to double-check the bag to see if Cheez-It was attempting “Chicago-style,” where they mix caramel and cheese popcorn together. Nope. It’s just a surprisingly odd flavor to cheddar popcorn. It took some effort to get past the unusual taste to even recognize the subtle cheese flavor in the Cheez-It Loaded Cheddar Popcorn. Even after eating, an unpleasant mixture of flavors lingers in the mouth.

Cheez It Loaded Popcorn White Cheddar

The flavor of the white cheddar popcorn is far more recognizable and satisfying. The Cheez-It Loaded White Cheddar Popcorn instantly delivers on salty and sharp, almost Parmesan, notes of aged white cheddar. The sweetness, while still present, is more forgivable when it is properly counterbalanced by the more tangy cheese flavor as well as hints of onion and garlic. Overall the popcorn delivers a decent flavor that might not be a new go-to snack but will have you reaching for a second handful.

Anything else you need to know?

Cheez-It opted for all mushroom-shaped kernels, the more uniform globe shape, as opposed to butterfly-shaped. This means the Cheez-It Loaded Popcorn is slightly less tender but is said to have far less tiny pieces accumulating at the bottom of the bag. My bag of white cheddar still had a generous amount of broken pieces on the bottom. I never came close to the bottom of the cheddar flavor.

Conclusion:

As a child, I was always thrilled when my family would be gifted a large popcorn tin for the holidays with a cardboard insert that would separate the plain buttered, caramel, and cheese popcorn. Reminiscent of Homer Simpson eating all the chocolate out of numerous cartons of Neapolitan ice cream, my brother and I would devour the cheese section to the bottom of the tin while the others remained largely untouched.

If you share my love for cheesy popcorn, you could do worse than Cheez-It Loaded White Cheddar Popcorn. In fact, worse will be displayed right next to it in cheddar flavor.

Purchased Price: $3.99 each
Size: 6 oz bags
Purchased at: Lucky Supermarket
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Cheddar), 6 out of 10 (White Cheddar)
Nutrition Facts: (2 cups/31 grams) Cheddar – 170 Calories, 12 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, less than 5 milligrams cholesterol, 300 milligrams sodium, 14 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 1 gram total sugars, 3 grams protein. White Cheddar – 170 Calories, 12 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, less than 5 milligrams cholesterol, 270 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams total sugars, 3 grams protein.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Spicy Jalapeno Popper Sandwich

Wendy s Spicy Jalapeno Popper Sandwich Full

It doesn’t get much better than a jalapeno popper with fried breading giving way to the heat of jalapeno and the perfect balance of cream cheese. While I’m a fan of the classic cream cheese version served with a side of ranch dressing, I also appreciate popular variations that add in cheddar cheese and bacon.

So when Wendy’s unveiled its new Jalapeno Popper Sandwich, it instantly had my attention. In addition to the choice of either grilled, classic, or spicy chicken breast, the sandwich is loaded with jalapeno cream cheese, shredded pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slices, applewood smoked bacon, and cheddar cheese sauce.

To my surprise, no actual jalapeno poppers were harmed in the making of this sandwich. While the flavors are all present, if your tongue, hand, face, and shirt are not all at risk of getting burned by spraying jalapeno juice or cream cheese napalm with each bite, does it really deserve the name “jalapeno popper”?

Wendy s Spicy Jalapeno Popper Sandwich Top

I was somewhat in disbelief when I opened my sandwich to find only three jalapeno slices, especially since Wendy’s has specifically mentioned that the sandwich comes with six jalapeno slices. Wendy’s also promised I would be exclaiming, “Oh, jal, yes!” from the first bite, but my first bite did not even contain jalapeno, so I was luckily able to remain composed and exclamation free. Its jalapeno slices are crunchier and spicier than most fast food places, so when I did reach them in the sandwich, they brought a strong burst of flavor and heat.

The cream cheese spread on the top bun contains a few small jalapeno pieces and gives a slightly sweet, slightly tangy flavor that dominates the sandwich. Wendy’s would be better served by adding more of the cream cheese spread in place of the shredded pepper jack cheese and cheddar cheese sauce which are dominated and forgotten by stronger flavors.

Wendy s Spicy Jalapeno Popper Sandwich Split

The three bacon slices were thick and crunchy while adding a slight smokiness that works beautifully with the jalapeno and cream cheese. The spicy chicken was juicy with the spices in the breading occasionally coming through in an already flavor packed sandwich.

The overall heat of the sandwich built up to a noticeable but not noteworthy amount by the end. Shredded pepper jack and cheddar cheese work only to muddle the flavors, the amount of jalapeno slices needs to live up to its promise, and the size of the sandwich seems small for the price. But the jalapeno cream cheese spread is a winner that enhanced many of the other components of the sandwich and will keep you craving that next bite.

Purchased Price: $6.49 (small combo is $8.99)
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 600 calories, 26 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 1660 milligrams of sodium, 54 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, 37 grams of protein.

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REVIEW: McDonald’s Blueberry Muffin, Apple Fritter, and Cinnamon Roll

McDonald s Blueberry Muffin Innards

The McCafe brand has been an undeniable success for McDonald’s all around the globe. Its expanded coffee offerings have allowed the company to keep up with Starbucks with the added benefit of establishing a retail brand visible in the coffee aisle of grocery stores.

You can pull up to the drive-thru speaker and order a large, iced, non-fat Caramel Macchiato with an extra shot of espresso, hazelnut syrup, a chocolate drizzle, and whipped cream while also getting a McNuggets Happy Meal with a Buzz Lightyear toy for your kid. But if you ever craved a treat to accompany your obnoxiously complex McCafe drink, you were usually left with the choice of a handheld apple pie or a rather uninspiring chocolate chip cookie.

McDonald’s has wisely decided to expand its once meager baked goods selection by introducing the McCafe Blueberry Muffin, Apple Fritter, and Cinnamon Roll.

The Blueberry Muffin comes surrounded by a lovely tulip-style muffin wrapper to help distract from the fact that it was handed to me in the same bag as a packet of tangy bbq sauce. The muffin is adorned with a streusel crumb topping and a sprinkling of crystallized sugar that adds a really nice, subtle crunch when consuming.

McDonald s Blueberry Muffin

It is very tender and moist with somewhat sparse but delicious blueberries mixed throughout. There is a slight aftertaste of either a preservative or artificial flavor that I find common in boxed blueberry muffin mixes. While I would have to say that it is borderline too sweet for a blueberry muffin, I think the texture and overall flavor make it a nice addition to McDonald’s menu.

McDonald s Apple Fritter

Apple Fritters are never much to look, and the McCafe offering is no exception. It’s a brown, bumpy mound with a glazed outside that gives way to a dense center with abundant swirls of cinnamon. When biting in, you instantly get the warm cinnamon filling your mouth, followed closely by the tart apple flavor.

McDonald s Apple Fritter Innards

The light icing adds just the right amount of sweetness, and the dense but tender texture is perfect for a fritter. As one of my favorite treats, I love an apple fritter to have a crispy edge, which this did not. It could also benefit from more abundant apple pieces. But this is the treat I’ll be craving next time I pull into the drive-thru.

McDonald s Cinnamon Roll

The Cinnamon Roll looks the part, served warm with deep valleys of sugar and cinnamon in between the swirled dough and enough cream cheese icing to run down the sides but not flooding the entire roll with an overwhelming sweetness. From the moment I first tried to cut off a piece, I could tell that the outside had gotten tough, no doubt from being reheated.

McDonald s Cinnamon Roll Innards

Perhaps it once had that ideal slightly doughy, gooey center, but lost it in the microwave, sacrificed for the sake of quick service. It is a real shame that the texture is too tough because the cinnamon flavor and the cream cheese frosting are spot on, with the overall level of sweetness being just right. As a big fan of McDonald’s Cinnamon Melts, I can’t help but wish the company just revived it instead because it is a far superior product.

Purchased Price: $1.99 (Blueberry Muffin), $2.19 (Apple Fritter), $2.49 (Cinnamon Roll)
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Blueberry Muffin), 9 out of 10 (Apple Fritter), 5 out of 10 (Cinnamon Roll)
Nutrition Facts: Blueberry Muffin – 470 calories, 22 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 360 milligrams of sodium, 64 grams of carbohydrates, 36 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein. Apple Fritter – 510 calories, 29 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 360 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein. Cinnamon Roll – 560 calories, 17 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 490 milligrams of sodium, 92 grams of carbohydrates, 46 grams of sugar, 8 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein.

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REVIEW: Jack in the Box Unchicken Sandwich

Jack in the Box Unchicken Sandwich Sign

Which came first, the chicken or the pea protein isolate?

Domesticated chickens date back to 2000 BC, but peas were present a few thousand years before that. When considering whether those peas were dried, milled, wet filtered, and put in a centrifuge to extract the protein… I’m going to just give the chicken a win. And Jack in the Box is giving the chicken a win too, sparing them from its new offering, the Unchicken Sandwich.

Jack in the Box is currently testing the Unchicken Sandwich only in restaurants near Reno, NV and Monterey, CA, making them just the second major fast food chain in the US to test plant-based chicken. This follows KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken tests in 2019 and earlier this year. Jack in the Box has partnered with Raised & Rooted, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, to bring its Unchicken Sandwich to the meatless crazed masses.

Raised & Rooted advertises its chicken alternative as a blend of pea protein isolate, bamboo fibers, egg white, and golden flaxseed. The breading is Jack’s recipe, available in original and spicy. I opted for the latter.

Jack in the Box Unchicken Sandwich Lettuce

Aside from having a plant-based patty, the sandwich offers the standard accompaniments of a toasted split top bun, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. My sandwich came with what can only be described as an aggressive amount of lettuce. While Jack in the Box is usually generous with lettuce, it seems it may have gone overboard to compensate for the very thin Unchicken patty.

Jack in the Box Unchicken Sandwich Spicy Coating

Upon my first bite, I was immediately hit with an intense amount of spice. As someone who is often disappointed by the lack of spice in fast food offerings, the strong cayenne and paprika flavor from the crisp breading offered a welcomed punch. The plentiful amount of lettuce, along with the tomatoes, worked well to help cool down the heat.

Jack in the Box Unchicken Sandwich Split

If I was not cued to the fact that it was a plant-based sandwich, I don’t think I would question that it was anything but a thin, processed chicken patty sandwich. The grain-like aftertaste you get when tasting the patty alone is masked quite well by the spices in the breading. On close inspection, the Unchicken is denser than most chicken patties. But when eating the sandwich together, it is remarkably similar to the texture of chicken.

Having tried plant-based burgers and chicken nuggets in the past, Jack in the Box’s Spicy Unchicken Sandwich takes the top spot as the most convincing imitation. Keeping the patty thin and having a crisp, spicy breading really hides any shortcomings that come from utilizing a chicken alternative. If you’re inclined to eat a more plant-based diet, this is definitely one to try.

Purchased Price: $5.49 (sandwich only)
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Not available.