REVIEW: Burger King Frozen Surge

Burger King Frozen Surge

Aaaand…now the ‘90s are back. Yeah, the house became full again and a different gender already met world, and the clever girls switched sides.

But it’s only now, when Coca-Cola decided to excavate a forgotten, bootleg Mountain Dew by way of a second-place fast food try-hard that the nostalgia train is perhaps learning it’s running out of track. Surge is back, baby! But at Burger King only! And it’s not really a liquid anymore! And what is Surge again?

Surge was Coca-Cola’s answer to Mountain Dew and launched in the mid ‘90s, but dwindling sales pretty much had it out of stores before Facebook existed. (A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Not drinking Surge.) Successors include Vault — which had more caffeine — and Red Bull chased with green Gatorade left overnight in a hot car. It’s questionable whether the world was thirsting for a rebirth of Surge. But here we are.

Like an imposter, something is different, as much as Coke wants us to believe the vintage drink is being reinstated. It’s in a Slurpee, ICEE form, and it’s being featured exclusively at your local, grungy Burger King. Other things exclusive to Burger King include Chicken Fries and the thought “I wish I was at McDonald’s.”

Burger King Frozen Surge 2

Frozen Surge is serviceable. The Surge flavoring seems more muted than the original drink, which I remember having maybe a handful of times. The ice freezes up the taste buds all nice so practically the entire flavor profile is on the back end of the drink experience, which features an artificial lemon-lime tinge that definitely tastes “green.”

It’s slightly sweet and has a citrus bent that is somewhere between a lemon-steeped carafe of table water and a green Brach’s candy bean. The semi-carbonated, energy drink-soda hybrids have become plentiful in the past decade during Surge’s absence, and this drink feels like a frozen version of all of those put together. There is a light, fizzy tickling of the back of the throat that is more apparent as the frozen parts of the drink become less so. Overall the taste is a neutral proposition — it’s like a watered down Mountain Dew Slurpee.

The biggest problems are the sticky fingers, which made me feel like a dirty ass toddler, and the speed at which I had to consume it. It’s called “Surge,” like some sort of extreme boost, but since it’s so cold I had to drink it super slowly because every other sip would trigger brain freeze. The flavors had me wanting to pound it like a Swedish hacker at 3 a.m., not like a Swedish hacker at 3 p.m. (They’re asleep so they would drink slowly, right?).

The best consistency is probably ten to fifteen minutes after purchasing the drink, when it’s warming up so the flavors surface a bit more. Unfortunately, the drink very quickly begins to melt from the bottom up soon after and leaves a puddle of syrup below a glacier of frozen green stuff. This makes for a delicate balance unsuited to the brutality of stuffing a Western Whopper and onion rings into your maw.

It’s hard to imagine anyone going out of their way to grab this, especially since it’s only available at Burger Kings, but along with a meal it’s a decent accompaniment that delivers light citrus flavors and a little bit of an energy drink kick. I’d say it makes you feel like you’re traveling through time to the ‘90s, but only because it constantly hurt my brain, like reruns of Full House that feature the Beach Boys. Cut it out.

(Nutrition Facts – Medium – 100 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 5 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 24 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Burger King Frozen Surge
Purchased Price: $1.39
Size: Medium
Purchased at: Burger King
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Would go well with a meal. Not unpleasant.
Cons: Flavors are slight. Sipping it so slowly because it’s too cold for brain, and then melting too fast.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

“We’ve all heard of Thanksgiving leftovers, but Thanksgiving pre-ftovers?” No laughs. I exit the room. I come back in, trying to make a better entrance. “Guys, if Trader Joe’s keeps this up, we’re going to have to rename Thanksgiving Christmas.” I exit the room. I enter again. “You know what they call three strikes in a row in bowling? A turkey. You know what they call four strikes in a row? Obama’s labor policy. That one’s for you, Uncle Jeff!” No laughs. I exit the room, fill my pockets with rocks and march into the ocean.

At least I died after getting to try Trader Joe’s attempt at a Thanksgiving cornucopia shoved into a snack, the Turkey Stuffing and Seasoned Kettle Chips. What it made me realize is that Thanksgiving is about dull, comforting tastes that feature varying textures, and that a subtle flavor with a light description of the product can possibly induce taste hallucinations.

Opening the bag, a waft of powdered mashed potatoes enters the air. Upon first bite, it tastes a little like powdered mashed potatoes, and maybe a hint of sage. It kind of looks like it’s dusted with powdered mashed potatoes.

We’re going to take a timeout from this review for a reassessment: Of course it tastes like potatoes, you dope. It’s a potato chip. And 80 percent of all the stuffing you’ve eaten has been dried and pre-mixed from a plastic bag, which is like the cousin of the powdered mash potato.

Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips Closeup

Let’s read the packaging. “These thickly cut, kettle cooked chips are tossed in a seasoning that tastes like a traditional American Thanksgiving meal—first you taste the turkey, then comes the stuffing, and if you close your eyes, you’ll swear you can taste the creamy gravy, too.”

On a second taste a muted stuffing flavor appears. It’s good. Was it always there or was I eating the words on the back of the bag? Does it matter? Nibbling on one at a time, I even catch some dark meat turkey flavor, but only a whisper of umami. Eating the chips by the handful, the overriding flavor is stuffing seasoning before sodium overload makes it all taste like other non-Thanksgiving kettle chips. The aftertaste has a black pepper hum that resembles the outline of a gravy, that lends a tail of personality that elevates the final product.

The chip itself has a slight grit, which is not unpleasant but highlights the main difference between this and a real Thanksgiving dinner. There is no celery snap, no meat gristle, no butter gooey bread crumbs. A potato chip is a potato chip. A potato chip is not a Thanksgiving meal. Are all the flavors there? Sure. I caught them, whether they were real or not. And they serve as a pleasant nostalgia, priming the pump for all the other garbage food on the holiday table.

At best this chip has hints of just about all the main meal touchstones of a Thanksgiving dinner, which is pretty amazing. And even at its worst, it’s a decent kettle chip with sage flavoring. It would have been nice to have a little more kick in there at some point, like cranberries, maybe, or something acidic? But we must dance with the date we came with. And that date is racist Uncle Jeff and a crispy stuffing. Maybe slap them on the leftovers sandwich you’re eating in line for Best Buy at 4 a.m. Oh, that’s right, no Black Friday for me. I’m dead! What a blessing.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 7 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Stuffing flavors, turkey flavors, possibly present and enjoyable.
Cons: A tad dull. Could just be powdered mashed potatoes flavor.

REVIEW: Ruffles Limited Time Only All Dressed Potato Chips

Ruffles Limited Time Only All Dressed Potato Chips

Update: These chips are now a regular flavor in the U.S.

This is the Canadian citizenship test. It’s two questions.

Question 1: Who is the best rapper?

a. Jay-Z
b. Notorious B.I.G.
c. Eminem
d. Drake

Question 2: Please describe, in 500 words or less, the flavor of Ruffles All Dressed.

In short, they are delicious.

I’d heard about Canada’s Ruffles All Dressed years before I got to taste them, little rumblings here and there about how great they were. While I never made it over the border to give them a try, Frito-Lay has finally decided to bring them to the United States (or ‘Murica, if you are an unfunny person) for a limited time.

All Dressed is not just a Ruffles flavor. Other chips also feature this taste and their recipes may differ. But overall, All Dressed usually displays elements of barbecue, salt and vinegar, sour cream and onion, and ketchup. (“Ketchup” flavor is a whole other Canada thing entirely, which I have eaten and is unique but too ketchup-y.)

Ruffles Limited Time Only All Dressed Potato Chips 4

The Ruffles All Dressed bag from Canada features pictures of a halved onion, a white vinegar dispenser and maybe a tomato, but it might actually be a red bell pepper. The Ruffles All Dressed bag from America—stamped with a maple leaf—has a picture of an open bottle of barbecue sauce, some off-color vinegar in a carafe and a spilled jar of paprika. This marketing difference exists because Americans hate vegetables and love spilling condiments. It’s a bit vague what elements are exactly featured in this version of the chip.

Actually, it’s pretty apparent. It’s a bunch of chemicals. But I can say I love those chemicals so much.

The introduction is a tangy hit. It’s not as sharp as a cheese chip, more rounded like a blunt spear of ketchup. Then vinegar-flavored flecks dance on the tongue and send up acidic flares, which eventually dip into a smooth taste not unlike the Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream.

Ruffles Limited Time Only All Dressed Potato Chips 3

The flavors are nuanced with a light touch and many dimensions are present, which makes the chip extremely easy to eat. As my mouth adapted to each taste, new corners appeared and others disappeared. Some chips had the mouth cloud of a barbecue chip, others had the pleasantly harsh spank of a salt and vinegar. Handful after handful, a prevalent aftertaste emerges —- light ketchup, a sweet-savory tomato hug. The flavors interplay well and complement each other like no other potato chip I’ve had. All Dressed is optimized for consumption. I obliged.

The only downside of this chip is what all Ruffles suffer from: The mealy, warm mush that ends every mouthful. Also they aren’t as crispy as I have come to expect from a “good” potato chip. But it’s unclear whether this flavor would reign on a Kettle Brand or a Cape Cod. The oily, ridged, soft body of a Ruffle thrusts the flavors into center stage, unobstructed by mountain ranges of crunch. I ate half a bag in a day and then another half a bag during that same day. So a full bag. If these leave America, so will I. And if this happens during a draft, then All Dressed will still be the number one reason.

I hope this chip is the same as the one I had heard legend about and not some tweaked American version. Because if it is this same fabled mutant flavor, I can agree with my Canadian brothers and sisters and people who have visited and smuggled back cheap pharmaceuticals. I am casting my vote for Ruffles All Dressed for Prime Minister.

(The correct answer to question one is, strangely, “b.” Canada recognize.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Ruffles Limited Time Only All Dressed Potato Chips
Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 7.75 oz. bag
Purchased at: Ralphs
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Tasty flavors with lots of dimensions. Easy to eat so many.
Cons: That hot, mealy Ruffles mush that sits in your mouth after a few bites.

REVIEW: McWhopper

McWhopper 1

Burger King tried to get McDonald’s to combine their two flagship sandwiches into one hybrid behemoth named the “McWhopper.”

It was proposed to promote World Peace Day. BK built a plan and posted full-page ads in a couple newspapers, reaching out to McDonald’s in the name of “peace.” It even created a website.

McDonald’s said no.

There’s all this boring marketing analysis stuff: McDonald’s is recently down in sales blah blah, Burger King has something like half as many stores blah blah, fast food ads aren’t as effective blah blah blah. Whatever. The McWhopper is not going to happen, at least not officially. So the I decided to go ahead and make my own McWhopper to give it a try to see if I “love havin’ it your way, right away, ba da-da-da-dah.”

Since it takes two restaurant trips to construct the chimera, I mapped out the nearest two franchises to the lab, which were .4 miles away from each other. Burger King first, then McDonald’s. At 2:23 p.m. I had Whopper in hand along with a few extra packets of Heinz tomato ketchup. Five minutes later I arrived to the McDonald’s and at 2:33 p.m. the entire shebang was together. An extra trip back to the laboratory took a few more minutes and after all the construction was done, it was 2:55 p.m.

That’s 32 minutes from the start of the project to eating time. That’s not an ideal amount to wait before eating a fast food burger, sure, and it would be a bit cold. But if you think the McWhopper is a good idea, your time probably isn’t worth that much anyway. And this is considering that all of the ingredients were acquired during relatively off peak hours with little to no wait at the register with locations pretty close in proximity.

McWhopper 2

Big Mac Parts

McWhopper 3

Whopper Parts

Extraction is stunningly easy. The McWhopper calls for the top bun, one beef patty, the cheese, chopped lettuce, special sauce and middle bun from the Big Mac and the tomato, onion, ketchup, pickles, flame-grilled patty and bottom bun from the Whopper. It is a bit of a mess but other than some sauce and lettuce flung about, the ingredients are simple to separate. The things that aren’t featured on the McWhopper are the Whopper’s lettuce, which is a bit chunkier, and the Big Mac’s pickles and onions, which are dinkier. And in theory the Whopper’s mayonnaise, but that is difficult to get completely off the patty.

McWhopper 4

The sandwich is basically a Whopper wearing a Big Mac hat. This method is also necessary, at least in the home version, to avoid being top heavy because the Whopper is considerably wider. The McWhopper’s shape ends up looking like a Machu Picchu pyramid if the Incas worshipped obesity, or Grimace.

The taste is surprisingly decent for a lukewarm fast food offering. The most striking contrast is the sodium hum of the special sauce against the char-grill patty. The combination accentuates the sweetness of the Big Mac qualities and the earthiness of the Whopper, which completes a satisfying union. The fact that these qualities jump out really underlines what these companies want us to remember about these burgers. On the Big Mac even the meat plays second fiddle to the special sauce, with extra bread to dull out the taste. The Whopper has a facsimile of that coat-the-mouth backyard grill flavor and it ambushes the eater, while all the other ingredients aside from the ketchup work to restrain it.

I also got an extra order of Big Mac sauce—which came in a four piece Chicken McNugget container—and spread more on with a higher ratio of ketchup from Burger King, which gave it all a tart kick, and a wet slather that eventually spilled out the sides of the sandwich. Shout out to Carl’s Jr.

The pickles, in particular, added a crunch here and there. The tomatoes and onions and lettuce did not add much but did not detract. There is a ton of bread at play here, and with the added heft of vegetables and a larger second patty, it’s a substantial burger. The Whopper’s bread seems chewier than McDonald’s softer bun, but it is tough to differentiate when it’s taken in at once. The McWhopper suffers a little bit from being monotonous texture-wise, but this one is cobbled together from spare parts, so it’s understandable. Frankenstein could walk and talk like a human but he was still green and had bolts in his neck. Pobody’s nerfect.

McWhopper 5

The entire McWhopper affair hits some nice notes and really avoids being offensive in any way. The interplay amongst the ingredients works well and for people well versed in fast food burgers there is just about nothing unexpected. If you’ve had both the Whopper and the Big Mac before, you can probably imagine how this would taste, and you would be right. It’s almost disappointing how much of a train wreck the McWhopper isn’t.

In my hazy memories, BK’s Big Mac rip off Big King was bad and Mickey D’s Whopper wannabe Big N’ Tasty was okay. Whatever you think of the Big Mac, it seems harder to deliver a sandwich with a distinct (and maybe boring) taste than it is to make a sometimes-mediocre version of a backyard burger. McDonald’s seems to be in the power position here, which is probably why they nixed the idea. Still, it reminded me of this.

Another note is the price of each burger. At least in my neighborhood, the price of the Big Mac and Whopper are exactly the same at $4.19—which seems strange—like they are price fixing us, or both companies are really owned by the Koch brothers.

The McWhopper is surely not an original idea. Thousands of children have probably joked about it and dozens if not hundreds of stoners have carried out the experiment. The time and effort and combined price do not pay out in a way that makes this a regular dining option, although the work put into the construction of the homemade McWhopper gives a slight illusion of cooking, which fosters a feeling of accomplishment. It is an interesting undertaking that seems like it has unique roots in these two signature sandwiches. Who cares if KFC and Popeyes put out a fried chicken? Or Subway and Quiznos made a sub? I wouldn’t eat that. Even for world peace.

(Nutrition Facts – Big Mac Parts – 465.2 calories, 27 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 770 milligrams of sodium, 31.4 grams of carbohydrates, 6.62 grams of sugar, 2.3 grams of fiber, and 22.26 grams of protein. Whopper Parts – 338 calories, 20.5 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 595 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 8.5 grams of sugar, 17.5 grams of protein.)

Item: McWhopper
Purchased Price: $4.19 (Whopper) $4.19 (Big Mac)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Burger King and McDonald’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Tastes intermingle well. Feels like cooking.
Cons: Time spent making it will leave it lukewarm. Textural monotony. Expensive.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

If McDonald’s took its chicken sandwich menu and made it into one of those evolution progress pictures of the monkey slowly crawling out of the sludge and walking upright, the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich would be somewhere on the right side, while dollar menu stalwart McChicken would be somewhere on the left.

That’s not to trash the McChicken, of course. On some days I would rather be a half-fish, half-monkey thing wandering around just chillin’, eating snacks on an island. Maybe I’ll eat a coconut today. Maybe I’ll eat some sand. Can I digest sand? Oh, it’s time for bed? G’nite!

The Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich boasts a buttermilk crispy chicken filet, an artisan roll, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise. That’s only a handful of ingredients, which is good news, because I can’t count past five. (My developmental years were spent eating McDonald’s.) But the low number also means they are putting stock into each element. It mostly pays off.

The chicken patty itself has a particularly fine breading and a nice uniform texture throughout the meat. The breading is also a bit grittier, which gives each bite a little more crunch. At first taste, it comes off a bit over-salted, but as the entire sandwich is taken in, the flavor seems to even out. The protein is a step up in quality from the other chicken offerings, but it’s unclear what part buttermilk actually plays in the cooking process. Doused? Marinated? Friends with benefits? Admired from afar for many years?

McDonald's Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich 2

The artisan roll is the same one featured on all the other premium McDonald’s sandwiches. It’s soft, chewy, and a suitable springboard for this sandwich. The tomato is unspectacular but inoffensive and the lettuce has a decent snap that breaks up the monotony. In fact, the entire item is a textural success, with almost every bite featuring a spectrum of feelings, like a teenage romance.

If there is a complaint, it is of the mayonnaise. I will concede that on my particular sandwich the construction was uneven—the “mayonnaise dressing” was applied in a glob on one side and sparsely on the other. So your mileage may vary, but my bites that contained the mayo spread were pretty overpowering. They actually reminded me a lot of the taste of the McChicken, which is often doused in the stuff like it came out of a fire hose. That treatment seems especially egregious since this sandwich is around three bucks more than the McChicken.

The quality is there and so is the price. Is the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich three times better than a McChicken as the price would indicate? I’m not sure. While it has all the trappings of a higher quality sandwich, if I were scratching that chicken itch, I don’t know if I would regularly splurge. Now, if McDonald’s made a sandwich out of that half-fish, half-monkey thing, I would be all over it. But they’d probably only offer it in Norway or something.

(Nutrition Facts – 580 calories, 220 calories from fat, 24 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 65 grams of cholesterol, 900 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 29 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Great texture. Chicken is quality compared with previous chicken offerings. Artisan bun is soft.
Cons: Could be too salty for some. Globs of mayonnaise. Pricey.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

“Ganache” is such a French word. It’s so French that if you say it into a mirror three times, French Candyman appears. Instead of a hook hand he has half a baguette on his stump and he doesn’t murder you, he gives you cigarettes made of young cheese. Then you have to watch an entire Jerry Lewis movie and make small talk with his mistress while he looks for your bidet. And then you have to drive him to the airport to get back to France. It’s kind of a hassle, honestly.

The Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar tries to French gourmet up the grocery proceedings but also keeps it real down home by featuring USA’s favorite swine meats. It says what’s in it right there on the packaging: “A rich combination of dark chocolate ganache, pieces of uncured bacon, and a hint of smoked salt.”

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 4

The ganache is tucked inside the bar in tiny pockets, along with the pieces of pig. The particular bar I had was very fragile and almost immediately featured a diagonal crack that allowed the insides to leak out and made it look like it was bleeding chocolate blood.

Fun fact: In old black and white films, Dracula would use chocolate syrup in place of blood. Another fun fact: In the commercials, Count Chocula drinks human blood in place of milk in his cereal.

The bar boasts a 70 percent cacao rating thing, and, yes, it’s bitter. It has a smooth cacao flavor which crescendos into an acrid bite when the pools of ganache touch the tongue. There’s maybe a facsimile of smokiness—which actually comes off as a bit sour—but the tenor changes with a subtle touch of saltiness. It’s a complex hit that might even include the sixth taste, umami, or the seventh taste, your mommy.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar 2

The experience is a bit tough to describe because while it’s a combination of all these interesting things, I also found it not that pleasant. I imagine it is a little bit like what Coca-Cola tasted like when it was being sold as a cure-all tonic. There’s not much sweetness involved and it tastes a little bit like medicine.

Ironic, isn’t it, that this product has “uncured” bacon in it, because medicine “cures” diseases and this tastes like medicine and “uncured” is the opposite of “cured.” Haha. Good one, dude. Good one. … *cricket sounds for ten seconds* … “It’s like raaaaaaaain on your wedding day/ It’s the freeee riiiiiide….”

Where is the bacon? It’s in little torn up pieces in a sea of chocolate ganache, represented by the hints of salt. Catching them in my mouth here and there, texture-wise they sort of felt like balled up pieces of wet tissue paper rolled between my fingers to make wispy strands. Without it billboarded on the front, I would never have guessed bacon was involved in this product.

The chocolate is really a stronger flavor here and overpowers just about all the bacon qualities. It’s a fine, bold dark chocolate taste, but with the bar and the insides being all chocolate, all day it’s a bit overwhelming. Maybe if I say “ganache” three times backwards into a mirror it will dial back the intensity? “Ehcanag, ehcanag, ehcanag.” Nope, that just summoned Opposite French Candyman. He’s exactly the same as French Candyman but his skin is inside out and rides a bicycle backwards. Pretty cool.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 bar – 220 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 3 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Dark chocolate central. If you need that fix, it has it. Complex flavors.
Cons: Not very sweet at all. Bacon gets lost a bit, tastes like medicine.