REVIEW: Harvey’s Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)

I feel like I should be the target audience for the Nacho Cheese Sticks at Harvey’s.

If you’re going to deep fry something that’s not normally fried, I’m gonna want to eat that. No; I’m going to demand to eat that. I’m going to respectfully request that you take it straight from the fryer and put it directly in my mouth. Will I suffer severe burns? Probably. But I’ll drive to the hospital with a smile on my (horribly burned) face.

There’s even a place in my heart for nacho cheese –- you know, that gloppy, unnaturally smooth, vaguely jalapeno-tinged cheesefood that’s the approximate colour of an orange safety vest? I love that stuff. It tastes like nothing even resembling real cheese, but I love it all the same. I could eat it by the barrel.  
So as a connoisseur of unusual fried foods and neon orange nacho cheese sauce, I was all over these. I went to Harvey’s to buy them like a cartoon character floating towards a pie.

An order comes with five pieces, each about the size of a small mozzarella stick, along with a small container of zesty sauce for dipping.

I’m sure my high expectations didn’t help, but man… what the heck, Harvey’s? Seriously: now I know how Obi-Wan felt in Revenge of the Sith. How could something so awesome in theory be so middling in execution?

The main ingredient here — the cheese — is just not very good. It’s like someone decided to mix nacho cheese sauce with bottom-of-the-barrel supermarket cheddar. It tastes muddled, without the comforting, smooth blandness of real-deal nacho cheese, or the satisfying sharpness of real cheddar. It’s somewhere in between, in some kind of horrifying flavour limbo where deliciousness goes to die. No jalapeno flavour, either, which is unfortunate.

The texture, too, is somewhere between real and fake; more plasticky than smooth. It’s essentially the worst of both worlds: too fake to be real cheddar, and too real to be nacho cheese.

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada) 2

The breading is okay. It’s crispy and fried, so it fits the bill on that level, but the taste leaves something to be desired. Despite its nacho appearances, it mostly has the same generic flavour that you’ll find on any number of frozen breaded chicken strips or onion rings. The tortilla flavour doesn’t stand out nearly as much as it should.

Harvey's Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada) 3

They’re not even completely filled with cheese. A couple were stuffed from end to end, but the rest were mostly hollow, with a gooey coating of cheese lining the inside. This might have been a bigger issue, but since the cheese wasn’t even that great to start with, I didn’t really mind.

The dipping sauce could have helped to round out the middling flavour of these sticks, but it’s too zesty for its own good; it clashes rather than compliments. It tastes completely out of place.

I really, really wanted to like these. Instead, I got Fredo’d. Nothing about them was nearly as delicious as it should have been.

You broke my heart, Harvey’s. You broke my heart.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on the Harvey’s website.)

Item: Harvey’s Nacho Cheese Sticks (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 (CAN)
Size: 5 pieces
Purchased at: Harvey’s
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Crispy and fried. Melty cheese.
Cons: Taste and texture of the cheese leaves a lot to be desired. Useless dipping sauce. Betrayal. Anakin Skywalker. Fredo Corleone.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes (Canada)

Lay's Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes

The whole Do Us a Flavour thing seems to revolve around the odd and the unusual — out-there flavours that you wouldn’t typically find at the supermarket.

That being the case, scalloped potatoes seems like one of the more boring flavours in the history of this promotion. I mean, the potatoes are already right there in the chip, so what flavour do they have to simulate? Cheese? Cream?

So basically, it’s a cheddar chip, but with a creamier flavour? Not the most exciting flavour in the world, but hard to mess up.

You’d think.

Lay's Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes 2

And at first it seems like: yeah, they did get it about right. Cheesy flavour? Check. Mild creaminess? Check. Hey, this isn’t so bad, you think, and that’s when it hits you: the distinctively sharp bite of particularly pungent raw onion. I don’t know what kind of scalloped potatoes they’ve been eating in the Lay’s flavour labs, but I think someone needs to tell them that the onions in there are supposed to be cooked.

I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of raw onions (though they’ve grown on me over the years — at one point, if you even used the same cutting board to chop another vegetable after cutting raw onions, I couldn’t eat it), so most people might not find this quite as offensive as I did.

It’s kind of like sour cream and onion, only more oniony, somehow. Plus, at least those chips have the assertive tang of sour cream to balance things out. No such balance here; the mellow cheesy flavour is completely overwhelmed by the acrid face-punch of onion.

The aftertaste is especially brutal. It’s the type of thing where you immediately need to eat something else to get that funky taste out of your mouth — only it doesn’t work. The taste goes away, then comes right back.

Lay's Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes 3

I guess it does essentially taste like scalloped potatoes — only the worst version of that dish that you’ve ever had. A version made by a friend who clearly can’t cook, but means well. So you have to smile and tell them how good it is and maybe spread it out on your plate a bit so it looks like you’ve eaten more than you actually have.

I submit that a more appropriate name for these chips would be “Milky Cheese ‘n Raw Onion.”

Maybe there’s a reason why I don’t work for the marketing department at Lay’s.

(Nutrition Facts – 66 gram bag – 360 calories, 22 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 410 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 2 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour P.E.I. Scalloped Potatoes (Canada)
Purchased Price: $1.49 CAN
Size: 66 gram bag
Purchased at: Foodland
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Tastes vaguely like scalloped potatoes, I guess.
Cons: Tastes like the worst version of scalloped potatoes that you’ve ever had. Overwhelmingly acrid onion flavour. Horrible aftertaste.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips (Canada)

Lay's Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips

It’s a good thing I don’t live anywhere close to Montreal, because if I did, I’d be at Schwartz’s (which is the most famous –- and arguably the best -– smoked meat joint in that city) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And brunch. And a mid-afternoon snack. And what’s that Taco Bell thing? FourthMeal? Yeah, that too.

Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of Montreal smoked meat, so when I found out it was going to be one of the new Do Us a Flavour flavours, I knew I’d be eating the hell out of it (admittedly, I was probably going to eat the hell out of any new chip flavour regardless, but I digress).

When you think about it, Montreal smoked meat, with its distinctive spicing and universally appealing flavour profile (seriously, if you don’t like Montreal smoked meat or its close cousin, pastrami, and you’re not a vegetarian, then you’re a monster and I have nothing but scorn for you), I’m surprised it’s taken Lay’s this long to get there. It seems so obvious.

Lay's Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips 2

It’s a natural flavour for a chip; the chip performs a similar function, taste-wise, as the starchy bread. Plus, these sandwiches are often served with French fries or even latkes, so smoked meat + potato is definitely a combination you can feel good about.

But of course, as seemingly perfect as this flavour is, there’s no guarantee that Lay’s isn’t going to mess it up (*cough*Butter Chicken*cough*).

Happily (and shockingly, given how thoroughly they bungled the butter chicken flavour), this is pretty much the ideal version of this chip. Everything about it is just right: the spicing, the slight mustard flavour, the pronounced but not overly assertive peppery bite… it’s weirdly perfect.

Lay's Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips 3

I kinda wish it was paired with the more assertive crunch of a kettle chip, but then I wish that of pretty much every non-kettle-chip chip, so that’s probably more about my own personal preferences than anything else.

Seriously though, you need to try these chips. They absolutely nailed the flavour. It’s like they took a smoked meat sandwich and used some kind of magic ray to transform it into a bag of chips.

It’s like the future is here, and you can eat it.

(Nutrition Facts – 50 grams/per 27 chips – 270 calories, 17 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 260 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Montreal Smoked Meat Potato Chips (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 CAN
Size: 170 gram bag
Purchased at: Sobeys
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Captures the flavour of Montreal smoked meat perfectly. Magic. The future.
Cons: Would probably work a bit better as a kettle chip. Proximity-based inability to eat Schwartz’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and FourthMeal.

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Butter Chicken Potato Chips (Canada)

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Butter Chicken Potato Chips (Canada)

I mentioned, in my review of the Cinnamon Bun chips from last year’s batch of Do Us a Flavour finalists, that every year seems to have a “water cooler flavour” — an oddball flavour that’s present more for its conversation-starting abilities than its appropriateness as a chip.

I guess butter chicken is it for this year, though as far as weird chip concoctions go, it’s more Tom Cruise than Mel Gibson — weird, but not off-puttingly so.  

Of all the Indian dishes to condense into chip form, butter chicken is probably the safest. It’s one of India’s most well known culinary exports, likely because its flavours are more mellow than many Indian dishes, and thus more accessible to western palates.

For the unaware, it essentially consists of chunks of chicken in a creamy, mildly-spiced sauce, usually served with rice or naan bread.

It seems like an odd flavour for Lay’s at first, but then you think, “yeah, I think I could picture that on a chip. I’d like to try that.”

Honestly, I’d still like to try that, because while these chips basically taste okay, they do an abysmal job of recapturing the flavour of butter chicken.

I don’t know if Lay’s was concerned that any exotic flavour might turn people off (even one as comparatively mild as butter chicken), but they clearly played it way too safe. The flavour of these chips is so far removed from anything even remotely resembling butter chicken, that I don’t think I ever would have been able to guess what it was supposed to be if I hadn’t already known.  

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Butter Chicken Potato Chips (Canada) 2

I mean, maybe if you forced me — really forced me — somewhere by hour four or five, several hundred guesses in, I’d be like “I don’t know, butter chicken??” and your eyes would light up. We’d wordlessly high-five, then both go home and never speak of it again. But our friendship would slowly fizzle out, because really, how couldn’t it?  We’d been through too much.

Seriously though, these chips taste nothing like butter chicken. The flavour is so unrecognizable it that I legitimately thought that there might have been some kind of factory mishap, and that the wrong flavour somehow ended up in the bag I tried. But I spoke to someone else who had the exact same experience, so I guess that’s how it’s supposed to taste?

Lay's Do Us a Flavor Butter Chicken Potato Chips (Canada) 3

The chips are moderately salty, with cheesy tang and not a whole lot of complexity of flavour. In the aforementioned guessing ordeal, I’m pretty sure my first few dozen guesses would all be cheese-related. They basically just taste like cheddar cheese chips, with an ever-so-subtle whiff of a curry-like aftertaste, if you really, really concentrate. 

The chip itself is plain old Lay’s, which in this case is ideal. I’m pretty sure the more assertive taste of a ruffled or kettle chip would completely overwhelm the very mild flavours here.

I mean, it’s not bad, I guess. There’s certainly nothing offensive about it.  I like cheese-flavoured chips, so I basically enjoyed these, even if “bland” is one of the first words to spring to mind. But it’s kind of weird how little they taste like butter chicken.  

(Nutrition Facts – 50 grams/per 27 chips – 270 calories, 17 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 290 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fibre, 2 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Lay’s Do Us a Flavor Butter Chicken Potato Chips (Canada)
Purchased Price: $2.99 CAN
Size: 170 gram bag
Purchased at: Sobeys
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Inoffensive. Kind of tastes like cheddar cheese chips.
Cons: Bland. Tastes absolutely nothing like butter chicken. Killer of friendships.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Red Velvet with Oreo McFlurry (Canada)

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry

Mike Myers. Justin Bieber. The McFlurry.

If your answer to this Jeopardy question is “What are things that came from Canada,” then you are correct (and no, we won’t take back Bieber — he’s yours now, America. Enjoy).

Yep, according to the cup (and from now on, I want all my information to come in McFlurry cup form, FYI), the McFlurry was “born in Canada. Loved around the world,” and is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. I very distinctly remember the introduction of the McFlurry — it certainly doesn’t feel like twenty years ago, but why would the cup lie to me? I feel old.

And what better way to celebrate a 20th anniversary than jumping on a years-old fad? I remember red velvet being a pretty big deal a few years ago, but is this still a thing that gets people hot and bothered? I was under the assumption that we, as a society, had reached our red velvet saturation point at least a couple of years ago, but apparently not.

And McDonald’s doesn’t even really seem to get what makes red velvet so appealing: when I think of a red velvet cake, aside from its eponymous dark-red hue, I think of abundant cream cheese frosting. It’s the combination of the mildly chocolatey cake and the sweet tang of the cream cheese frosting that makes red velvet such a comfort food classic.

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry 2

So it’s weird that McDonald’s has elected to not even try to replicate that particular flavour, sticking to the cake alone (and throwing in Oreo cookies for some reason). You’d think this would lead to so-so (at best) results, but this was surprisingly tasty.

Certainly, the cashier at the McDonald’s I went to liked it. Right after I ordered, she asked me if I had tried it before, and I told her I hadn’t. She leaned in closer, as if to tell me a secret: “it’s really good,” she said, adding almost comical emphasis to the word “really.”

It’s fairly rare that a cashier at a fast food joint even cares enough to offer their opinion on the food, so I took this as a good sign.

McDonald's Red Velvet McFlurry 3

And once I got over my disappointment that the cream cheese frosting was MIA, it actually was quite satisfying. It does a pretty decent job of recapturing the red velvet cake flavour — though I’m not sure how much of that is triggered by the fact that I knew what the flavour was, and by the colour. If I ate it blind, would I have been able to tell that it was red velvet? Or would I have just tasted chocolate? I’m honestly not sure, but either way, it tastes good.

It has a pretty good chocolatey taste without being overwhelmingly sweet, the Oreo bits add some crunch and flavour, and the soft serve is nice and creamy. It’s nothing too mind-blowing — it’s basically just an Oreo McFlurry with chocolate syrup and red food colouring — but sometimes the simplest things are the best.

So thanks, McDonald’s cashier, you were right. This was really good. Did the world really need its 976,874th red velvet flavoured dessert? No, probably not. But it’s here regardless, and it’s pretty tasty.

(Nutrition Facts – 530 calories, 17 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.3 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 87 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fibre, 66 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Red Velvet with Oreo McFlurry
Purchased Price: $3.79 CAN
Size: Regular
Purchased at: McDonald’s Canada
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like red velvet cake. Crunchy Oreo and creamy soft serve is a tasty combo. Not too sweet. Cashier approved.
Cons: No cream cheese frosting. Red velvet flavour might be psychological. Cup factoids that make you feel old. Justin Bieber.

REVIEW: McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken (Canada)

McDonald's I'm Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken 3

There’s something inherently wrong about a salad at McDonald’s, isn’t there? I mean, it’s McDonald’s — their whole M.O. is supposed to be serving burgers and fries and other tasty junk that might just kill you if you eat them too regularly.

If you told the ten-year-old version of me that McDonald’s would one day be serving salads with kale in them, I’m going to guess that he’d angrily call you a liar. He’d also probably wonder who you are and why you’re giving him useless factoids about 2015. Oh and also, while you’re there? Could you tell him to major in something a bit more useful than political science? What’s that? This is just a rhetorical device? You’re not actually a time-traveller out to blow the minds of ten-year-olds with news from the future? Darn.

Of course, salads aren’t anything particularly new at McDonald’s, but this Kale-fueled relaunch does have an air of desperation about it. This feeling is especially pronounced when combined with the recent high-profile launch of the 21st century take on the Hamburglar; the once-cute cartoon character has been transformed into a generically handsome fashion model (who was almost instantly dubbed the “hipster Hamburglar” by the media).

Clearly, McDonald’s has lost whatever cache they once had (along with loads and loads of money), and it’s easy to think that they’re just throwing random things at the wall to see what sticks.

All that being said? I loved this salad.

It feels weird to even type that. It’s a salad… at McDonald’s… and I loved it.

I know that even mentioning that I love a salad probably means I have to turn in my junk-food-lover’s gun and badge to the junk food angry captain, but hey, if it’s tasty it’s tasty.

McDonald's I'm Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken 2

There’s a lot going on in this salad. There’s the lettuce blend (a whopping eight different types of lettuce, as per their website), kale, sliced cucumber and red peppers, crumbled feta, a couscous blend (which has stuff like sun-dried tomato and olives), chicken, a packet of pita chips, and the creamy Greek feta dressing.

It seems like it should be too much stuff, but it all works together surprisingly well.

The kale is actually baby kale; this is a good thing, as regular kale is a bit impenetrably fibrous and can be tough to love. The lettuce mix otherwise tastes like any number of ready-to-eat mixes you’ll find in a plastic box or bag at the supermarket.

All the other stuff works together quite nicely: the creamy dressing, the fresh veggies, the salty pop of the cheese, the hearty quinoa…

Wait, I think I’m going to have to call a Zack Morris-style time out: I never in a million years thought I’d be applauding quinoa and “fresh veggies” when I signed on to write for this site. Seriously, what’s happening right now??

Okay, time in: the pita chips — essentially this salad’s take on croutons — are a little heavy on the garlic powder, but otherwise work pretty well.

McDonald's I'm Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken

The weak point is probably the chicken. You have the choice of grilled or crispy chicken, but since their promotional shots showed grilled, that’s what I went with. It’s not bad, and it does give the salad much of its substance, but it’s a little dry and stringy.

The salad costs seven bucks, which on the surface seems a bit pricey — but I could imagine paying double (at least) for this exact same salad at a restaurant with waiters and menus, so it’s not as bad as it seems.

When all is said and done, however, is this salad even that healthy? I mean, it’s got a bunch of healthy stuff in it, so yeah, probably?

But McDonald’s is sneaky with the way they present the nutritional information on their website; if you look up this salad, the info neglects to include the dressing. In fact, the dressing doesn’t even come up when you click on salads — you have to specifically search for it.

When you add up the creamy Greek dressing and the salad, you’re looking at 420 calories and 26 grams of fat, which is a 110 calories less than a Big Mac, and only three less grams of fat. It’s still much healthier than a burger, I’m sure, but more calorie and fat-laden than you might expect. So maybe I can keep my gun and badge?

(Nutrition Facts – Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken – 280 calories, 12 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0.2 grams of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 770 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fibre, 3 grams of sugar, and 27 grams of protein. Greek Feta Dressing – 40 grams – 140 calories, 14 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 310 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s I’m Greek-ing Out Salad Bowl with Grilled Chicken
Purchased Price: $6.99 (CAN)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s Canada
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Fresh-tasting ingredients. Tasty combination of flavours. Good value for the quality of food. Healthy?
Cons: Stringy chicken. The embarrassment of praising a salad on a junk food site. Bastardization of beloved mascots. Scientific impossibility of time travel.