REVIEW: KFC Big Boss (Canada)

KFC The BIg Boss 2

When it comes to fast food gimmicks, few items can claim to be quite as successful as KFC’s Double Down, the cheese and bacon sandwich with two pieces of fried chicken as a bun. That thing hit the cultural zeitgeist like nobody’s business, and for a while there it seemed like everyone was talking about it.

It was with that in mind, I’m sure, that KFC Canada introduced the Big Boss, which is essentially a Big Mac, but with fried chicken patties instead of beef. It’s a tantalizing proposition that sounds just crazy enough to be delicious.

If you’ve had a Big Mac, then you know exactly what to expect: the shredded lettuce, pickles, onions, Thousand Island-esque special sauce, the three layers of bun, and the single slice of cheese. It’s literally a Big Mac with fried chicken instead of beef; KFC has done nothing to shake up the flavours to make it more chicken-appropriate.

I was actually pretty excited to try the Big Boss. I like excessive novelty sandwiches more than I should probably admit. You wanna replace the bun in a hamburger with grilled cheese sandwiches? Yeah, I’ll eat that! Wanna add more patties than any reasonable burger should contain? Sure, I’ll try it. Replace the bun with fried chicken? I’m all over that.

So it is with no small amount of sadness that I must report that the Big Boss is not particularly good.

KFC The Big Boss

The first thing I noticed was that this was maybe the most haphazardly-assembled sandwich I’ve ever been served at a fast food joint. I was planning on cutting it in half so I could get a picture of the midsection, but the whole thing was so precarious that I was honestly afraid that it would crumble into pieces if I messed with it too much. But of course, you can’t expect anything too pristine from a place like KFC; what really matters is the taste.

The patties are similar to what you’d find in a Big Crunch, but thinner. The breading is standard KFC fare, and it’s expectedly tasty. But man, the chicken itself is absurdly dry. It is surprisingly, unpleasantly dry. I’m not sure if it’s the thinness of the chicken or what, but it is considerably more dry than a standard KFC Big Crunch patty.

Compounding the dryness issue was the surfeit of bread which, like the chicken, was weirdly dry. I think it might have been a little bit stale, or maybe it was microwaved? I have a hard time accounting for how it got so dry. The lack of moisture from the sandwich itself certainly didn’t help matters.

My first few bites were just a punishing mass of dry chicken, bread, and unmelted cheese, not dissimilar in texture to trying to eat a handful of saltines. Things improved somewhat once I hit a pocket of sauce, onions, and pickles around the centre of the sandwich. Even then, this just made me long for the comparative magnificence of a Big Mac, as the sauce tasted almost identical to Mac sauce. I like Big Macs well enough, but it’s pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten compared to this ill-advised monstrosity of a sandwich.

I got unlucky, with a sandwich that appeared as though it had been assembled by an arthritic chimp. But even if it had been picture perfect, I still don’t think it would have been particularly good. The flavours just never cohere in any meaningful way. Beef and chicken are two very different things; just because something works with one, doesn’t mean it’s going to work with the other.

Sadly, the Big Boss is more conversation piece than viable sandwich. I’m sure a lot of people will try it, just out of sheer curiosity (the “LOLWTF a Big Mac with fried chicken patties!” factor), but I can’t imagine many will order it a second time. It’s pretty bad.

(Nutrition Facts – 600 calories, 30 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 900 grams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 7 grams of sugar, 29 grams of protein.)

Item: KFC Big Boss (Canada)
Purchased Price: $4.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: KFC
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Tasty breading on the chicken patties. Sauce tastes a lot like a Big Mac’s.
Cons: Dry chicken. Dry bread. Dry overload. Unmelted cheese. Big Mac flavours taste incongruous with chicken. Messy if not assembled properly. Makes the ghost of Colonel Sanders cry.

REVIEW: Tim Hortons Pretzel Bagel

Tim Hortons Pretzel Bagel 1

I think I’ve mentioned before that, despite being a Canadian and thus being obligated to love Tim Hortons, I’m just not a big fan. That’s not to say that I hate the place, but I don’t drink coffee, and there are only a handful of their doughnuts that I actually enjoy (including the tragically departed Walnut Crunch — good night sweet prince; you were too beautiful for this world).

I won’t even go into their savoury foods, which I will charitably describe as hit-and-miss.

So it was with some trepidation that I tried their pretzel bagel. It seems like an odd idea, though soft pretzels are already somewhat bagel-like, so it’s actually not such a weird amalgamation. Pretzels and bagels are even prepared in a similar way; in each case, the dough is boiled before baking.

I tried it a couple of ways. The signage for the bagel says to try it with their new mustard spread (described on the bill, oddly, as “Mustard Butter”). So I ate the first one in the store, toasted and spread with the mustard.

Tim Hortons Pretzel Bagel 2

I also took a couple home to try plain; this is where the bagel really shined. Fresh, with a lightly crisp exterior and a chewy interior, it is addictive. I tore off a piece of one in the car just to see what it tasted like plain, and it was so good that I wound up eating the entire thing right there and then. It basically tastes like a really good soft pretzel, but with a bit more heft.

The toasted bagel didn’t fare quite as well. The toasting turns the lightly crisp exterior full-out crunchy, and makes the bagel’s interior less chewy and more fluffy. It becomes a different beast altogether, and one I didn’t enjoy nearly as much. I also think all the rock salt fell off in the toaster; the untoasted ones had quite a bit on top (which added a welcome punch of flavour), but the toasted one was pretty much naked.

As for the mustard spread, it had a buttery, weakly mustardy flavour that was far too mild to make much of an impact. Maybe it would have worked if there had been about double the amount, but as it was it was pretty useless.

If you’re a fan of soft pretzels, this is a complete no-brainer. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like it. Skip the mustard and skip the toasting; just order the bagel as-is and take a bite. You’ll thank me later. It’s basically like a pretzel and a bagel had a baby in the best way possible, and it’s quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever had from Tim Hortons.

(Nutrition Facts – Bagel – 310 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 780 milligrams of sodium, 61 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 4 grams of sugar, 10 grams of protein. Mustard Spread (12 grams) – 60 calories, 6 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 85 milligrams of sodium, and 0.2 grams of protein,.)

Item: Tim Hortons Pretzel Bagel
Purchased Price: $1.19 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Tim Hortons
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Lightly crisp exterior. Delightfully chewy, flavourful interior. Tastes like a really good soft pretzel.
Cons: Toasting kind of ruins it. Mustard spread has a weak flavour and is completely superfluous. The Walnut Crunch is gone (this has nothing to do with this bagel, it’s more of a general life con).

REVIEW: Natrel Maple Milk (Canada)

Natrel Maple Milk

I’ve heard of chocolate milk. Everyone has. And strawberry milk, and vanilla milk, and any number of flavoured milks. But maple milk? I can’t say it was an idea that had even occurred to me before this product came into my life. And yet it seems so obvious, in retrospect. Maple syrup + milk. Of course! Seriously: how did I not come up with this idea myself?

I know there’s that old cliche that all Canadians love maple syrup, but isn’t that kind of like saying that all Canadians love kittens and rainbows? What I’m trying to say here is that maple syrup is the best and if you don’t like it there is something intrinsically wrong with your character; you’re damaged goods. Tell me to my face that there’s something better than maple syrup on a pancake, and you and me are going to have to bare knuckle box.

So yeah, I guess you could say that I like maple syrup.

I knew I was probably going to like this milk, though a quick gander at the ingredients reveals no actual maple syrup, which did concern me a bit (it does have “natural maple flavour,” whatever that is). I was afraid there might be off flavours here, or a strange aftertaste; happily, neither was the case.

It tastes good. It has a clean, very pronounced maple syrup flavour. Basically, it tastes exactly how you’d think it would taste, which is definitely a good thing.

Natrel Maple Milk Closeup

It’s very, very sweet, however. I wouldn’t say it’s too sweet, but it’s definitely right on the border. It’s also extremely maple-y, so if you’re one of those maniacs who isn’t crazy about maple syrup, give this one a pass. This isn’t milk with a subtle tinge of maple; it’s a full-out maple syrup assault.

I think my biggest problem here is the same problem I have with all Canadian flavoured milks: it’s only available in one percent. I don’t know who decided that every flavoured milk sold here should be one percent and one percent only, but it makes me sad. Anything lower than two percent is a bit watery for my tastes, and for stuff like chocolate milk, I really think that the richness of whole milk is where it’s at. Sure, it’s not super healthy, but there’s nothing wrong with an occasional (or perhaps not-so-occasional) indulgence, right? Right?? Hey, you’re reading a junk food blog, don’t judge me!

Anyway, it’s a moot point (or moo-t, I should say — again, please don’t judge me) because unless you want to make your own, there’s no choice in the matter.

It’s not like this maple milk has no richness whatsoever, I just wish we had the option. But it’s fine. I’m just glad that it exists. Seriously, why hasn’t this been around for my entire life?

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cup (250ml) – 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0.1 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 390 milligrams of potassium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 25 grams of sugars, and 7 grams of protein.)

Item: Natrel Maple Milk
Purchased Price: $2.49 CAN
Size: 1 Liter
Purchased at: Sobeys
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Strong maple flavour. No weird aftertaste. The ability to consume maple syrup in a new format.
Cons: Only available in thin one percent milk. Might be too sweet for some people. Off-putting absence of maple syrup in the ingredients list.

REVIEW: Limited Time Only Ketchup Doritos (Canada)

Limited Time Only Ketchup Doritos (Canada)

I still remember my shock, as a kid, finding out that ketchup chips are mostly just a Canadian thing, and that they’re not readily available in the States. This information stunned me. It made me question the way I perceived the world. Ketchup chips are such a fundamental potato chip flavour; this was like being told that Americans cannot perceive the colour blue.

As far as I’m concerned, there are certain bedrock chip flavours. Salt & vinegar. Barbecue. Sour cream & onion. Ketchup. All Dressed.

Wait — you don’t have All Dressed, either?? What kind of lives have you been living? I’ll answer that one: empty lives. Empty, horrible, All-Dressed-and-ketchup-chip-less lives.

Ketchup and fries are obviously natural bedfellows. Potato chips and fries are clearly brothers in the junk food family tree (or at the very least, cousins). It follows, then, that ketchup chips are a complete no-brainer.

But ketchup Doritos? That’s different. That’s as wacky to me as it is to you. I’ve never seen anybody dip a tortilla chip into ketchup, and I hope that day never comes. It’s too horrible to fathom.

So if the ketchup/tortilla combo is gross, Ketchup Doritos must be gross too, right? Well… read on, my friend. Read on.

Before I get into this particular flavour, I will say that I think Doritos are the best store-bought tortilla chip on the market. I don’t want to get too hyperbolic, but I think they’re pretty much textural perfection; they’re the perfect combination of crispy, airy, and crunchy.

(And I really wish they’d make plain Doritos easier to find, but they’re completely unavailable in Canada, and even in the States I’m almost never able to track them down. But I digress.)

I definitely wasn’t sold on this flavour after my first bite. Doritos and ketchup is such a weird combination that it just seems wrong. At first you’re hit with that vinegary ketchup sweetness and and it seems to confirm your worst fears. It feels off-putting.

But then you have another, and another, and before you know it, you’re hooked. There’s something weirdly addictive and oddly satisfying about it. A hint can be found in the ingredients. The third ingredient of the seasoning is monosodium glutimate, a.k.a. the dreaded MSG.

I should note that the notion that MSG is more unhealthy than any other seasoning has been thoroughly debunked at this point, in case you were wondering. What MSG does do is heighten a food’s umami factor. Combined with the dehydrated tomato (another umami-packed ingredient), it gives these Doritos (and quite a few other Doritos flavours) a savoury richness that you can’t quite put your finger on, but that keeps you coming back chip after chip.

Limited Time Only Ketchup Doritos (Canada) Closeup

The seasoning isn’t quite as liberally applied as with some other flavours. This is definitely a good thing; a little bit of the puckery sweet vinegar flavouring of the ketchup goes a long way. This means that more of the chip’s corn flavour shines through, which compliments the ketchup flavour fairly well, oddly enough.

It’s not my favourite variety of Doritos ever (it still has that distinctive ketchupy taste, which is never going to be perfect on a tortilla chip), but it is way, way better than you’d think it would be. I really only needed to sample one bag for the purpose of this review, and I’m already onto my second, which tells you how much I enjoyed it (it also tells you that I’m a pig whose boundless appetite can never quite be sated… but we’ll set that aside for the moment).

(Nutrition facts – 50 grams/21 chips – 260 calories, 13 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 290 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 2 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Time Only Ketchup Doritos (Canada)
Purchased Price: $3.50 CAN
Size: 245 gram bag
Purchased at: Hasty Market
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Way better than you’d think it would be. Surprisingly addictive.
Cons: The very idea of it is a bit off-putting. Ketchup and tortilla chips is never not going to be a weird combination.

REVIEW: McDonald’s Poutine (Canada)

McDonald's Poutine

Is there anything more Canadian than eating a poutine? Watching hockey, maybe. Or drinking coffee from Tim Horton’s. I’ve got a confession to make, though: I don’t particularly like hockey or Tim Horton’s. I know! I know! I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping me from being deported is my abiding love of poutine.

Seriously, what’s not to love? Fries. Check. Delicious. Cheese curds. Yep, delicious. Gravy. You know that’s delicious. So it’s no surprise that when you combine those elements, you (usually) wind up with a delicious final product.

Oddly enough, McDonald’s only recently started serving poutine in Canada (they’ve had it in Quebec for a while, but the rest of the country has been sadly poutine-free). This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize that McDonald’s was the last poutine hold-out among the big burger chains. That omission has finally been rectified.

It costs $3.99, which isn’t crazy expensive, nor is it a particularly great value for the amount of food you’re getting.

The biggest obstacle in McDonald’s quest to bring a great poutine to the masses: their very thinly-cut fries. Though McDonald’s fries are some of the better fast food fries out there, a poutine really requires a more substantial fry to hold up to the onslaught of gravy. And how does McDonald’s solve this issue? By doing nothing at all; sadly, the thin fries are just as problematic as you’d think.

To be fair, the idea of McD’s creating a separate type of fries just for their poutine is pretty much a pipe dream. It would be nice, but it’s never going to happen.

McDonald's Poutine Closeup

So yes, the fries sog up. In fact, they were soggy right from the first bite (though spending a couple of minutes taking pictures before I started eating probably didn’t help in that regard — but I suspect that this was a lost cause either way).

The gravy is a fairly generic chicken gravy; it tastes fine and gets the job done, but it’s nothing that anyone is going to get too excited over. If you’ve ever had a middling canned gravy from a supermarket, you know what to expect.

It also wasn’t quite hot enough. The heat level in a poutine is a bit of a balancing act; you don’t want it to be so hot that the curds completely liquefy, but they do need to soften a bit more than the curds did here.

The curds, however, are pretty good. The biggest test of a good cheese curd is whether or not it squeaks when you bite into it, and these had a decent amount of squeak.

And of course, kudos must go to McDonald’s for avoiding the cardinal sin of poutinedom — substituting shredded mozzarella for the cheese curds, or, even worse, shredded cheddar (the horror… the horror). Any restaurant that serves poutine with shredded cheese is basically announcing to the the world: “Hey, guess what? We’re garbage and we serve garbage!” Harsh? Maybe. True? You know it.

(Nutrition Facts – 510 calories, 30 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 1010 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fibre, 1 gram of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s Poutine (Canada)
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: A passable poutine that doesn’t get anything horrifically wrong. Squeaky curds. Will satisfy a poutine craving in a pinch.
Cons: Thin fries that immediately sog up. Boring gravy. Not hot enough. A little overpriced for what you’re getting.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Meet Our First Canadian Reviewer, Michael

Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m a junk-food-oholic.

Sorry, isn’t this the Junk Food Anonymous meeting? No? It’s the exact opposite of that? Well, okay, that’ll work too.

I hail from the frigid tundra known as Canada; our junk/fast food selection is largely the same as in the States, with the occasional difference. I think the most hilarious example of this is when Domino’s had their very high-profile campaign of changing their recipe and admitting that their pizzas used to be terrible. The only hitch: they never bothered to bring the new recipe here. So they were basically telling Canadians, “Hey, you know our pizzas? They’re garbage. Enjoy!”

But I digress. I’m a junk food obsessive who will eat anything served at a fast food joint or contained within a wrapper, sometimes (okay, frequently) to my own detriment. I write about my gastronomic adventures (and misadventures) at my own blogs: Tasty Burgers, Michael Eats, and the now-defunct Candyrageous. I also occasionally write for Serious Eats.

Why do I spend so much time writing about food? Mostly, I do it so I can unironically use the word “mouthfeel.”