REVIEW: Van Leeuwen Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream Pint design

It’s no secret that Van Leeuwen likes to push the boundary between sweet and salty with its unconventional limited edition flavors. Yet, when these flavors are released, there is always some element of incredulity that someone decided to turn that into ice cream.

Van Leeuwen’s latest creation appears to hold a mirror to its audience, revealing its unorthodox creation as a product of our own junk food impulses. Van Leeuwen Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream is a limited edition variety that flavors traditional vanilla French ice cream with malted barley and potato flakes to mimic an old-school diner favorite. “If you’ve ever dipped your fries in a milkshake,” the product seems to imply, “think twice before judging whatever we come up with next.”

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream Top layer

Having felt sufficiently schooled by potato ice cream, I was eager to dig into the almost-pint. The vanilla ice cream base is flecked with golden potato crumbs and carries a light “fried food” smell. I poked around for big chunks of potato fries, but the golden flecks stayed consistently small and well-distributed throughout the container.

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream under top layer

The ice cream base is as rich and creamy as I’ve come to expect from Van Leeuwen’s, enhanced by a toasty malt flavor. (The malt element made me scribble “Where can I buy Whoppers?” on my to-do list — not because the ice cream’s flavor was inadequate, but because I am never satisfied.) Even though the potato pieces aren’t plentiful, a fried taste is subtly present throughout the ice cream.

Van Leeuwen Idaho Malted Milkshake & Fries Ice Cream on a spoon

When the potato crumbs do make it onto the spoon, they are soft, yet starchy, just like the inside of a fry. The potato flavor varies in intensity based on how many crumbs are present in a given bite. Texturally, the ice cream mimics the experience of eating the starchy bits that are left behind after dipping several fries into a shake. While effective in delivering flavor, this choice might disappoint anyone who likes more crunchy or chewy elements in their ice cream.

Would I purchase this Walmart-exclusive flavor again? Possibly! Although the taste is unusual for packaged ice cream, it delivers a familiar sweet-and-salty combination in an indulgent base. In this way, Van Leeuwen’s Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries ice cream distinguishes itself from the brand’s more novel offerings that are more “taste adventures” than everyday freezer staples.

That being said, does the product replace the experience of ordering a velvet and frog sticks (that’s diner slang, according to the package!) as you agonize over which jukebox hit deserves your last quarter? Not a chance.

Purchased Price: $4.98
Size: 14 oz
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 2/3 cup): 290 calories, 19 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Cheesy Jalapeno Mexican Pizza

I don’t want to sound like some fast food conspiracy theorist, but Taco Bell discontinuing its Mexican Pizza in 2020 was all a marketing stunt to get a bunch of folks to write about how much they miss the Mexican pizza, create copycat Mexican Pizza recipes, or write listicles about discontinued fast food items which include the Mexican Pizza. Taco Bell took it away and brought it back two years later, and then a year later, we now have this new Cheesy Jalapeño Mexican Pizza after years of not having any other varieties of the menu item when it was around the first time. That all sounds deliberate.

So what’s different with this Cheesy Jalapeño Mexican Pizza? Along with the usual Mexican Pizza ingredients – seasoned beef, a three cheese blend, refried beans, Mexican pizza sauce, and tomatoes – it also comes topped with nacho cheese sauce and jalapeño peppers.

And as expected, it tastes like a Mexican Pizza with nacho cheese sauce and jalapeños. Well, not with every bite because the number of pepper slices on mine made it difficult for that to happen. But those pungent peppers made themselves known whenever I took a bite with them. They add a briny, peppery flavor with a bit of a spicy kick that gets lessened by the nacho cheese sauce. Speaking of that orange goo, like all items that feature it AND the three cheese blend, the nacho cheese becomes the Big Cheese over the other. But the menu item is pretty much a spicy, cheesier Mexican Pizza, which I find to be as enjoyable as the original version.

Because this doesn’t have any unique ingredients, you could easily order it when it’s no longer officially on the menu. It’s just going to cost a little more. Again, I’m no fast food conspiracy theorist, but maybe this is a plot to get us hooked on spending money on customizations. Love the Cheesy Jalapeño Mexican Pizza, but it’s not on the menu anymore? Don’t worry. You can still have it. Just customize a regular one with jalapeños and nacho cheese sauce. But it’ll cost you a buck fifty more. Not willing to spend the extra cash? Well, I guess you don’t love it.

Do you know what, Taco Bell? I might just spend the extra dough if I want to change it up a bit with my Mexican Pizzas. Maybe I’ll also add some creamy jalapeño sauce for a few more cents to get jalapeño in every bite. Me and my taste buds can see through your plan, but we’ll play along.

Purchased Price: $5.99
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 830 calories, 29 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 980 milligrams of sodium, 49 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar (including less than 1 gram of added sugar), and 19 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Strawberry Twists

I wish Taco Bell’s new Strawberry Twists were a vibrant pink color. I’m talking a shade so intense that you could walk right into a showing of the Barbie movie with an order of them raised in one hand like a torch, and no theater employee would confront you about bringing in outside food, but instead think of it as part of your ensemble.

In Taco Bell’s promo photos, they’re pink but with a tint that’s less Barbie and more like Pepto Bismol that’s been diluted with milk of magnesia. But, in real life, it’s hard to pick out the pink with these twists.

The Strawberry Twists are crispy, puffed pieces sprinkled with a strawberry-flavored dusting and sugar, and they are only the second other Twists variety that the chain has offered other than cinnamon. I assume whatever pink there is comes from the strawberry-flavored dust that accumulates in the nooks and crannies of every piece like they’re the Pink Panther hiding from Inspector Clouseau. But they’re primarily off-white, which made me initially think they would have little flavor.

However, they have as much as the cinnamon ones. I mean, don’t expect it to hit your tastebuds like you’re dipping your tongue in a container of Strawberry Nesquik powder, which, after typing it, sounds like something I should try to do as an adult. (Hey, Siri. Add Nesquik powder to my Grocery list.) Instead of a bold taste, expect a mild artificial strawberry flavor that’s far from cloying but also far from being bland. They have just the right amount of berry to make them quite dang tasty.

That said, Taco Bell’s Strawberry Twists aren’t more enjoyable than the original cinnamon ones, but I think they’re another pleasant way to end your Taco Bell meal. With their introduction, I hope it leads to other twists of Taco Bell’s Twists. A Baja Blast-flavored version would be perfect to release in 2024 for Baja Blast’s 20th birthday.

Take my idea, Taco Bell.

Purchased Price: $1.39
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 170 calories, 6 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 115 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 10 grams of sugar (including 10 grams of added sugar), and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger

Wendy’s is ready for Fall, and with gameday food in mind, they’ve decided to smother their cheeseburgers in nacho fixings. The Loaded Nacho Cheeseburger starts with classic elements – beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato – tops them off with poblano queso, spicy chipotle sauce, tortilla strips, and crispy corn, and stuffs them all in a jalapeño cheddar bun. Anyone who’s ever ordered loaded nachos or a nacho helmet at a baseball game knows that these cheesy chips are a fickle mistress. The first few will be crunchy and satisfying, but things will eventually devolve into a soggy mess. Will a burger suffer the same fate? Will Wendy’s version of Corn Nuts save it?

Let’s start with the bun. Despite the obvious cheddar spots on top and jalapeño bits baked in, it doesn’t taste like much on its own. Notably, both times I tried this, there was a nicely browned-looking cheese crust along a third of the bottom bun, like the cheddar had been conveniently placed to spill over into a picture-perfect frico, but it isn’t actually as crispy as it seemed and lacks discernible flavor.

Atop that bun is a standard slice of American cheese (which you’d never notice unless you chose to pick it apart), a single patty of Wendy’s beef (which I consider to be pretty good quality for a fast food burger), a generous helping of poblano queso, tortilla strips, surprising corn kernels, lettuce, tomato, and the spicy sauce. There’s enough of the queso and sauce that the whole thing is a messy experience and definitely eats like what you’d find if you persevered to the bottom of your nacho plate and found everything had become a little too homogenous. The queso is tasty and more flavorful than I expected, while the chipotle sauce either got lost or I didn’t get as much of it. The sandwich has a slight kick, but it never crosses into truly spicy territory or tastes like chipotles. Lettuce would usually add a little crunch to a burger, but here, it forfeits its texture to the cheese/sauce mix, which brings us to the tortilla strips and crispy corn.

Before trying this, I couldn’t picture what the crispy corn would be and wondered if it was just a redundant explanation of the strips. It turns out they’re a unique entity: zestily seasoned jumbo corn kernels akin to Corn Nuts. The few that escaped my burger were nice on their own, but the ones that stayed on managed to either be startlingly crunchy amid the otherwise squishy situation or sogged by cheese into an unpleasant texture. The tortilla strips, not surprisingly, met a similar end, and most of them were left lifeless.

This sounds like a list of complaints, but I enjoyed this burger. Not all of the textures worked out as Wendy’s intended and I would have liked some more jalapeño flavor, but the cheesy-without-being-gloppy poblano queso makes it worth a try as a novelty item.

Purchased Price: $6.29
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 710 calories, 43 grams of total fat, 17 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 1390 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of total carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of total sugars, and 33 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Dairy Queen Royal Reese’s Fluffernutter Blizzard

Sometimes I really dislike being an adult. I’m not talking about paying taxes, having a job, or things like that. I just don’t like how it changes what is appropriate when it comes to food. If I were a toddler, it would be no big deal if I took off my shirt and ate mac and cheese with my hands, and people would say how cute I was when I got sauce in my hair. If I try that as an adult at Applebee’s, I’ll probably be asked to leave. If I were in kindergarten, a fluffernutter sandwich would be a perfectly acceptable lunch. But if I suggest we have peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwiches at a work meeting, then some co-workers might suggest I’m a bit immature (but I know others would secretly think it’s an awesome idea). Thankfully, Dairy Queen has the new Royal Reese’s Fluffernutter Blizzard that both mature and immature adults can purchase without being judged.

If you are not familiar with the “Royal” line of Blizzards, they have the bonus of a hidden core, which, in this case, is filled with marshmallow topping. I thought about bringing a small handsaw so I could conduct a Blizzard autopsy and show you exactly how it looks inside, but I figured that would be frowned upon and maybe a little dangerous. Besides, the DQ website features a cross-section view if you are interested. Surrounding the marshmallow core of this Blizzard are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, peanut butter topping, and, of course, vanilla soft serve. The core might be hard to see in the photos, and as the Blizzard around it melts, it all blends together, but trust me that it’s there.

I’m not sure if this is the case everywhere, but at my local DQ, the Royal Blizzards will set you back an extra $1. After having this one, I can tell you that’s a buck well spent. The standard PB Cup Blizzard is already one of my favorites, but it becomes truly glorious with the marshmallow flavor running down the center. The marshmallow topping by itself is quite sweet — almost too sweet — but it is balanced out perfectly by the decidedly less sweet peanut butter flavor. The smooth, creamy texture of the marshmallow topping also pairs wonderfully with the chunkiness and thickness of the pulverized peanut butter cups in the soft serve. I tried to think how I would improve this Blizzard, and I’ve got nothing to suggest. I think it’s my new all-time favorite.

My only disappointment is that I ordered a small, which really limits the real estate available for the marshmallow core. So my suggestion is to live like a king or a queen and at least order the medium for this one. Nah, just get a large.

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: Small
Rating: 10 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 750 calories, 31 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 390 milligrams of sodium, 104 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 87 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.