REVIEW: Sonic BBQ Chip Seasoned Tots

A BBQ chip is a unique flavor proposition. There’s something underneath the tangy/zesty/spicy/sweet/smoky flavor you get with a normal BBQ sauce or rub. It’s something more buttery, I think, or at least that’s the best way I can describe it. And really, I’m not explaining it well, which, for a guy who gets paid to write about food, is pretty sad. But I feel like I’m trying to describe how a rainbow sounds or a leprechaun smells — it’s just impossible.

But what I’m trying to say is that the BBQ of a BBQ chip doesn’t taste like the same BBQ of a BBQ rib.

To better explain this, I tried to get help from ChatGPT, the internet’s hottest new chatbot, and this is what it said: “I’m sorry, but as an AI language model, I cannot make subjective claims about taste or food preferences. However, I can suggest a possible way to express the idea that BBQ chips and BBQ ribs have different flavors: One possible equation could be: BBQ chips ? BBQ ribs.

The future is now, people!

With all of this in mind, the real question is, can the folks at Sonic replicate the taste of a BBQ chip in tot form?

Well, the first thing they’ve got going for them is that a tot is a kin to chips, what with both coming from the potato. And Sonic’s tots are arguably its best side. The tots in my order — as they often are — were perfectly cooked, with a pillowy, steaming hot inside and a crisp golden exterior. What was interesting and unexpected to me about the BBQ Chip Tot was that this wasn’t a dry seasoning.

Instead, the tots are tossed in a BBQ chip seasoning sauce. (But not a BBQ sauce, get it?) The sauce — which is orange-red in hue — tastes exactly like a BBQ chip, almost to a disturbing degree. It’s delightful, though, and really what we hoped for, right? For the thing to taste like the thing it was trying to taste like? It was a little sweet and a little smoky, with that maybe-buttery undertone that smelled like a freshly cracked bag of whatever your favorite BBQ chip is (and nothing like a leprechaun’s odor, which I think is an earthy-minty smell, Aqua Velva, and the sour BO of a drunk uncle). This tot understood the assignment.

My only complaint is that, unless you get good coverage from the sauce applicator, you’re gonna end up with some dry tots. And my order had a lot. In fact, I felt like only a quarter of my order was adequately covered. If I get back to Sonic before these are gone, I’ll ask them to be more liberal with their sauce gun.

Although we’re still months away from Summer, it’s never seasonally inappropriate to have some BBQ. And if you’re looking for an interesting vehicle with which to imbibe, Sonic’s got you covered.

Purchased Price: $3.39
Size: Medium
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 460 calories, 29 grams of total fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 1130 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of total carbs, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of total sugar, and 3 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Caramel Chocolate Cold Brew

You know that Coke commercial where people from around the globe gather to sing about how they’d like to buy the world a Coke and teach everyone to sing in harmony? Well, I would like to buy everyone (or at least those who enjoy sweetened iced coffee) a Caramel Chocolate Cold Brew from Dunkin’.

It features cold brew mixed with caramel chocolate syrup that’s topped off with a layer of chocolate cold foam and cocoa caramel sprinkles. I’m repeating the word cold, but this drink is firing on all cylinders. It’s so harmonious and an excellent example of a sweet coffee drink that still tastes like coffee and not a cup of sugar that may have coffee in it somewhere.

Taking it from the top, the cocoa caramel sprinkles are not traditional sprinkles. It looks like the drink has been scattered with pebbles, and this was no more apparent than when I set mine on a stoop to take a picture and it camouflaged perfectly. They’re sort of like the coating on those chocolate eclair ice cream bars but less solid. If you eat them at first, they feel a bit crunchy, like an ice cream topping, but I let some melt into the drink and found no trace of them at the bottom.

This tasty rubble is being admirably held up by a thick layer of chocolate cold foam that’s surprisingly stable. I’m often disappointed by drinks with cold foam because they’re great for the first sip or two, but then the foam just disappears. I was shocked that this foam held up while I walked with it for several blocks and maintained a presence on top for most of the time it took me to finish the drink. It was chocolatey and sweet without being overly so with a nice whipped consistency.

The majority of the drink is cold brew with a caramel chocolate syrup, and somehow despite all the additions here sounding like the makeup of a candy bar, this isn’t saccharine. The chocolate and caramel flavors accentuate and don’t overwhelm the cold brew. It tastes like drinking coffee but a sweeter and more indulgent variety than my everyday cup. Often the specialty drinks at Dunkin’ can feel more like dessert, but this one was smooth and coffee-centric with a pleasant bitterness that plays well with the cocoa and caramel notes.

As someone who usually takes their coffee less adorned but sometimes likes to have a sweeter version, this really struck a perfect balance. I have a terrible voice and could never teach anyone to sing, but if I had the funds to get everyone who likes iced coffee a Caramel Chocolate Cold Brew, I think I’d please people across the coffee consumer spectrum, and we’d all get caffeinated in harmony.

Caveat: I tried this a second time from a different Dunkin’ to totally different results. The cold foam was still great, but the cocoa caramel gravel was replaced with cinnamon sugar. The drink tasted disappointingly like straight chocolate syrup with little to no caramel or coffee. I would not want to buy anyone that, including myself.

Purchased Price: $5.19
Size: Medium
Purchased at: Dunkin’
Rating: 10 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 220 calories, 4 grams of total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of total carbs, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 44 grams of total sugar (44 grams of added sugar), and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Arby’s Cinnamon Roll Fried Pie

Rule #1 of being a junk food fan: when you hear that a test product is available in your area, you give it a try. Further down on the list of rules: enjoy that product while it’s hot, especially if you are cold. Both tenets recently led me to Arby’s to check out its Cinnamon Roll Fried Pie. The test product, a fried pastry with cinnamon filling, is available at select locations for a limited time. (The chain released a similar offering — a Strawberries and Cream variety — last year.)

It feels appropriate that Arby’s would test this new dessert in my region because March marks the longest stage of my city’s annual Seemingly Endless Winter. As spring eludes us, we layer our socks, aggressively moisturize, and steel ourselves for the inevitable spring snowstorm that, like a horror movie villain, pops up for one last scare just as you think the worst is over. To survive, we need comfort food, and with this new test product, Arby’s has aimed to create a glorious trifecta of warmth and coziness: pie, fried food, and cinnamon.

Ultimately, Arby’s Cinnamon Roll Fried Pie does justice to each component of the trifecta. The fried turnover-style pastry is the crispy, crunchy star of the dessert. It is golden brown, rife with tiny air bubbles that come from the high frying temperature, and practically shatters with crispiness at the surface. Beneath the initial crunch, the dough is thin, tender, and soft, without a hint of sogginess or oily residue.

The cinnamon roll filling is flavorful and generous. I tasted a good amount of the sweetly spiced stuff in every bite. The texture surprised and mystified me. I was expecting some amount of gooey drippage, which I admit sounds more like a symptom of the cold you catch during Seemingly Endless Winter. But any cinnamon roll fan knows the stuff: the sugary, melted butter that gets absorbed within the roll’s thick, spiraling dough. The filling in this fried pie, however, reminds me of the filling before it gets baked: thick and moist, but still closer to a soft, shaggy paste in texture.

I wish I knew the recipe for the filling, but like a proud grandmother protecting her culinary secrets, Arby’s has not released that information. I’m curious as to how the filling maintains its body without feeling heavy. Ingredients I’d expect to find in a cinnamon roll, like the usual butter or cream cheese frosting suspects, don’t seem to contribute to the filling’s taste or texture. While it does taste like a cinnamon roll’s coveted center, the filling’s flavor is also a little one-note. A streak of icing might have added an extra dimension to the not-too-sweet pie.

Arby’s Cinnamon Roll Fried Pie is an inexpensive, pocket-sized treat that hits the spot, especially if you gobble it down for a warming treat at the end of a long, frigid day. Its appeal certainly extends into warmer months because, as yet another junk food rule dictates, fried stuff is comforting year-round. If this Fried Pie makes Arby’s official menu, it may become a new favorite.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to reader Dorothy for letting us know about this test item in the Erie, PA area and for the signage photo at the beginning of the review.)

Purchased Price: $1.79
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Unavailable at time of publishing.

REVIEW: Papa Johns Crispy Parm Pizza

Cheese pizza is the most underrated item in the fast food world. Often looked at as “plain” or “boring,” cheese pizza’s perfection is in its simplicity. While I do enjoy various toppings on pizza as well as “creative” offerings, it’s nice to do a palate cleanse once in a while. Papa Johns’ new Crispy Parm Pizza seems like a perfect chance for my taste buds to hit the reset button.

The menu item takes Papa Johns’ thin crust and adds a layer of toasted parmesan cheese to the bottom. As someone who has thrown shredded cheese into a hot pan to make a crispy cheese bite on more than one occasion, I was very into this idea. You can order it with up to one topping, but I am pleased to have stuck with just cheese.

Driving home, the unmistakable smell of parmesan filled my little Ford Focus. It made me all the more excited to try the item. Visually, it was a standard issue-looking cheese pizza. I immediately flipped a slice over to look at the crispy parmesan on the bottom. There was a fairly decent amount adorning the crust’s underside. It was, however, not super crisp to the touch. I had hoped it would have a more crispy bite when trying it, but that wasn’t the case.

My first taste confirmed that the “crisp” parmesan doesn’t really add any textural difference to the item. I think once the pizza gets put in the box, the parmesan loses its crispness from the heat reflecting off the cardboard. But it does add a lot of flavor to the pizza, working well with the sweet red sauce and salty mozzarella to deliver a satisfying slice.

While I was disappointed the item didn’t fully live up to its name, I still enjoyed it. Papa Johns’ Crispy Parm Pizza has all the makings of a really good pizza, but it just trips a bit at the finish line. I think if you have the time (i.e., aren’t planning to immediately eat it when you bring it home), throwing it in the oven on a sheet pan might crisp up the bottom more. That sort of defeats the purpose of bringing home pizza for dinner, but it might be worth the extra step.

Purchased Price: $12.99
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 slice) 260 calories, 15 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 650 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 12 grams of protein.

REVIEW: KFC Classic and Spicy Slaw Wraps

This ain’t KFC’s first wrap rodeo.

See, a long time ago — close to 20 years ago, in fact — the Colonel (or a zombie approximation of the Colonel OR some marketers in the R&D department) created the Twister. It was a tortilla stuffed with chicken strips, lettuce, tomatoes, sauce, and shredded cheese.

There were different versions of it — a rendition featuring BBQ sauce and one that featured a spicy sauce. Then there was one with mac and cheese inside, too. Then the Twisters became “burritos” at some point, and then maybe they reverted back to Twisters again? I don’t know. It all gets fuzzy. Anyway, they went away in the States but remained (and remain) on the menu at some international locations, exotic locales like New Zealand and Canada.

And now they’re back in the United States… at least temporarily.

But okay, they’re smaller. Remember the beloved McDonald’s Snack Wrap that went away in 2016 much to the dismay of nearly everyone? I think these are about the same size. So if you’re hungry, you’re gonna want to do the two-wrap combo with a side and a drink. Or maybe just the wrap pair, which is being sold 2 for $5 at most places throughout the country. Then you can pair them at home with a bowl of applesauce, a handful of Pringles, or whatever it is that people who don’t buy sides at fast food places do.

Let’s back up, though — are these even worth $2.50 a piece?

Well, like most things in the fast food world, a lot is contingent on the freshness of the ingredients. I got to the KFC nearest me shortly after opening, so the strips were freshly made. They were good, too, crunchy but not at all dry, with the familiar 11 herbs and spices. The tortillas were bland but serviceable, no different than what you’d find at Taco Bell. The pickles were sour and crunchy, not up to par with Popeyes, but considerably better than the ones you get at McDonald’s. The mayo on the original wrap “split” because of the hot chicken, so it didn’t add much. The sauce on the spicy wrap, though, fared better. If you’ve never had it (I’m fairly certain it’s the spicy sauce they’ve used on sandwiches before), it’s like a very mild chipotle mayo, but maybe just a bit sweeter.

What really sets the spicy wrap apart, however, was the slaw. While I don’t usually indulge in the Colonel’s cabbage (why would you when you can have the artificially-delicious mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, or the surprisingly good French fries), the sweet crunch it lent to the wrap made it significantly better than its slaw-less brother. Additionally, I was surprised at how sog-free the chicken remained; truly, this wrap fired on all cylinders.

While many will hold these up — perhaps unfairly — against the aforementioned McDonald’s wraps, or KFC’s original Twister, two of these things for $5 isn’t a bad deal at all. Hopefully, they stick around for a while.

Purchased Price: 2/$5
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Original), 8 out of 10 (Spicy)
Nutrition Facts: Unavailable as of publishing, though the website has “800-900 calories” for the pair.