REVIEW: Hot Ones Hot Pockets

These new spicy Hot Pockets are way more complicated than you were expecting. Not in taste though. That’s straightforward. What’s complicated is everything else. Allow me to explain.

First, like a music festival or an early 2000s Southern rap album, these Hot Pockets are presented by someone other than Nestle alone. These are all branded as “First We Feast presents: Hot Ones,” then the name of the type of Hot Pocket. And then, if that wasn’t enough, each one is “made with” some sort of non-Hot Pocket sauce. The Hot Habanero Pepperoni & Sausage is made with “Los Calientes Rojo,” the Smoky Green Chili Cheesesteak is made with “Los Calientes Verde,” and the Spicy Garlic Chicken & Bacon is made with “The Classic Garlic Fresno.”

I know, I’m sorry. It’s a lot.

In case you’re like me and wildly disconnected from most modern media, allow me to explain. (By copy/pasting from Google.) “First We Feast is an online food-culture magazine and YouTube channel. The site co-produces the YouTube series Hot Ones with Complex Media, its parent company.”

Okay, so in retrospect, I’ve heard of this. Hot Ones is the thing where celebrities eat really hot wings and, I don’t know… it’s funny? It’s touching? Whatever it is, it’s a lucrative enterprise. Because here we are, with branded Hot Pockets.

The Hot Habanero Pepperoni & Sausage

This thing OOZED sauce — cloyingly sweet sauce. I think my entire Hot Pocket had two small shards of pepperoni and three, maybe four sausage chunks. The pepperoni and sausage are the same meats used in all other Hot Pockets, so if you’ve had any of those, you know the drill. Salty, chewy, nothing to write home about. But really, this sauce. Oof. And how was the hotness? I mean, that’s really the whole point, right? It was… noticeable but not overly aggressive. The box suggested that the heat level was a 5 out of 10 — the same as the Smoky Green Chili Cheesesteak — and I don’t feel like the heat matched at ALL. It was much milder. So, if you had this one and found it tolerable from a heat perspective, please don’t assume the cheesesteak one will be the same. It’s not.

Smoky Green Chili Cheesesteak

This one BURNED. The heat kicked in fast and was prevalent throughout. What I found interesting, though, was how quickly the heat subsided. It didn’t last more than 20 or 30 seconds after each bite. The steak was the same nib-like meat they use in the delightful Jalapeño Steak & Cheese variety, which I sadly cannot find anywhere around here anymore. In fact, this was reminiscent of that, though it’s missing the cheese sauce, which is a shame. And there didn’t seem to be as much steak. And this had a green chili that mostly just blended in. So, okay, I guess it’s not much like the Jalapeño Steak & Cheese at all. Nor is it good.

Spicy Garlic Chicken & Bacon

At least this one tried something different? Although I didn’t really get much heat from this — it was a 2 out of 10 on their arbitrary Hot Ones scale — it had the most nuance, mostly due to a mild smoky component, though I don’t know if this came from the chicken, the bacon, or the garlic sauce. (For what it’s worth, there were no discernible pieces of bacon, and the chicken’s prevalence was about as impressive as the sausage and pepperoni inclusion on that version.) This was the winner of the bunch — not that that’s saying much.

Purchased Price: $2.98 each
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 3 out of 10 (Pepperoni and Sausage), 4 out of 10 (Green Chili Cheesesteak), 5 out of 10 (Garlic Chicken and Bacon)
Nutrition Facts: Pepperoni & Sausage – 290 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 790 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 9 grams of protein. Green Chili Cheesesteak – 280 calories, 11 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 700 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein. Garlic Chicken & Bacon – 280 calories, 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 760 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, 10 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies

As a former child and current adult who requires a snack plate to feel truly at peace, I know a thing or two about Lunchables. In fact, most of my culinary preferences revolve around variety, portability, and the ability to arrange different foods in a cute little segmented container.

Now the Lunchables brand has extended its offerings well past cheese and crackers — and, for the first time, into the frozen food aisle. Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies delivers frozen, microwavable grilled cheese sandwiches in two varieties: Original and Pepperoni Pizza.

I tested the Pepperoni Pizza flavor because why wouldn’t I? The package contained two full sandwiches, individually nestled in microwavable crisping sleeves and wrapped in plastic. The preparation was easy: remove the plastic, nuke the sandwich in its crisping sleeve for one minute, and then let it cool for another minute. The hardest part of the process was using the word “cheesie” as a noun.

The result smelled and tasted deliciously buttery, as though the cheesie (no, still weird) had just emerged from a sizzling pan. The crisping sleeve clearly did its job to encourage toasty texture on every surface of the bread, while still retaining some absorbed butter. Although crispy, the bread seemed to get chewier as time elapsed. The crusts were just plain tough.

The filling consisted of a slice of creamy, well-melted processed cheese, one to two tablespoons of marinara sauce, and three slices of pepperoni. Everything together made for a warm and comforting bite, and the pepperoni and marinara were just enough to ensure that the flavor wasn’t boring. The cheese would appeal to kid and adult tastes alike, but another slice — preferably added to the plain slice of bread — would have amped up the cheese flavor and helped the sandwich to adhere together as a whole.

Depending on one’s appetite, Lunchables Crispy Grilled Cheesies would make a fast, convenient (although hard to chew) snack or meal component at a low price point. Older kids could easily prepare a cheesie independently at home, but keep in mind that sending frozen foods to school can be tricky. If your child is prepared to negotiate a lunch box filled with ice packs and locate a kindly lunch-lady or lunch-lord to help them use the school microwave, then they have more fortitude than I do and deserve all the grilled cheesies in the world.

If that is too many cheesies (okay, I’m getting used to it), start with two for the Lunchables fan in your life. Although the product isn’t perfect, it delivers the comfort and convenience that so many have come to love from the brand.

Purchased Price: $4.79
Size: 6.2 oz box (2 pack)
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per sandwich): 300 calories, 18 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 660 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Red Baron Fully Loaded Hand Tossed Ultimate Pepperoni Pizza

Though factual evidence isn’t as plentiful as I’d like it to be (which, okay, maybe means my supposition is NOT true), it feels like nowhere are food cost increases more jarring than in the frozen pizza aisle. At most of my local grocery stores, a middle-of-the-road pizza like Tombstone or Red Baron, when not on sale, is somewhere between $6 and $7. A Totino’s — and I know, I know, it’s hardly a “pizza” (but it serves its own sort of purpose, like a McDonald’s hamburger) — is $2. And while I don’t want to be “old man yells at cloud” about it, I remember a time not all that long ago when these things were just a smidge over $1.

And then you get to the “top shelf” frozen pizza. At my closest grocery store, the DiGiorno Fully Stuffed Crust Ultimate Three Meat Pizza is $15.79. Take a moment and let that sink in. (I’ll also remind you that I live in Kansas City, not on a coast, and not on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.) The Screamin’ Sicilian Stuffed Crust Pepperoni is on sale… for $10.49. It’s hard to imagine anyone paying these prices, but I guess someone is. But when you can get a carryout two-topping from Dominos for slightly less than this, your frozen pie had really better bring it, right?

So is the Red Baron Fully Loaded Hand Tossed Ultimate Pepperoni Pizza worth the sticker shock? Look, I cannot in good conscience ever recommend that someone pay almost $10 for a frozen pizza. I just can’t. However, I can say that, compared to other pizzas at the same price point, this pizza is pretty great.

Though the “hand tossed” crust is pedestrian in terms of taste, it supports the heavy pizza well. There are three types of pepperoni present, regular circular, what seems to be a thicker cut triangle variety, and cubed. Accordingly, each bite is packed full of salty little bits of deliciousness. It’s worth noting that, for frozen pizza pepperoni, these things carry a bit of spice; not enough to make someone with an aversion to heat avoid it, I don’t think, but something that might surprise you if you’re not expecting it. The cheese isn’t snappy, but it stretches a bit, which isn’t ideal if, like me, you go at it too fast and end up with a napalmed chin. It appears to be a blend of mozzarella and cheddar, and there’s some parmesan sprinkled on the top, too, if I’m not mistaken. The sauce tastes like a canned generic pizza sauce, but it works.

Here’s what really struck me about this pizza — the sauce, coupled with the parmesan, really evoked the flavor of a Chef Boyardee home pizza kit. You know the kind. It comes in a box with the dough mix and the canned sauce. (And, in olden times, a packet of grated parmesan and Romano cheese.) If you’ve had that, you’ll have a good sense of how this pizza tastes. It tickled something nostalgic in me and momentarily made me forget that I was an adult paying exorbitant prices for any and everything, including frozen pizza. For that reason — and the fact that the pizza was damn tasty — I’ll buy it again. Provided, of course, that I find it on sale.

Purchased Price: $8.99 ($9.99 regular price)
Size: 28.75 oz
Purchased at: Hy-Vee
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1/6th pizza) 370 calories, 19 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 mg of cholesterol, 950 milligrams of sodium, 34 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Kellogg’s Eggo Chocolatey Chip Banana Waffles

What are they?

In a riff on its classic frozen toaster waffle, Kellogg’s brings banana flavor and mini chocolate chips to the breakfast table.

How are they?

Let me address this question with the help of a fun banana fact: a bunch of bananas is called a “hand,” and one banana from that bunch is referred to as a “finger.” Knowing this, I’d liken the amount of banana flavor in each Chocolatey Chip Banana Waffle to a “hangnail.” That is to say, it is very small.

Upon opening the package, the frozen waffles have a wonderful, natural banana smell. (Per the list of ingredients, banana powder is used to achieve the product’s flavor.) Somehow, toasting the product loses this essence. The prepared waffle has the buttery quality of the Homestyle flavor, with satisfyingly crispy ridges and a softer center. However, the banana taste is very mild, appearing once every few chews, and seems to be the most concentrated around the perimeter. This reminded me a little of eating the crust of over-baked banana bread: you know there is banana hidden in the crispiness, but it is a shadow of what it once was.

The package recommends adding maple syrup or chocolate sauce for an extra treat. I added a touch of the former, resisting the primal urge to fill each square neatly and evenly with syrup. Alas, even a small amount of syrup drowned out the already-minimal banana flavor.

The chocolate chips scattered throughout the waffle are small but effective in adding flavor without overwhelming sweetness. Still, the product tastes bland overall, given its promise. I wonder if the banana flavor would have been better executed as part of Eggo’s Thick and Fluffy variety.

Anything else you need to know?

At first, I thought “Chocolatey Chip” was a typo for “Chocolate Chip.” Chocolatey is a fun word to say, but it feels awkward in print. I wondered if the word choice implied the use of a substance that cannot be classified as chocolate and sounded more appealing than chocolate-esque, chocolate-ish, or chocolate-like. The ingredients list includes simply “chocolate,” so consider my rhetoric-driven suspicions unfounded.


Although the convenience, price, and nostalgia factor of the Eggo line can’t be beat, Chocolatey Chip Banana Waffles lack promised flavor, making them easy to l’eggo.

Purchased Price: $3.49
Size: 12.3 oz package – 10 waffles
Purchased at: Giant Eagle
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 2 waffles) 200 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 320 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: White Castle Castle Bites

White Castle Castle Bites Bag

What are they?

They are the love children from a White Castle cheeseburger slider and a pizza roll. And there are lots of kids in this 40-ounce party pack, which is also available in a hamburger variety.

How are they?

These are delicious, but with a big asterisk. And that asterisk is because these really don’t taste like White Castle sliders, neither the ones you get from the restaurant nor the frozen ones from the grocery store (and yes, I can confirm there is a difference). Part of the White Castle experience, especially if you get them fresh off the grill, is the pillowy softness of the bun that soaks up that distinctive beefy-onion flavor. That’s what’s missing here, along with the signature White Castle smell. If not for the packaging, I’m not sure I would have associated these with White Castle. But if you are just looking for cheeseburger-flavored pizza rolls, these really hit the spot. The outer shell has a nice crunch, and the filling provides a satisfying cheeseburger flavor with just a hint of onion. My only disappointment was the lack of White Castle smell and taste.

White Castle Castle Bites Plate

White Castle Castle Bites Split

Anyone who’s made pizza rolls knows there is about a 15-second difference between perfect crispness and a crime scene with filling splattered everywhere. These are no different, as evidenced by the pictures, except at least the oozing cheese makes it look less like something from a horror movie. And keep in mind, I’m the guy who turns on the oven light constantly to check on my food’s progress (and also the guy who always ignored my parent’s warnings and pressed my face against the microwave window), so I was watching these with fervent dedication, and I still got the dreaded explosive results.

White Castle Castle Bites Pan

Anything else you need to know?

White Castle Castle Bites Nutrition

It’s generally not a great idea to read the ingredients on Frankenstein-type food products like this, and that’s the case here. The back of the bag raises more questions than it answers, such as, what the heck is “natural grilled hamburger type flavor”? I didn’t expect this to only contain chopped up White Castle sliders, but the long list of ingredients (including chicken fat) probably does explain why these don’t taste how I thought they would. Also among my questions is how water is the first ingredient in these (as a refresher, ingredients are listed in descending weight order).


White Castle Castle Bites Back Bag

If you don’t go in expecting the signature White Castle flavor and instead are just looking for a tasty and unhealthy snack, then you should enjoy these. And if you don’t want to make the significant financial commitment on a 40-ounce bag, an 18-ounce version is also available.

Purchased Price: $11.49
Size: 40 oz. party pack
Purchased at: Kroger
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (6 bites) 190 calories, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 660 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 8 grams of protein.