REVIEW: Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich (Canada)

Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich

Over the last few years several fast food joints have gotten it into their heads to try serving pulled pork. (Perhaps because of improvements in Cryovac technology? But I’m not sure.) A really good pulled pork sandwich, at least up here in the Great White North, is a rare beast indeed; even restaurants that specialize in the stuff have a hard time getting it completely right.

Predictably, these fast food approximations of a barbecue staple have ranged from “that’s alright, I guess,” (Wendy’s) to “oh my god, why would this restaurant soak paper towels in barbecue sauce and then serve it as pork?” (Burger King, because of course the worst version of this trend comes from Burger King).

Tim Hortons’ version is relatively straightforward: it’s topped with crispy onions and served on a ciabatta bun.

Given the rarity of good fast food pulled pork, it might shock you to hear that this particular sandwich isn’t awful.

It’s not great, mind you, or even good –- but it’s not awful. In this case, that’s almost a win.

Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich 2

The worst pulled pork sandwiches reduce the meat to a sloppy, off-putting mush, and that’s not the case here. It’s kind of dry and it’s kind of soft, but it still has some texture.

Weirdly, it’s saucy but not saucy, like it was cooked in a sauce that has mostly evaporated away, leaving some flavour and a lot of grease.

The flavour is tangy and a little bit sweet; it sorta-kinda tastes like barbecue sauce, but not really. It tastes more like barbecue-sauce-flavoured chips than like actual barbecue sauce, if that makes any sense. It’s not necessarily bad, just… off.

As for the meat itself, there are vague hints of that distinctive flavour you get when you reheat pork — but for the most part, any flavour even vaguely resembling porkiness has been steamrolled by the sauce.

Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich 3

Then there’s the substantial ciabatta bun, which is grilled in a panini press, giving it a hearty crunch. The bread is usually the best part of a Tim Hortons sandwich, and though it was actually a good quality bun, it’s absolutely the wrong choice for this particular sandwich. The texture and flavour of the bread completely dominates the pulled pork. Though whether that’s even a bad thing is debatable in this case.

The onions are the typical crispy fried onions you can find in a bag at the supermarket. Between the tangy barbecue sauce and the assertive crunch of the bun, they may as well not even be there. They add nothing and are completely superfluous.

I’ll give the Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich one thing: it was very easy to score. It’s clearly a five out of ten. It’s basically the platonic ideal of a five out of ten review. It’s neither particularly good nor particularly bad; it’s a shrug in sandwich form.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website.)

Item: Tim Hortons Pulled Pork Sandwich
Purchased Price: $5.49 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Tim Hortons
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: It isn’t gross. The pork could be worse. Good quality bun.
Cons: Sauce tastes off. Overwhelming bun. Useless onions.

REVIEW: Tim Hortons Creamy Chocolate Chill (Canada)

Tim Hortons Creamy Chocolate Chill

I misread this item at first, and thought “wow, Creamy Chocolate Chili?? Yes please!”

Sadly, the real deal — an attempt to replicate the success of the venerable Iced Capp — isn’t quite as interesting.

The Tim Hortons website describes the Creamy Chocolate Chill as “a delicious combination of real cream and layers of chocolaty goodness.” It’s basically a chocolate milk slushie, though it’s not particularly creamy, nor does it have much of a milky flavour.

It tastes more like Yoo-hoo than like chocolate milk, though the “real cream” claim does make me a bit puzzled at the lack of creaminess.

The flavour is mostly just sweet, with a very mild chocolately hit. If you’ve ever had chocolate milk made with Nesquik syrup (and went very heavy on the syrup), then you have a good idea of what this tastes like.

It’s so sweet. As someone who recently watched Fed Up and is suddenly, horrifyingly cognizant of such things, this drink has a lot of sugar. Fifty grams, which is 11 grams more than a can of Coke, which is — according to that documentary at least — essentially the beverage equivalent of a pack of cigarettes.

Even if you don’t care about such things (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t. I don’t, aside from my recent documentary-induced paranoia), that’s a lot of sugar just from a taste standpoint. This is a very, very sweet drink. It’s kind of one-note sweet.

Tim Hortons Creamy Chocolate Chill 2

Still, there are certainly worse things on the menu at Tim Hortons. It’s not as good as an Iced Capp, because at least that has flavours slightly more complex than “cocoa + sugar overload,” but it’ll get the job done. If you drink this on a hot day, it will fulfill its purpose of being a cold, refreshing beverage.

It also has a good balance of iciness and liquid; typically, with an Iced Capp, you eventually end up with a sizable mound of mostly flavourless ice slurry. That wasn’t the case here.

The real weak spot is the chocolatey, vaguely cream-like foodstuff that adorns the top of this drink. It bears about as much resemblance to real whipped cream as I do to George Clooney (you probably don’t know what I look like, but let me assure you, I look very little like George Clooney).

Tim Hortons Creamy Chocolate Chill 3

It has an unpleasantly thick, paste-like texture with absolutely no dairy qualities; it’s just sweet and gluey, like a demented, off-brand Cool Whip gone horribly awry. I’d strongly recommend asking for the drink without it, as it adds nothing but useless ornamentation. And even at that, it’s a pretty resounding failure – I mean, I think we can all clearly see what it looks like, right? Do I need to say that it looks like poop?

Because it looks like poop.

(Nutrition Facts – 380 mL (small) – 380 calories, 16 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fibre, 50 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Tim Hortons Creamy Chocolate Chill
Purchased Price: $2.59 CAN
Size: Small (380 mL)
Purchased at: Tim Hortons
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Cold and refreshing. Mildly chocolately flavour. Nice balance of liquid and ice.
Cons: Ridiculously sweet. Not very creamy. One-note flavour. Horrifying cream-like topping. Looks vaguely scatological. Not chili.

REVIEW: Tim Hortons Grilled Steak & Cheese Panini (Canada)

Tim Hortons Grilled Steak & Cheese Panini

Do you like salt? Do you love salt? Tim Hortons Steak & Cheese Panini will test you. Even if you think you have a high tolerance for very salty foods, this one will take you to the limit; it will stare deep into your soul and find you wanting.

Just as Pizza Hut has a Meat Lover’s Pizza, this should be called a Salt Lover’s Sandwich.

The nutritional info claims it has 1440 milligrams of sodium, and as high as that is, it’s gotta be a conservative estimate. It is aggressively, unpleasantly salty.

But then again, even if it weren’t a 40 megaton salt bomb, it still wouldn’t particularly be worth eating.

Most egregiously, the name of the sandwich is pretty misleading — the meat here bares very little resemblance to anything even close to any kind of steak that I’ve ever had. It’s roast beef. That’s a small distinction, but an important one.

But I like roast beef, so who cares what they call it, right?

Tim Hortons Grilled Steak & Cheese Panini Topless

It also tastes pretty lousy. Have you ever had any bottom of the barrel supermarket cold cuts? You know, the ones that taste more of nitrates and salt than anything you’d identify as any kind of meat? That’s this “steak” in a nutshell. It’s kind of chewy and salty and there’s not much more to it than that.

The cheese was even worse; it was quite possibly the most odiously waxy processed cheese I’ve ever had.

Look, I’m aware that I’m coming off as a complete snob here, but let me make this clear: I don’t mind processed cheese. In particular, on a griddle-cooked, fast-food-style cheeseburger, it’s the only type of cheese there is; it’s perfection.

But even if processed cheese were appropriate for this sandwich (and it’s not — Cheddar or Provolone or Swiss or pretty much anything else would have worked much better), this was a particularly shoddy variety of processed cheese, with almost zero cheesy flavour.

Tim Hortons Grilled Steak & Cheese Panini Side

It wasn’t horrible in the first half of the sandwich, when it was still hot and melty. But by the time I got to the second half, the sandwich had cooled somewhat, and the cheese rapidly congealed into a plasticky morass of saltiness and agony.

And that’s pretty much all there was to this sandwich. Just salty but otherwise tasteless “steak” atop a waxy, cheese-like substance. There are red onions, and they add a little bit of crunch and a mild oniony bite, but their flavour was almost completely unable to stand up to the barrage of sodium.

I should note that I attempted to order the chipotle version of this sandwich, which also comes with a spicy chipotle sauce. In fact, I did order that sandwich — it was on my receipt and everything — but they either forgot to include that sauce, or it was so subtle that I couldn’t taste it (and certainly, that’s not altogether implausible; the panini so incredibly salty that any other flavour attempting to make a dent will get completely annihilated).

I contemplated returning at a later date and ordering another sandwich, making sure that I got the chipotle version this time. But I couldn’t. The idea of eating this again — in any form — was more than I could bear. I’m not strong enough.

And let’s face it, a sauce would have to be mind-blowingly amazing to make this sandwich even borderline edible; I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the sauce isn’t mind-blowingly amazing.

To keep this from being a complete hate-fest, I will say this: the bread was pretty good. It was perfectly toasted, with a nicely crispy exterior and a soft, fresh interior. I liked it quite a bit. I just wish it was filled with literally anything else.

(Nutrition Facts – 460 calories, 17 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1440 milligrams of sodium, 48 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fibre, 4 grams of sugar, and 29 grams of protein.)

Item: Tim Hortons Steak & Cheese Panini
Purchased Price: $5.49 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Tim Hortons
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Fresh, perfectly toasted bread. Ben Affleck gives the best performance of his career in Gone Girl (that has zero to do with this sandwich or this review, but I figured I needed at least one more pro).
Cons: Salty, otherwise flavourless “steak.” Salty, waxy processed cheese. Salt, salt, salt. Salt.

REVIEW: Tim Hortons Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Tim Hortons Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich

I can’t say I was super excited to try Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich — and yes, that’s Tims, not Tim’s. Just as Tim Hortons is oddly missing an apostrophe, so too is this sandwich. Clearly, someone at Tim Hortons hates punctuation.

When a fast food item doesn’t even look particularly good in its publicity shot, you know you’re probably in trouble (though to their credit, the actual sandwich looks remarkably similar to its beauty shot, so they’re at least not trying to trick you into thinking you’re getting something that you’re not). But after my pleasant surprise with the Tim Hortons Pretzel Bagel, I went in hoping for the best.

If, when you look at the picture of this sandwich, you think to yourself, “That looks like something I could buy from the freezer section at Costco,” you are correct. It tastes like something you could buy from the freezer section at Costco. If, on the other hand, you look at that picture and think, “That looks pretty good,” you are wrong. Get better eyeballs.

I will give this sandwich one thing: they’re not kidding around with the whole “crispy” thing. I’m fairly certain the chicken is baked rather than fried, so I was expecting something in the middle ground between crispy and soggy, but that was absolutely not the case. In fact, I’d say crispy isn’t even the right word, as that implies a delicateness that isn’t present here. This was full-out crunchy.

That sounds like it should be one of the best qualities of this sandwich; crunchy breaded chicken is delicious, right? Right. Well, usually. Somehow, with the style of breading employed here, it just comes off as oddly overbearing. It’s nothing too offensive, but it’s slightly off-putting.

The breading otherwise doesn’t have a ton of flavour, other than that generic saltiness that you’d expect from the el-cheapo breaded chicken you’d dig out of the back of the freezer at the supermarket.

Tim Hortons Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich Side

As for the chicken itself, it’s processed chicken slurry formed into a sandwich shape, rather than an actual piece of chicken breast. It’s dry and slightly spongy, with only the vaguest chicken flavour. Mostly, it just tastes of the aforementioned generic, processed saltiness.

Otherwise, the toppings are completely no-frills: a couple of mealy tomato slices, some lettuce, and a little bit of mayo. The soft, fresh bun was actually pretty good, and almost certainly the best thing about the sandwich.

Seriously, this is a mystifyingly mediocre sandwich. This is hospital-cafeteria-caliber food. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were being marketed as a budget offering — say, two bucks, or three at the very most. It would still be a bad sandwich, but at least you could justify it somewhat. “It’s not very good,” you’d say, “but at least it’s cheap!” The sadness in your eyes would belie the truth — that nothing could possibly justify willingly consuming such a blatantly mediocre sandwich — but at the very least you could take some small solace in its affordability.

But no such solace is provided here: they’re charging a full $4.99, putting this right in line with the premium chicken sandwiches at other fast food joints. And those sandwiches are, across the board, much, much better than this thing. Heck, the location I ate at was a Tim Hortons / Wendy’s combo restaurant, which means I could have walked a few steps to the right and purchased a far superior sandwich for the exact same price. A sandwich made out of an actual chicken breast, with a texture that doesn’t resemble a meaty sponge, and with breading that doesn’t taste like sadness.

This certainly isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. I’d go as far as to say that it’s perfectly edible; there’s nothing particularly gross about it. But there’s nothing particularly good about it, either. And it’s flat-out offensive that they’re charging a premium price for what is ever-so-clearly not a premium product.

(Nutrition Facts – 440 calories, 15 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0.1 grams of trans fat, 1000 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fibre, 3 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein.)

Item: Tim Hortons Tims Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.99 CAN
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Tim Hortons
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: The bun is pretty good. I feel like I should put something else here, so, um… the condiments were fine?
Cons: About on par with something you’d get at a cafeteria. Way overpriced. Dry, spongey, processed-tasting chicken. Overly crunchy breading. Tastes like sadness.

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).