McDonald’s Le Charolais

Happy National Cheeseburger Day! Apparently, it’s also Happy Get Groped near a McDonald’s by a Guy Resembling Rob Pilatus Day, which if I’d known about in advance, would have surrounded myself with bikini models and Sinclair Sexsmith, but you live and you learn, I suppose. And get touched by strangers, but that’s all in the past now. But everyone knows that the objectification of women goes best with a side of fries, so here’s Le Charolais, McDo’s answer to the McDouble back home.

Surprisingly enough, McDo also has the McDouble and McChicken in addition to this little gem, but this is for when you’re feeling classy and want a burger to go with your McMacarons and McEspresso, both of which exist and are embarrassingly delicious. I initially thought that “Charolais” was one of those corporate neologisms designed to be a hybrid of “charred” and something Franco-sounding and chic, but to my surprise, my two-dollar burger has origin, baby, and champion origins at that, sourced from Ireland and the south of France. The Charolais cattle are a noble, prize-winning purebred line who would likely be ashamed to discover that they’ve been made into something eaten by me.

In addition to a pedigree, the Charolais has PGI-protected French Emmental cheese, lettuce, and a Dijon-pepper sauce on a fresh miniature ciabatta. This has more “local” food keywords than most Brooklyn restaurants, and it’s got the flavor to prove it. Almost every component is flavorful, with a distinct, defined sharpness unusual to fast food. Normally, food like this is enjoyed for its monolithic, consistent properties. After all, a Big Mac is the same in every language, but this is another story entirely.
For its low price point, this is excellent. Any pricier, though, and I’d have been a little peeved. The quality didn’t match up with the ingredients. The cheese stood out the most, with a very nutty, slightly sweet note. The mustard and pepper sauce was tangy and strong and despite its modest quantity, went a long way in enhancing the burger. Unfortunately, the beef was so overshadowed by its accompanying components that they swallowed it completely. Letting it stand for itself was a noble goal, but regrettably a failure in execution. It was drastically underseasoned and dry. And the components were delicious, but didn’t quite come together with the same level of syzygy of the McDouble. I’d try this again, and use it as a tool to blow people’s minds, but for a consistent sandwich, would stick to my old favorite. Sometimes the classics win out!

KFC Boxmaster Grande

One of my favorite restaurants in American really isn’t American at all—Marseilles, in Manhattan, is a replica of a French brasserie. So, given my love of meta-everything, it seemed befitting to hit up the least French restaurant on my second day in Paris—KFC. And yes, that’s a hostess desk you see off to the right. KFC Restaurant is extremely popular in Paris, especially among the younger set of students. On my visit, I didn’t see any American tourists, but the place was still packed. That being said, I wanted to get something a little over the ordinary on my first visit, and the Boxmaster Grande spoke to me in a way that only contextually removed “foreign” flavors can. Packed with spicy chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, guacamole, and inexplicably, a hash brown wrapped in a giant tortilla, it seemed too good (bad?) to pass up.

 And as an added bonus, even after a short walk and a sprint up the six flights of 124 stairs (but how about that view?!) to get to my apartment, it came out perfectly preserved, looking identical to the promotional photo. If you think that our advertising preys on our emotions because occasionally Big Ronald tosses out a “happy” in front of an item to make you feel good, French fast food packaging takes it to a whole other level. Look at the word cloud surrounding Limited Edition—the color blends in with the package so that on some level, you might not even notice it.
Look a little closer and you’ll see that the Boxmaster all but promises you ultimate success, fulfillment, and the energy to live a “100% good” life, at least while you’re eating. The Boxmaster Grande is good—maybe not 100% good, but certainly a tasty and consistent fast food item. The components stay true to the Mexican theme and deliver on the spice without depending on one particular flavor. The chicken was tender, but extremely dry. Luckily, it had a real paprika-boosted kick to it and wasn’t too salty. Because it was pre-made, patches of it were soaked and mushy, an unpleasant surprise, but for the most part, it was crispy.
The accompanying toppings were a mixed bag. The vegetables, three thin slices of tomato and lettuce, were fresh and crisp and gave a nice contrast to the fried and dairy components. The cheese was undistinguished and disappeared under the deluge of bolder flavors. The two side sauces couldn’t have been more polarized. The guacamole was thick and chunky, with pieces of tomato and onion inside. It was as good as Chipotle or On the Border’s guac, and came dabbed in the lettuce like a side salad of its own. The so-called “zesty” salsa, atop the hash brown, was thin and watery and ended up tasting like a ketchup someone had accidentally dumped a boatload of paprika into. The hash brown served as a filler item, albeit a clever one, and ended up squeezing into areas the chicken didn’t cover.

 Overall, I liked getting this, even if it was just as a novelty item. Fast food is not something that I’ll be eating often, due to the aforementioned strange prices, but the KFC looks like it tests out some pretty fun products from time to time. Even if the Boxmaster didn’t quite make the mark, it was still a clever and familiar set of flavors for me. I’m looking forward to seeing KFC take a note from Burger King Japan- caviar and lobster Boxmaster would be worth the price!

Foodette in Gay Paris: Exploring McDo and Franprix

Here I am in France! Not only will this be useful for communicating my status as an alive person in a foreign country, but it will also serve as awesome entertainment for my friends and readers across the sea. As I’ve alluded to before, I’ll be here for five months, and will be documenting my travels and consumption as I can. Right now, I am in a hotel (read: youth hostel!) in the 10th arrondissement of Paris for one night. Tomorrow, I go to my apartment, where I will be cooking and spending the remainder of my days. That is, when I’m not off doing amazing things!

Let’s get a few things out of the way. For starters, I’ve been in transit for the last ten hours. It’s noon here and I have the moral fiber and energy of an impaired zombie. That being said, I’ve adjusted swimmingly to the quintessential French diet of cigarettes, Cachou Lajaunie tablets, and juice in the last three hours. For another, I’m going to be formatting my reviews differently here. As much as I’d like to buy every single strange and bizarre thing that I come across, some of the grocery items here are priced strangely, so I’m going to have to be selective about what I review. For instance, basic sandwiches at McDonald’s can range from $2.50 to $8.50 before you add a drink. I’m going to have to be very careful about what I try solely for the lulz. However, this means that you’ll be seeing many a grocery selection post, like this one.

Today, I spent my first morning in Paris as a young, vibrant adult in a McDonald’s and a grocery store, nursing a sore neck and extreme disorientation. I know, I’m a blast and a half. But here’s an interesting fact: an interesting McDonald’s? In my planet? In France, it’s more common than you think. Take all of the quiet, brooding hipsters from Starbucks in the US. Put them in a McDonald’s. That’s the audience of McDo, and it’s pretty cool. The restaurant is modeled less like a 70’s-era cafeteria and more like a hip bistro where the youth languidly lounge. Desperately in need of coffee, I went for an espresso and a mandine, chosen because I secretly wanted a burger at 9AM and that was the first p’tit dejeuner item I saw. The mandine is like a muffin bottom on steroids. It’s extremely dense, crumbly, and heavy, filled with chocolate chips and chocolate blobs on top, and injected with a Nutella-esque paste, but with more chocolate flavor and salt. Me likey, but a croissant it was not. Tomorrow will bring tastier treats. It was tolerable along with the espresso, surprisingly strong and flavorful given its origin. McDo knows how to coffee here, that’s for sure.

After my breakfast, I wandered over to a branch of Franprix, a local grocery chain in Paris. They have a crazy selection of food. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, especially in the yogurt/pudding/chilled dessert/specialty goo section. There were at least sixty types of semi-solid sweet food in the refrigerator case, in fascinating flavors like kiwi passionfruit, cheesecake, hazelnut, and almond. Lacking a refrigerator, I held off, but you can expect to see some of these pop up soon. My personal favorites in passing were Jockey yogurt, because I liked the name, and I was pleased to discover that Bonne Maman has a line of desserts using their delicious jam. Also pictured: something called Gü Puds that I want to take home and cuddle or display on the credenza, and Nestle EXTRÊME ice cream cones in an assortment of flavors. 

For a small grocery store, the selection is quite extensive. There were many flavors of cereal I hadn’t seen before, including Crunch bar cereal, and even some of their more mundane items were spiced up with interesting flavors. Mexican wings? Okay, then! There’s one thing I know I’ll be able to get cheaply, though: wine! This entire wall was filled with wines from small Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone producers for well under $7 a bottle. I’m really looking forward to sampling many of them and giving my thoughts on Nobly Rotten.  Plenty of interesting candies to be found, too, ranging from Haribo gummies of all shapes and sizes to more traditional, nostalgic candies, likely from many peoples’ childhoods. 

I also bought this drink. I thought it was unsweetened coconut water, but it tasted like Hi-C and Fruit 2 O had babies and didn’t taste like coconut at all, despite the label. Maybe the parrot’s name is Coco? I’m not sure. I drank it, but it was pretty basic and heavy on the sugar.

And that’s what I’ve been up to so far! For now, I’ll leave you with this pithy bit of wisdom found on a brochure in the hotel: “The champagne helps wonder.” Huzzuh! I’ll be back with a review tonight, and also, remember- next week starts sauce week! Just to spice things up, though, I thought it would be fun to pair French hot sauces and condiments with American jerky, so you’ll be seeing many a review from some of my favorite jerky companies as well. Stay tuned!

Wendy’s Son of Baconator

Lately, I’ve been hitting the bulk of my burger bucket list scores. There was the Big Mac back in November, and the Wendy’s Flatbreads earlier this summer. And today, I finally checked another sandwich off the list, a veritable one-two punch to the heart: the Baconator and Son of Baconator. Recently, Wendy’s unveiled the pint-sized burger as a smaller counterpart to the original bacon-heavy sandwich. I was given the opportunity to try the two sandwiches side-by-side and see which sandwich reigned supreme.

If you haven’t had the Baconator, it’s worth a try. While the $6.49 price tag and 940 calories of bacony, beefy goodness may deter some, it can be approached carefully if you split it with a friend or whack it into a few meals. In its most perfect form, it’s a pure umami-bomb, with a wonderful sweet flavor from the ketchup and mayo, and an intense savory foundation from the beef, bacon, and cheese. The bacon is thick, crispy, and salty, and the bun is solid without being too dense or crumbly, sealing everything together neatly. Unless your burger artist has a heavy hand with any of the condiments, it’s bound to be an indulgent treat, albeit daunting at first. However, its shortfalls lie in the balance of flavor: the 1/2 lb. of beef threatens to overwhelm the ingredients, and teeters on the brink of indulgence vs. greasiness. It’s too flavorful to really taste the remaining ingredients, and the monolithic flavor causes it to fall flat.

And then there’s the Son of Baconator. Like most parent-child relationships, the son exceeds where its predecessor stumbles. In this sense, the Son of Baconator fills the greasy, delicious shoes of its dad with finesse. Where the Baconator lacks balance, the Son plays the mediator, trying, and succeeding to please both parties. Scaling down the beef to 1/4 lb. in two patties offers more crunch and surface area for crispy end bits (!!!) and lets the cheese melt into the crannies. Neither the patties in the Baconator or Son were overcooked or dry and both sandwiches were liberally seasoned.  

The 2:1 ratio of bacon to 1/8 lb. of meat in Son works much better than the 3:2 in the double Baconator. This burger is delicious and indulgent without the regret, although the 700 calories push this into a treat category for me rather than an every-day favorite. All in all, this is one Wendy’s family member I’d definitely check out again.

Red Robin Cry Baby and Fiery Ghost Burgers

Happy 6th of July! All the fireworks are now 90% off. But in other, more important news, Happy I’m About to Reach 1,000 Reviews Day! We’re just a few away from 1,000 reviews of fancy, funky, freaky food, guys. It’s extremely exciting. But today, here’s a patriotic pair of burgers that will have your tongue singing Sousa marches all day long. If you happen to know Sousa marches. Okay, so there was a brief (eight year) period in my life when I played the flute in the local adult band. Not nearly as fun, erotic, interesting, or clever as it sounds outside of proving that in high school, I was that guy.

Whatever. Red Robin sent over a gift card to us to review their newest, sexiest burger selection, featuring the first usage of the elusive ghost pepper in a casual dining chain restaurant. The Cry Baby burger and Fiery Ghost burger are two new additions to the chain’s Tavern Double line, which allows you to choose between two sizes of burger, and then, for $1 extra, upgrade with a set of toppings. This is a great, streamlined way to get the Red Robin experience without agonizing over topping selection. One thing that has always confused me about the menu is that they emphasize customization, yet the menu lacks a complete list of toppings, sauces, and bread selection for you to create your own burger with. Instead, you’re picking and choosing elements from other burgers like you’re picking out items from those prefab, modern homes and tallying them up in your head. This way is easier, and includes a row of additional items at the bottom that you can add for an additional surcharge. Much better.

We ordered the two smaller Tavern Double burgers, and shared the latest beer from Blue Moon, Summer Honey Wheat. I’m not a beer person, but I loved this beer. It was fantastic and light, and didn’t weigh us down before our big meal. The flavor was identical to a honey wheat pretzel twist with a little citrus thrown in, and all I could think of when I was drinking it was how cool it would be to cook with this and infuse that phenomenal flavor into chicken or brisket. It was great.

Our burgers arrived shortly, and if you’re wondering now whether the Tavern Double is big enough for your appetite, stop wondering. These are enormous. While both burgers do go light on the dairy-heavy toppings (neither sauce is mayo based) they clock in at roughly 1,200 calories apiece. We chose to each eat half and save the rest for later. Let’s start with the two new sauces. The Fiery Ghost comes with a ghost pepper-infused hot sauce, a thick sauce with a flavor profile better suited toward sweeter sauces, like a curry, than a hot sauce. 
It had notes of cumin, cloves and cinnamon that gave some depth to the meat, but lent a sweeter aspect to the burger that didn’t really scream “heat.” However, the Fiery Ghost was hot enough to make tears run down our faces…why? You’ll see. The Cry Baby came with a ketchup, also infused with ghost peppers. We preferred this one because it had a little more of a bite, a cleaner flavor with jalapenos at the forefront. Can’t say that either sauce was extremely hot, but then again, there must be restrictions for the number of Scovilles a restaurant’s sauces can have. Still a decent attempt, and each sauce made an excellent zippy dip for onion rings.

The Fiery Ghost burger was insanely hot. Not due to the aforementioned sauce, but because there were three whole jalapenos chopped up on the burger. You can see one of them sliced in the above photo. This is both good and bad. Good, because in the initial phases of the debut, some reviews had comments complaining about the weak topping distribution. I’m pleased to report that there were a ton of toppings on these burgers. The Fiery Ghost had three fresh chopped jalapenos and around six fried jalapeno coins on top, and the Cry Baby had plenty of fried and caramelized onions. However, this did mean that the Fiery Ghost was incredibly spicy, and the bite of the peppers overwhelmed most of the other flavors.

The Cry Baby had a better balance of flavor. The combination of the sweet caramelized onions and crispy onion strings really brought out the natural flavor of the beef, and the cheese and sauce gave it a bit of a kick. This was more like a steakhouse-style burger than an explicitly spicy one, but it still tasted wonderful.
These were solid burgers, and really fun additions to the summer menu. I think they’re more of a step outside of the norm than the bacon on everything and combined farmyard animal burgers that a lot of restaurants have been debuting. The creativity of the ghost pepper is in the right place, even if the heat is not. I can’t wait to see what else Red Robin concocts!

McDonald’s Blueberry Banana Nut Oatmeal

I reeled back like I’d been shot. “What did you say?”
He tipped the brim of his visor and smiled out at me. “I have to go find the blueberries. Not to insinuate that I’ve lost them, but I just don’t know where in the refrigerator we have them.” 
“Ohkaaaaaaaay.”
He smiled again. “We know three-syllable words, too!”
At first glance, this might sound normal- if you were at a diner, or a regular restaurant, or at home. But this was around 11:30 last night, and I was idling in front of a McDonald’s. The visor-bedecked speaker was my server, and I’d just been handed a promise of Bizarro-world proportions. Fresh blueberries? In my oatmeal? At McDonald’s, it’s more common than you think.

Oatmeal isn’t a new item here- back in 2010, McDonald’s debuted its Fruit and Maple oatmeal, a version that, though better than the McGriddles of the world, still had some nutritional and textural kinks to work out. I’m pleased to report that this new version is vastly superior. Last year’s version felt like two dollars’ worth of Quaker in a bowl and a lifetime’s worth of bragging rights to your significant other or sibling. I counted no less than sixteen blueberries in my oatmeal before I smacked myself in the head for being such a nerd about counting blueberries. Let that sink in. Sixteen fresh blueberries! There were at least two in each bite and they were plump, fresh, and tangy, a wonderful contrast to the sweet, nutty oatmeal.

I liked that it was slightly creamy and very smooth, tasting more like a baked oatmeal than your standard microwave job. I was a little disappointed to find neither fresh banana nor pieces of walnut, but the flavor remained. It had a great, wholesome flavor, malty and sweet, with a healthy dose of spices to keep the sugar and touch of maple syrup in check. It’s exceptional.

Opponents of the new oatmeal, Mark Bittman among them, have criticized the oatmeal in the past for its caloric value and needless additives. While it’s true that the new oatmeal, along with the humble pie I’m eating, doesn’t exactly need light cream and food starch, it’s a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to get here than to make. Why? Well, in the case of the previous oatmeal, which had mainly dried fruits and oats, it was a bit of a cop-out. I could easily make that. However, fresh blueberries are currently $5 per half pint, or roughly a cup of blueberries. And because this is Western Massachusetts, they’re organic to boot.

When I want breakfast, I don’t want to make a $20 investment to do so. Buying the exact ingredients it takes to make one serving of this- banana oatmeal ($5, for a banana and container of oats) walnuts ($5 for six ounces) light cream ($3/quart) and blueberries ($5/half pint) already has me out $18, or nine servings of this oatmeal at Mickey D’s. This version is easier to get, equally as delicious, and still one of the most nutritious hot breakfast items on the menu. 

Taco Bell Beefy Nacho Burrito

Like envisioning a post-apocalyptic backdrop in which our dinosaur overlords taunt us with what once was food as we choke down our pellet diets, it is difficult and panicky for me to visualize a town where the only viable quasi-Mexi option is Taco Bell. Suffice to say, the days of both Taco Hell, Schlocko Bell, and jokes lifted from 90’s topical jokebooks where the punchline (lunchline?) is always “looking for a byte to eat” because haha, computers, are OVER FOREVER.
I mean, sometimes they’re just so predictable. I used to be able to diagram Taco Bell’s new formulations in the same way that I diagram logic games. For instance: Taco Bell uses seven ingredients, Guacamole, Fresh tomatoes, Hot sauce, Imaginary steak, Jalapenos, Krunchtastic Chips®, and Lard to make four items, Qrazy Burritos®, Rollitos®, Stufftwiches®, and Tacos®. If guacamole and tomatoes are in a taco together, there can’t be any lard. No Rollito® can have more than three components. If a Stufftwich® does not have Krunchtastic chips®, it must have Imaginary steak. Each ingredient can be added one time to multiple items. No items have less than two ingredients. And so on.

However, with the release of the Doritos Tacos Locos and the newest member of the gang, the Beefy Nacho Burrito, I’m confronted with more than one wild-card element. Queso strips? A Dorito-laced taco shell? Where do those fit in? In the case of the Beefy Nacho Burrito, chips make a surprisingly successful addition to an otherwise blase burrito- that is, only if they’re not inside it. The core structural problem with the BNB is that, like its spicy predecessor, the Beefy Crunch Burrito, unless you live inside a Taco Bell or are eating it in the store (an awkward moment for anyone with a camera who, like me, intends to take photos) it inevitably turns into a monolithic, soggy mess as soon as you get back. It’s salty, sauce-heavy, and tasty, but in both cases, they present an issue I never thought I’d have: too many condiments.
The end bites are predominantly tortilla, cheese sauce, and sour cream. If you’re lucky, a few errant pieces of ground beef will be in there, too. I thought that this had a better balance of spices and heat than the Beefy Crunch, because the addition of Volcano sauce (which might not be standard) made for a more up-front spiciness and lingering heat. Perhaps this would be better if given the McDLT makeover- keeping the hot side hot and giving you a bag of strips like croutons to sprinkle on a few seconds before ingestion would solve the textural inconsistencies, but still eliminates convenience. Taco Bell R ‘n’ D- make some thicker chips! Or spray them with a nacho cheese-flavored hydrophobic coating.

I will say this- the combination of Volcano cheese sauce, ground beef, and sour cream evokes the flavor of nachos, I guess, in the same way that looking at porn is just like having sex. To their credit, this is a passable alternative for nachos if you’re driving* and need to eat nachos**. Besides, by the time the actual nachos get to your clumsy hands, they’re already soggy from the condensation. It’s nachos lite, because the the tortilla strips are rendered as soft and pliable as the tortilla surrounding it. You can see them in the burrito, but in all other senses they don’t register at all. Which is why I asked for a separate bag of them to taste- exactly what do Queso Strips bring to the table?
They taste identical to the Four Cheese Doritos, now discontinued in the States but flourishing in Canada as far as I can tell, which leads me to believe that these exotic export hail not from sunny Mexico, as all Taco Bell items obviously derive from, but from our neighbors above. They’re thin and crispy, seemingly thinner than the Doritos here, with a mild, creamy cheesiness, like the powder that comes in boxes of mac and cheese. I think I enjoyed them more than the burrito itself. As for that, it’s a fun novelty, but not much else. Get some Queso Strips and sprinkle them in yourself if you must***.

*- while high
**- while high
***- while high

Wendy’s New Smoky Honey Mustard and Asiago Ranch Grilled Chicken Flatbread Sandwiches

I’ve got to admit, I don’t make it out to Wendy’s often. It’s not the restaurant’s fault, but the location of the closest one is within a quick radius of at least three other good restaurants, a Trader Joe’s, and is halfway between home and school, so it’s rare that I’m ever making a pit stop. Tonight, though, I found myself with a block of spare time and a nagging parched feeling, so I decided to stop for a soda for the ride home, remembering I’d had a gift card for the new ranch guacamole chicken sandwich to try out.
However, when I saw an advertisement for two new varieties of grilled chicken flatbread tucked behind some bushes, I couldn’t help myself. As luck would have it, they happened to be out of guacamole as well. I was initially apprehensive because from the angle my car was at, all I could see was “smoky honey-” and I reasoned that if the next word was “BBQ” I’d just pass. Fast food barbecue is nothing exciting and the bulk of them are overly sugared and sticky, but it turns out that I was in luck. Smoky honey mustard and asiago ranch awaited me along with a cool drink.

They also explicitly advertised the sandwich in a generic “fancy food” font and had a strange sign (presumably for people with allergies to butter? Or a desire for fine dining at fast food prices?) informing customers that the flatbread sandwiches were prepared with butter. All righty, then!

For $3.99 plus tax, the flatbreads provide a decent value and an excellent quality. After a little research, I found that the chain has been testing four varieties for the last five months, switching up the flavor combinations and offering two others in addition to the two mentioned above, smoky apple barbecue (though whether that’s applewood or apple fruit, I don’t know) and caprese. They’re packaged in a special brown-bag wrapper with instructions to rip and grip for eating on the go.

Right from the get-go, it was easy to see that these were not your average fast food chicken sandwich. The smoky honey mustard sandwich features grilled, seasoned chicken, a blend of lettuce and arugula, tomato slices, and a smoky honey mustard sauce atop a whole-grain flatbread. The asiago ranch flatbread, like its sandwich counterpart, features the same meat and vegetables, but adds on a slice of asiago cheese, ranch dressing, and crispy bacon.
The two flatbreads were exceptional. Although the format of the whole-grain bread has the surreptitious flavor profile of a mother trying to sneak vegetables into her kid’s food- a highly sweetened honey flavor to detract from the crunchy nuts and seeds and a toasty exterior so that nobody notices the bread isn’t blindingly white, it’s still a valiant attempt at vending whole grains on a large scale.The bread has a nice chew to it while still remaining yielding and is soft, holding together all the toppings without falling apart.

I felt like the honey mustard sandwich was the less balanced of the two. While I’m always up for a condiment-centric sandwich, there was no smokiness to be found in the sauce and its sweetness only enhanced the sugars in the bread. I would have liked to see a little more bite to this sauce, from something like paprika or even horseradish. However, the vegetables were crisp and fresh and the chicken was moist, tender, and lightly seasoned with a blend of spices that cut some of the cloying flavor. The sandwich contained about a half of a pounded, but still relatively thick, chicken breast, and was very filling.
We unanimously preferred the flavors in the asiago ranch sandwich– it’s definitely one I’d get again if I needed a quick meal.  For whatever reason, the tomato in this one was much pinker and anemic-looking, and tasted less fresh. The remaining components were amazing, though- the slice of included bacon was thick, chewy, and even a little crispy at the ends. It balanced out the bread wonderfully along with the sharp tang of the asiago, slightly melted from the heat of the chicken.
Like the other sandwich, the lettuce added a welcomed bitter contrast to the rich flavors and was bound together by the ranch sauce, which was strong enough to give a kick to the whole package, but didn’t overpower any one ingredient.

All in all, I was really impressed with these. The interesting ingredient combinations and  high-quality feel of the sandwich gave me deli or coffee shop quality at a fast food prices. I’ve seen things like this sell for around eight bucks at organic coffee places, so this is a wonderful compromise. I’d love to see new versions of these on the market soon!

Dunkin Donuts’ Southwest Steak and Southwest Veggie Breakfast Burritos

The cashier beamed at me like I’d just eaten a dozen doughnuts in one sitting.
 “You got the last two burritos!”
Trying not to sound too excited or too interested in the comings and goings of QSR quasi-Mexican breakfast food, I asked her if they were popular.

“We introduced them today and we just can’t keep them on the shelves!” That settled it for me. After hearing about these via press release, they sounded too good to pass up. Dunkin’ Donuts is less known for their breakfast sandwiches and wraps, having gone through strange hybridized products in the last few years. Waffle sandwiches, fruity bagels, and sausage biscuits didn’t make the cut, but I believe they may have a contender on their hands with the new Southwest Steak and Southwest Veggie breakfast burritos.
My first indicator that these would be good? The latter contains sweet potato, a component I’ve never seen used in D ‘n’ D products before, along with roasted corn, black beans, scrambled eggs, and cheese. The former, a more standard meat ‘n’ potatoes flavor, was advertised as containing seasoned steak, potatoes, various fire-kissed vegetables, eggs, and cheese. Both burritos were about the size and thickness of a TV remote control, roughly six inches long and sealed tightly with a uniform brown, bubbly crisp. That’s definitely a good sign, as nothing can bring down a burrito more than a chalky, crumbly tortilla. These had the added benefit of carrying a salty, grilled flavor on the shell, almost like a taco shell, without seeming greasy or filmy.
The tortillas held together wonderfully and contained all the fillings while still remaining soft and yielding to each bite. Whatever size they used was perfectly proportionate to the filling, which extended from edge to edge and filled the center of the tortilla, bulging slightly out of the seam. The veggie burrito was outstanding for a fast-food breakfast item. It had a predominantly smoky chipotle accent from the peppers and an underlying sweetness from the potatoes, which, as the most plentiful ingredient, were up front and center.

All the ingredients were well-cooked without being mushy, a typical complaint of the nuked veggies used in these premade filling mixes, and the beans and corn added a crisp texture and additional layer of flavor to the sandwich. The cheese wasn’t really noticeable but bound all the ingredients together well. While this definitely could have used a little hot sauce, the smoky heat of the peppers wasn’t shy at all.
The steak burrito was definitely the mushier, saltier one of the bunch, crammed with pieces of steak and potato. Both were texturally indistinguishable but well-seasoned with heft and body. Calling it steak is a little overzealous, on par with calling a Big Wheel a Ferrari. It has the texture of loosely chopped sausage. Like the veggie burrito, this was also spiced, but not necessarily spicy. The eggs and cheese played a bigger role in this and I felt like this had a more breakfasty feel than the other.

 I enjoyed how much meat there was in proportion to the other ingredients. For three dollars apiece, they were both filled very generously. If you skipped breakfast but don’t yet feel like lunch, one or two of these will really hit the spot.

McDonald’s Strawberry and Creme Pie

“Hi, uh, what kind of pies do you have?”
“We have apple and cherry, but I really don’t like cherry.”
“Okay, do you have the strawberry pie?”
“The strawberry creme pie? Yeah, we have that.”
“I’ll take one of those.”
It was like walking into a speakeasy. No advertisements, no branded packaging, and no overt mentioning of the new strawberry creme pie existed at this McDonald’s. While I’d been told in advance that it was being sold in my area, proving that we are yet again another awesome pie test market, it was still awfully strange that none of the employees seemed to want to tout its springy goodness.
However, after opening the box, I began to formulate an idea as to why that was. This particular pie was crushed and battered beyond all belief, leaking its red, gelatinous contents out of the box. The underside appeared to have been broken and restitched together with a hasty application of pie glue and the filling sank to the bottom, the top crust bowed and fractured. What was advertised as a sugar-dusted coating was a glaze-drowned layer on this one. However, as I know from many fast food forays before this one, sometimes the ugliest ducklings yield the tastiest meat.
In this case, the pie crust was chewy, but appropriately sweet and heavily improved with the glaze on top. While the strawberry manifested chiefly in the form of pie filling goo with no discernible texture or fruit to speak of, it had a fresh, tangy flavor perfectly complimenting the sunny weather outside. The creme was where I ran into some issues. It wasn’t creamy in the way that I expected it to be, with a pudding-like, runny texture, and instead was crumbly, dry, and baked like a custard. This definitely leeched away some of the more summery implications of the dessert and relegated it more toward day-old baked good central. However, the flavor was fresh and vanilla heavy, so the texture felt like less of an issue in comparison.
Overall, I’m very impressed that McDonald’s is offering seasonal pie flavors for our vacillating New England weather. Color me jaded, but apple just doesn’t reek of spring or summer to me. I liked seeing s’mores in the summer and pumpkin in the winter, and having strawberry creme in the spring is a pleasant way to welcome in the season. While this sort of missed the mark in the texture department, I was pleased enough with it to eat the entire thing and share a little with Miss Love.