Fast food fish is difficult to pull off. There’s the ever-pressing question on the quality of the normal food at fast food establishments, and I think more people are wary of old seafood than an old burger. Oil quality and freshness is another, potentially underrated, issue. If the restaurant isn’t regularly cleaning and replacing the oil used for the fish, the air inside the establishment will have a gross funk, and the old oil will affect the taste of the fish, giving it a non-fresh taste. Also, fish items tend to be heavily battered, so you’re in for a heavy meal if you choose the fish route. Lastly, I also think they’re a tough sell if you’re near water. Any location that has access to fresh fish will also likely have cheap options to each said fresh fish. The price point may be higher than a fast fold establishment, but the quality is likely better.

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All of this is a roundabout way of saying that even though I’ve been going to Popeye’s since I learned of its existence, I had never ventured to stray from the chicken until I tried the Sweet Heat Butterfly Shrimp. There’s no longer a product description on their website, but this is pretty self-explanatory: the breading on the shrimp combined sweet and spicy elements over their standard butterfly shrimp. This was sold in several different permutations: I ordered a 10-piece meal for $6.49, but it was also available in smaller portions in a $5 box. My meal came with a drink and a side dish.

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The Sweet Heat Butterfly Shrimp have a good crunchy breading. Even though the surface area on the shrimp is smaller than on a chicken piece, you’re still getting that satisfying crunch on each bite. While there wasn’t an upfront spice, I did feel a lingering spicy aftertaste after I started eating the shrimp, which was pleasant. It wasn’t so hot as to set your mouth on fire, but at lot of fast food places don’t really deliver on promised heat. The shrimp meet that challenge.

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Unfortunately, it’s the sweet aspect of the breading that did not leave me with a favorable impression. My initial thought is that it had a vanilla frosting taste. I don’t mind vanilla frosting, but it’s not an enjoyable taste when combined with shrimp and cayenne pepper. As I continued to eat, the sweetness became overwhelming, perhaps because I didn’t like that taste so it stood out more.

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The butterfly shrimp themselves were surprisingly good. They weren’t tough or overly fishy. I didn’t get a big shrimp taste, but they served as a useful vehicle for the breading, which was the star of the meal. The shrimp were a decent size, and ten is definitely enough for a regular meal. They weren’t overly greasy or heavy. Perhaps most importantly, just like their chicken tenders, you can dip them into the mashed potatoes and they still taste good.

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The only drawbacks to the shrimp: there were some issues in the consistency of the breading and they were served with the tails on. Not all the shrimp had full breading coverage, which defeats the purpose of the special breading. And while I don’t mind the tails on the shrimp, that makes them harder to eat with a fork, if you’re so inclined. Your hands are going to get a little messy.

While I wasn’t a fan of the Sweet Heat Butterfly Shrimp because of the overly sweet breading, I can say that I was a fan of the shrimp and regret not trying them before now. I’m not sure if they’ll come into the regular Popeye’s rotation, but I would absolutely order them again. I’ll also keep an eye in the future for new shrimp items that feature spiciness. I think I’d unequivocally like a spicy shrimp from Popeye’s. Because the experience broadened my menu choices at Popeye’s, I’d call it a success!

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McDonald’s has made some fairly large (for them) changes to their menu recently. Last spring they introduced several new Signature Crafted burgers in an attempt to offer fresher and more varied choices to diners as they face competition from fast casual burgers chains in all markets. This follows a failed attempt to induce customers to customize their burgers via kiosk, which never was fully implemented nationwide. The Signature Crafted burgers have some customization options (as I’ll detail below), but they’re primarily offered as set sandwiches, with your choice between Sweet BBQ Bacon and Pico Guacamole, with usually a third option that varies locally. It took me some time to make it to a McDonald’s to give the new selections a taste, but I’m sucker for a guacamole burger, so I always knew I’d make it in eventually.

McDonald’s Pico Guacamole Burger contains “freshly prepared Pico de Gallo, creamy guacamole, real buttermilk ranch, white cheddar, and lettuce … served with a fresh lime wedge.” I ordered it as a meal with a large fries and soda, which was $8.79 before tax.

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Before I go into how the food actually tasted, I think it makes sense to review the ordering procedure because it was confusing. As someone who used to work at a McDonald’s and has been eating there pretty much my whole life, the ordering process for the Signature Crafted sandwiches was unclear.

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For these sandwiches, there’s a three-step map which is laid out on a mat by the counter. It makes sense in hindsight, but confused me as a first time consumer. The first step is to choose your protein: a burger or piece of crispy/grilled chicken. Second step: choose your toppings (i.e. Pico Guacamole). Lastly, you must select your bun, which can be an artisan roll or sesame bun. Seems straightforward, right? However, I couldn’t just go up and order a Pico Guac burger. Their register is set up to do it step by step, and I got tripped up when I made my order, the needed to retrace my steps so the cashier could input all of the information.  I also was trying to order the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, and the worker at the register misheard my order and almost gave me a different burger. It took us a minute to sort out what I actually wanted.

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Now that I’ve done the blogging equivalent of yelling at clouds for a few paragraphs, how about I discuss the burger?! The Pico Guacamole burger came boxed, wrapped in paper and served with a lime on the side. The box is standard now for “fancy” burgers, but I have never been served a piece of fruit with my order at any fast food restaurant. And in an industry which sometimes struggles to give good, fresh produce as sandwich toppings, the lime looked surprisingly healthy. I don’t think the burger necessarily needed the lime, but as a courtesy, I gave the inside of the burger a squirt before starting to eat.

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The paper worked to keep the burger in one piece. My first bite wasn’t too special; just like a regular cheeseburger. The toppings were inconsistently applied and I was eating on the barer side. While this is a general strategy of mine so the last bites are always the best, perhaps I should start giving myself better first impressions.

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When I got to taste everything together, I enjoyed the burger. This is a classic fancy burger combination, so the flavors combine well and my overall enjoyment came down to the individual components, which were fine to quote good. The pico de gallo and guacamole were the standouts, as they should have been considering the name of the burger.

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Tasting some of the pico alone, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh it tasted, unlike most fast food vegetables. I also detected some salt and other seasoning (may have been the lime). While I’m not 100% certain I’d want to eat a whole bowl of this with some chips, I’d definitely champion it over the soupy flavorless concoctions most fast casual chains call salsa. Plus, as someone who despises raw onions, keeping the tomato:onion ratio tilted heavily in favor of tomatoes is a major plus for me. While not every burger can have pico, maybe this is a solution around mealy/limp fast food chain tomatoes. Just chop them up and season them to hide them!

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I also want to compliment the guacamole. It had chunks of actual avocado and some spice, maybe from some jalapeños. This was another quality condiment, and as someone who’s a sucker for guacamole burgers the toppings here are really top notch. Because it was actual guacamole and not too soupy or dense, the guacamole generally stayed in its place on the bun.

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Running through the other toppings here, the white cheddar was not good. Somehow it didn’t melt, which was off-putting. It was sandwiched between room temperature to slightly cool pico and guacamole on one side and adhered to what should have been a hot burger on the other side, yet it never melted into meat.

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The lettuce was also not really needed. The burger already had a veggie component and the pico de gallo added some crunch, so the lettuce was literally just filler. Lastly, the burger patty was typical McDonald’s. It served as a vehicle for everything else without detracting too much from the proceedings. The meat is always going to be on the dry side, but I like their burger seasoning.

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There was a buttermilk ranch added to the sandwich. I can’t say that it stood out in any way, but there’s always the chance that it provided some tang to the other ingredients and elevated their flavors. Or it added unnecessary calories.

The paper wrapper kept the burger together and generally in one piece until the very end, making it easier to eat (and take notes) without using 50 napkins. Not every chain can pull that off so it should be noted when it occurs.

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Overall, the burger is a solid win for McDonald’s. I can’t speak for the other new topping combinations, but I would 100% consider ordering the Pico Guacamole Burger again if it stays on the menu. The flavor profile was quite good. There was a lingering spice, I think from the guacamole, that was pleasant and not overpowering. The fresh vegetable toppings lifted the burger beyond a normal fast food experience, which is what McDonald’s was aiming for. I think if you’re a fan of guacamole burgers, this one is worth your time. Or, if you find yourself at a McDonald’s and want something that strays beyond their normal comfort zone, then this is also worth a shot.

I’m not a huge breakfast eater, when I do decide to eat an actual meal before lunch, I’m always looking for savory, not sweet, options. Savory food at least starts to mimic the lunch experience, which I prefer. When I saw that Dunkin’ Donuts had introduced a Maple Sugar Bacon Breakfast Sandwich, I initially wasn’t interested in trying it. I’m not a huge fan of maple flavoring, and the name alone made it seem like the sandwich would veer too far into sweet territory. However, one morning I found myself at a Dunkin’ Donuts, hungry and with no prospect of lunch within the next few hours thanks to a fantasy hockey draft, so I decided to take the plunge and see if Dunkin’ could provide the maple sugar flavor without turning the sandwich into a sugar bomb.

The Maple Sugar Bacon Breakfast Sandwich is “a double portion of sweet caramelized Maple Sugar Bacon, Egg and Cheese … on a freshly baked Croissant.” The price for the sandwich is $3.99 before tax and without any accompaniments. As an insight into my process here, when I order something, I want it as close to the advertisement as possible. If a company has created a product, I want to try what they’ve decided the public will want to eat, rather than order it with my own modifications. This is why I get annoyed with Subway, where I go in to order their promoted product, but I have to remember what’s on it because they don’t provide a default option.

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With that being said… I did not order the sandwich on a croissant. First, instead of defaulting to the croissant, the employee behind the counter gave me the option to choose my bread, which threw me off guard and let me to ordering the sandwich on a ciabatta roll. Second, I have eaten one croissant in my life which I actually enjoyed, and it was not from Dunkin’ Donuts. By ordering the roll instead of the croissant, I had more of a chance of enjoying the sandwich. I’ll keep my roll comments to a minimum since they aren’t necessarily relevant to the advertised product.

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Taking the sandwich out of the bag, I was struck by how small it was. I thought the roll would be bigger. It smelled great through. It had a strong maple and bacon aroma, and I couldn’t wait to begin eating. While the sandwich had a good amount of bacon coverage, my first bite managed to only have egg and cheese. The egg and cheese are standard Dunkin’ fare. They’re supporting players to the bacon, there more for added heft plus the slight melted cheese taste.

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I also think getting the roll was a better choice than sticking with the croissant. Though the sandwich was small, the roll was more substantial than a croissant would have been. The crust added a more of a crunch to the sandwich than a soft croissant. Also, as a breakfast sandwich, eating a butter-soaked croissant on top of bacon, egg, and cheese seems way too heavy for an AM meal. I ate this on a Saturday morning, and could imagine feeling sluggish and staying on the couch through the afternoon if I got the croissant. Eating this at work is incomprehensible if you wanted to be productive.

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The Maple Sugar Bacon had some pluses and minuses. It was crunchier than I anticipated, which can be a problem with fast food sandwiches. The taste was a mix between smoke and maple, skewed heavily towards the maple flavor. It seemed as if the bacon was soaked in maple and removed right before it was added to the sandwich. When eating the bacon alone, it was almost too sweet.

As mentioned above, they didn’t skimp on the bacon. I sometimes hesitate ordering bacon breakfast sandwiches when compared with sausage, because a sausage patty is going to cover almost all of the sandwich, while a lot of places chose only give a few thin strips of bacon, making the sandwich feel light. Dunkin’ definitely chose to highlight the Maple Sugar Bacon and ensure it was a good portion.

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When eating all the components together, the sandwich was quite good. The smokiness of the bacon shone through and the sweet maple flavor was offset by the cheese. Even though I didn’t get much eggy taste, I think using it as another non-sweet element toned down the bacon to an acceptable level, keeping the sandwich as a nice balance between savory and sweet.

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Overall, the Maple Sugar Bacon Breakfast Sandwich was really good. I’m not a big breakfast sandwich guy, and I’m more likely to get a donut if I’m ordering food at Dunkin’, but for anyone in the mood for a breakfast sandwich, this is definitely worth a shot. It was filling, despite its size and just sweet enough to get that maple taste without tasting like candy. Of course, it’s worth noting that this was a seasonal offering, but I’m guessing it will return to the Dunkin’ menu sometime soon.

Before the introduction of Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, my biggest hang up with going to Taco Bell was their lack of fries. Since I can remember, and from what I’ve heard before then as well, fries have been my favorite food. I judge fast food and regular restaurants by the quality or lack thereof (I see you In-N-Out) of their fries. I will make substitutions if food I order does not come with fries. I have strong opinions on the best fry shapes. I have an ongoing desire to go to McDonald’s one day and eat a whole basket of fries and nothing else (around 3 large orders). So it goes without saying that as much as I love Taco Bell, when I ate there, I was choosing fast food, but foregoing the opportunity to eat fries, which always caused at least a small pang if regret if the Taco Bell wasn’t paired with a KFC or Long John Silver’s. With the introduction of their new fries, I no longer will suffer from that feeling. Without wasting any more time, let’s review into this important development.

Taco Bell offers the fries as a regular side with nacho cheese, and a nachos-like portion served in two sizes: Supreme (small) and BellGrande (large). The Supreme and BellGrande versions are fries “dusted with bold Mexican seasonings [topped with] seasoned beef, diced tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream and that warm and magical Nacho Cheese Sauce.” The Supreme size is $2.49 and BellGrande is $3.49. You can also get a box of fries with a cup of Nacho Cheese Sauce for $1.

I ordered the BellGrande portion. Words can’t express my excitement as I waited for my food. I kept trying to peek into the kitchen to see when my order would be finished. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only two minutes, I got a bag with the food. I rushed to my table to empty the contents, and my first emotion was disappointment. The size of the fries container was small in terms of both fries and toppings. I thought the BellGrande portion would be larger and I expected more toppings. At least at my initial glance, I’d rather have saved the $1 difference between the Supreme and BellGrande sizes.

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Getting into the actual food, these were standard fries.  Coming out of the kitchen, they were crispy and looked to have an extra layer of batter on them. Obviously, they weren’t cut in the back, but they seemed to be acceptable fresher type fries. There was a small amount of spice scattered on them, but I can’t recall it standing out in any way. I’d have liked a more aggressive shake of the seasoning because I think it could have really elevated the fries.

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After trying to fries alone, I tried one with just some Nacho Cheese Sauce. It was standard Taco Bell nacho cheese, a little spicy and kinda cheesy, which I generally enjoy. I thought the pairing went well together and would consider the $1 fries option in the future. The fries were still crispy after a dip in the cheese and the flavor complemented the fries. If you want something plainer, and control over the amount of topping on the fries (as well as the option to prolong the crispiness), the $1 option is a good order.

I then started digging into the meat of the dish, literally and figuratively. The tomatoes didn’t really add much. The BellGrande Fries are meant to mimic nachos. However, unlike chips, which have a broader base and can be used to scoop up other foods, the fries need the toppings to adhere to them. Tomatoes don’t adhere to fries at all, so I resorted to using a spork, which was a lot of effort for tiny tomato pieces that weren’t really necessary to the dish. They weren’t strong in taste nor did they have enough of a textural contrast to be there. If Taco Bell wanted to add a vegetable, I think a pepper would have worked better.

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The beef is standard Taco Bell ground beef. I can’t remember the last time I had ground beef on fries, but it’s a great addition and hit the marks I was expecting from the fries in terms of replicating a plate of nachos. In addition, not that I wanted the Nacho Fries to be filling since I was ordering a lot of other food, but if you were looking to make the fries a focal point of your meal, then the beef adds some heft to the plate.

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After a few bites, I realized I needed a utensil even when I wasn’t trying to eat the tomatoes. The fries were getting pretty soggy and messy, and using my hands didn’t seem to be a viable option anymore, especially since I was taking pictures and notes. Using the spork also let me mix and match bites to try out different combinations and prevented the fries from getting boring by replicating the same bites throughout the meal. I’ve complained before about food getting boring, but the choose your own adventure aspect here let me pick around and choose the best bites, which usually was the fries with the Nacho Cheese Sauce and some ground beef.

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I’m not a big fan of sour cream and don’t really need it on my nachos. The sour cream did nothing to persuade me to eat it more in the future. If you like sour cream, then it’s fine here, just like it is on nachos. Some guacamole would have been nice instead, and it would have had a similar texture.

The Nacho Fries become messier and messier as I went along and looked pretty gross as I was finishing. Nachos are never exactly an aesthetically appealing food, but with everything combined and congealing at the bottom of the plate, it was not pleasant to look at.

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When eating, I made the mistake of not eating the fries fast enough. I’m a slow eater in general, plus when I eat for the blog, I need to take notes and pictures as I go along. However, under the weight of all the toppings, the fries got soggy very fast. My recommendation is that if you order the fries along with other food, eat the fries first.

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The fries were more filling than I anticipated from initially looking at the container. Granted, before this Taco Bell order, I had eaten Burger King’s Flamin’ Hot Mac n Cheetos, but I still think these serve as a solid base for a meal.

The summary of the experience here is good and bad. It was a good first effort by Taco Bell on the fries front. The fries were acceptable, if not great, and I feel like the base components of the fries, Nacho Cheese Sauce and ground beef worked well together and provide a solid foundation from which to move forward.

The biggest negative is that the fries got soggy very fast. Even the fries that weren’t under a mountain of cheese and beef lost their crispiness fairly quickly. Unless you’re fine with soggy fries, these need to be eaten immediately. I wouldn’t even recommend ordering them at the drive thru at this point. After the fries lose their crisp, it’s a big soggy mess. I’m not sure if they need to fry these twice or if the sogginess is from a lack of quality, but they need to work on building a stronger fry.

Also, I don’t think this was a good value at the price. I must have misunderstood the commercial, because I thought it was available with chicken or steak. At the price point offered for BellGrande, I expected one of those meats. Ground beef as the only meat option was slightly disappointing. It’s also an easy fix. Chicken and steak would add another texture and really make the taste better while also reducing some of the mess. Taco Bell already sells those meats, so it’s just a matter of adjusting the pricing.

I offer a qualified endorsement here. Taco Bell has laid the foundation for future success with some small tweaks. If you’re excited like me to try the new addition to the menu, then it’s definitely worth your curiosity. I trust Taco Bell to make improvements to make these even better in the future.

Fast food restaurants have engaged in ever more inventive ways to create special offerings to draw interest and new customers. Most of these variations are limited to new toppings on sandwiches or introducing new flavor profiles to the establishment. One area where there’s been limited innovation is the fried food realm. While you can go online and see pictures from state fairs and restaurants and see every type of fried food (and beverages!), and one can buy frozen Fried Twinkies (surprisingly delicious!), most fast food restaurants still only fry chicken, fish, onion rings and French fries. My guess is limited fry stations, using generally the same oil (which can lead to flavor cross contamination), plus the limited shelf of fried food (can’t really store it in a heating bin so you need to make it to order or let it sit under a heat lamp) hampers their ability to really branch out.

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To stand out from their peers, Burger King has come to save the day. Burger King has recently introduced Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos. They first came to my attention in early December, but I haven’t had the chance to visit a Burger King since then. I knew I’d have an opportunity last weekend, but a quick look on their website showed no trace of the side order, and I was worried I’d missed my chance. Those fears were allayed as soon as I came within site of the counter, as this particular establishment displayed a large poster advertising the food. Since there’s no description on their website, my best guess as to the Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos ad copy is that it would say Burger King’s Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos are creamy mac and cheese, deep fried to perfection and smothered in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos cheese dust. Or something like that. It’s sold in a pack of five pieces which is $2.89 before tax.

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The Flamin’ Hot Mac n’ Cheetos (from now on FHMnC for my sanity) are served in a nifty little box specially designed for them. It reminded me of a mini happy meal box. After I removed it from the bag, I was immediately met with a cheesy aroma, just as if you opened a bag of Cheetos, which seemed promising. Weirdly, the smell became fainter after I opened the box and the odor turned from cheese to generic fried food.

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I looked inside the box and the site of the FHMnC confused me in a not good way. They were shaped like cheese curls, but instead of a bright orange color, they were dark red. I’ve never eaten Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but looking at a Google image search, they’re a lighter hue than this dark red, which reminded me more of rust than food.

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I picked up a FHMnC piece (or is it bite?) and the breading on it was sturdy. A quick squeeze (who doesn’t squeeze their food?) didn’t produce much give. I was more surprised that when I put it down, there was no Cheetos dust in my hand! Thinking back, it makes sense that the Cheetos dust is added to the batter, because floating cheese dust in a fryer sounds disgusting, and I don’t think it could produce dust on your hand unless rolled in something after frying (which would add more labor but may be a good future option).

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My first bite was awfully cheesy.  I think most of the cheesy taste came from the inside of the piece. The FHMnC were also very spicy. The spice definitely was added to the batter and maybe that dark red was from some cayenne pepper because it was strong and became more intense as I kept eating. The crunch of the FHMnC was striking. These had a thick batter which definitely made them better to eat because it produces a strong contrast with the filling. Even after they weren’t fresh out of the fryer, the crispness remained.

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Now, about that filling… let’s be clear, this is deep fried macaroni and cheese. It’s going to be insanely dense because you’re frying pre-cooked carbs and throwing in cheese. As mentioned above, the cheese flavor was really intense. I didn’t get much flavor or texture from the pasta. It was just there as filler.  It provided no texture or anything of note other than carbs.

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When I received my order, I was asked if I wanted sauce. I wasn’t sure if there was a standard sauce with the FHMnC, so I declined. That was a mistake. Maybe the bigger problem lay in that this was the first thing I consumed that day except for half a cup of water before going out, but the FHMnC were very dry. Whether it was the dense cheesy carb-ness or lack of beverage, but these needed a sauce to counteract the dryness. Sauce also would have helped to break up the monotony of cheese and spice. The problem is I’m not sure what sauce goes here. Anything spicy is out. Same with anything cheesy or dairy based. Maybe something sweet or smoky would work (so ketchup or BBQ at Burger King).

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The spiciness and dryness and cheesiness became too much and I did not eat all five pieces. The FHMnC were not enjoyable to consume. The heat level kept increasing until my mouth was on fire. It was too cheesy for someone who isn’t in love with cheese. At no point did I feel like I was eating pasta. Maybe that exposes limits of frying macaroni, but I did expect more texture in the filling. I only got it with that fried shell, which felt thick, and was the most successful part. Inside was mushy and cheesy and one note.

The FHMnC also occupy a word spot on the menu. You wouldn’t replace fries or onion rings with them, because they’re too expensive/filling. It’s more of a share type order where you’re going to split these with someone else, because I couldn’t imagine wanting to eat more than two or three of these (for the record, I finished three). I wouldn’t recommend spending your money on the FHMnC, but if you choose to do so, at least get some sauce to give these a chance at being worthwhile. Some things maybe aren’t meant to be fried *sigh*.

When I find myself at a fast food establishment, I generally lean towards ordering chicken. I do enjoy burgers, but I find that 1) chicken is generally more consistent across most locations (no surprise mayonnaise) and 2) I just love fried chicken. I’ve had the privilege of driving across the country four times, and on each occasion, I made specific plans to enjoy local delicacies, which frequently meant friend chicken. The drives also exposed me to the many great fried chicken focused fast food chains across the country. Unfortunately, these trips also opened my eyes to the fact that for whatever reason, we really don’t have much selection in New England. While Chick-Fil-A seems to be penetrating the market, the main options have always been KFC, and if you were willing to go out of your way for something special, Popeye’s.

Unlike its larger cousin, KFC, Popeye’s doesn’t seem to be as adventurous with its menu. While you’ll see KFC ads plastered all over your television (try the Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot!), I don’t see many ads for new Popeye’s products, but there is value in their consistency. Regular or spicy, chicken parts or tenders, the menu doesn’t change much but is always great.

Anyway, most of my fast food trips lately are going to a location with an order in mind: they have something new I want to try. But this trip to Popeye’s wasn’t prompted by an ad or tweet or reader request; I just wanted to go to Popeye’s. It wasn’t until I was staring at the menu, trying to figure out an order that would let me eat everything I wanted without spending $30 when I noticed the Smokehouse wings. I immediately decided to add them to my order, not substitute them for anything else. I’m not proud of how much I ate that day, but Popeye’s is worth it.

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Popeye’s Smokehouse Boneless Wings were $4.99 for a six piece meal which comes with a side, biscuit and drink. Unfortunately, I’m writing this too late to have an official description, but I’m sure it would have included words such as “boneless white meat chicken” “marinated” and “smoke”. Fast food mad libs are fun.

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As presented to me, the basket was a glorious mess of fried goodness. I could barely see the boneless wings underneath the mountain of fries (as a side note- Popeye’s fries are the biggest hit or miss fast food item since Wendy’s changed their fries; they’re either glorious or borderline inedible). I ate a few fries to create a path to the wings. Aside from the crazy amount of batter, the boneless wings were still huge. Normally I’d think of a boneless wing as something nugget-sized, but these were basically chicken tenders. I’m definitely not complaining, but it was much more food than I expected. A six-piece meal is more than enough without adding anything to your order.

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Into the wings themselves, my first impression was the great crunch and hint of spice. They were fried to perfection and not as spicy as Popeye’s regular spicy chicken/tenders, but I definitely felt some heat. The chicken itself was tender and juicy, as with all of their chicken.

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The Smokey flavor was more subtle and took a few more bites for me to notice. Eventually, that flavor cane out, and the best way I can think to describe it was like ham, which made for a weird experience. I’d take a bite and get the crunchy, spicy batter and juicy chicken… then a hammy aftertaste. If you ate a chicken tender then chased it with a small piece of ham, that maybe a replication of the experience.

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I love Popeye’s, if I haven’t made that clear, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to review one of their items. However, this was not a winner. The idea of adding a smoky taste to a medium spiced chicken tender is a worthwhile idea, but the execution fell short here. I couldn’t shake the ham taste as I ate, and that’s not a flavor I want to mix with my fried chicken. If they leaned more in a BBQ type smoked direction, I’d be willing to give the concept another chance, but as served, I’d stick to my regular order on my next Popeye’s visit.

When introduced, McDonald’s Chicken Selects were a revolution in the fast food fried chicken realm. At that time, Chicken McNuggets were still mechanically pressed together from disappears parts of the chicken. While I remember liking the taste, in every box there’d be at least one McNugget with weird, unchewable pieces or other unidentifiable chicken part that was gross and made you hesitate to order them. McDonald’s started to rectify the problem with their Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich, which offered a piece of white meat chicken, but the Selects were the first time they (or any of the big burger chains, as far as I can recall, had done an all-white meat nugget. Even pitched at a higher price point, they sold like mad. During my time at McDonald’s, whenever they were discontinued (Selects came on and off the menu at random, like the McRib), people would constantly try and order them. I even remember people driving off when informed weren’t available.

It never made sense to me why McDonald’s would take Selects off the menu. Even after McNuggets became all white meat, Chicken Selects occupied a different space between those and the (then) new premium chicken sandwiches as larger, more aggressively spiced chicken pieces. It makes sense that McDonald’s would want to bring a pricier item back to the menu. My only confusion is why it took so long for them to introduce a similar product.

McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Tenders are not Chicken Selects, but they are “chicken tenders battered and breaded … and made with all white meat chicken, with no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.” The tenders come in packs of 2 (a newer release), 4, 6, and 10 pieces. Since I was also eating a Pico Guacamole Burger that day (review coming soon!) I opted for the four piece, with their newly released Sriracha Mac Sauce. It was $4.19 for the four piece box, which comes with two sauce packets.

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Our first order of business  is to discuss the packaging. The Box was slightly confusing to open even as I was sitting in a booth in the restaurant and would have been impossible to do so while driving without hitting a car or driving off the road. I appreciate fancy packaging, but one of the appeals of fast food chicken is that it can be eaten as a meal on the go and the tenders definitely fail that test so long as they’re served in this box.

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Onto the chicken itself, I’m guessing my tenders were smaller than usual, so I actually received five tenders… or someone screwed up and gave me extra food. Upon my first glance, Buttermilk Crispy Tenders were a darker hue than I anticipated. I was expecting more golden brown, but these were closer to actual brown. The breading was also thinner than I expected. I thought there’d be a thick, crispy coating, but these were thinner, like they only coated the chicken with seasoned flour after the buttermilk marination. When eating, that meant they were crispy, rather than crunchy, if that makes any sense at all (if not then make a mental comparisons between KFC extra crispy chicken versus a regular chicken patty like you’d find in Burger King’s Original Chicken Sandwich).

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By going with a thinner breading and eliminating a heavy crunch, these tenders needed a solid seasoning. Unfortunately, McDonald’s fell far short in this department. I barely detected any salt or pepper, let alone something more aggressive like cayenne or garlic powder. I know they want to heavily push their sauces and they expect customers to dip their chicken, but the food has to stand on its own. Otherwise, it’s just a vehicle for sauce, in which case why pay extra for these as compared with McNuggets (my quick math in the store had the markup as every Buttermilk Crispy Tender equals two McNuggets).

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The good news is that the chicken itself was nice and juicy. I believe it was real chicken pieces and pressed together chunks for different parts of a bird. They were generally thin and not terribly thick, but didn’t dry out. The texture immediately reminded me of Popeye’s, which is the gold standard of fast food fried chicken and unlike the texture of any other chicken I’ve ever eaten at McDonald’s, so they 100% nailed the hardest part of the item.

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Now is a good time to talk about the Sriracha Mac Sauce, since the buttermilk tenders needed an extra boost. Opening the packet, the sauce is really orange, which definitely catches your eye. Regular Big Mac sauce is never that color, so that brightness is definitely the Sriracha influence. While the color resembled buffalo sauce, the aroma was closer to Big Mac sauce, with a sharp tanginess that reminded me of the burger. The sauce was bold in flavor, and differed from regular Mac sauce in that it had some underlying heat to it.

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When it comes to flavor… this was Big Mac sauce with some added Sriracha, which was more of an underlying heat, rather than the main taste. When combined with the chicken, the experience was elevated. The tenders were dying for some extra flavor, and adding something with spice made them better to eat.

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Disappointed is honestly the word that comes to mind when recalling my experience here. After the smashing success of the Chicken Selects, I really thought McDonald’s would lean into that area again and produce another winner. I don’t want to fault them for coming up with something different that could have been even better, but they failed. If you’d told me they forgot to season the breading, I’d believe you. They needed something more, especially with all the fanfare behind their rollout. I’m honestly surprised they’ve been so well received. I ate these originally back in October then tried them again recently and had the same impression. In October, I ate these after the Pico Guacamole Burger and I kept thinking that I wished these were McNuggets instead. If you want something different and/or plan on dousing these in sauce, then order the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders. Otherwise save your money and wait for them to get a new recipe within a few years.

 

The Naked Chicken Chalupa opened a new frontier for Taco Bell. Before is release, their meats were generally grilled chicken/steak or ground beef and were easily deployable into any of their myriad of combination foods. However, the Naked Chicken Chalupa introduced fried chicken to the menu for the first time.

Though that initial foray was a fried chicken shell, it makes sense that Taco Bell decided to stick with fried chicken and find more uses for it on their menu. They then introduced Naked Chicken Chips, which was basically a chicken nugget with dipping sauces; a staid choice for a fast food chain not known for its restraint (Also, it’s kinda weird that they call their fried chicken “Naked” when it’s coated. Grilled chicken should be naked, fried chicken is “clothed”, if you will.)

Next up, Taco Bell introduced the Crispy Chicken Quesadilla. I was initially confused by the pairing, because it seemed to me that putting fried chicken into a quesadilla would render it not crispy, not to mention any potential flavor clash. I was disinterested enough that I actually didn’t plan on eating and reviewing it. However, one afternoon I made a trip to a combo Taco Bell/Long John Silver’s, planning on trying a new shrimp item from LJS. When I asked if they had it, the poor woman behind the counter looked at me like I had two heads. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I pivoted to the quesadilla to salvage the trip.

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The Naked Chicken Quesadilla is the standard Taco Bell quesadilla, which is a three-cheese blend and creamy jalapeno sauce on their tortilla, with their Naked Chicken wedged in as well. The Naked Chicken Quesadilla is $4.19 on its own or available in a box with a Doritos Locos Taco, a crunchy taco and a soda for $5.99, both prices before tax.

When I got to my table, I grabbed the quesadilla package and was underwhelmed. It seems like most fast food places are putting more effort into their packaging to make the food look more appealing. The Naked Chicken Quesadilla came in a flat plastic sleeve and looked limp. After I tore the top away (per their instructions), I pulled out the quesadilla and, to be honest, the tortilla looked way too brown, as if it had spent too much time in the steamer. In addition, it was damp from spending time in a sealed container. I will admit that it smelled pretty good though. You can’t beat the aroma of fresh fried chicken combined with a hot tortilla.

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My first bite was full of cheese and spice, their standard quesadilla ingredients. At first I thought it contained a spicy nacho cheese, but I realize now the spice was the creamy jalapeno sauce. That was a great addition and I may want to add it to other foods in the future.

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The problem with the Naked Chicken Quesadilla is that it wasn’t crispy at all. The tortilla was soft from sitting in a closed pouch for a few minutes, producing enough steam/humidity to make it damp. I also didn’t get a bite of chicken. As I continued to eat, I should note that this was really spicy from the jalapeno sauce. I didn’t even add any hot sauce myself, but I had to periodically take breaks to cool my mouth.

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A lack of crunch after the initial bite was a persistent problem. Even after I reached the chicken, it didn’t stand up to the other ingredients. The chicken breading got soggy because it was stuck in a tortilla, surrounded by cheese. The chicken pieces were quite thin, so the flavor of the chicken also didn’t stand up to the cheese.

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The quesadilla itself was very thin because the chicken and cheese didn’t provide much heft. Eating the chicken alone, it was fine. I’d judge the quality as a decent frozen chicken tender that you’d find in a supermarket; certainly not something you’re salivating over but it didn’t ruin the meal.

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Lack of a textural differences in my bites made this a pretty boring eating experience. The tortilla stayed damp even after exposure to air and was floppy, which ruined the only chance for a crunch other than the chicken. Breaking my usual process, I actually stopped halfway through the quesadilla to eat something else because of the sameness of every bite. It also didn’t help that the chicken distribution in the quesadilla was not even, and that first half I ate was rather chicken light.

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To be fair, the Naked Chicken Quesadilla improved after I picked it up again. The second half was slightly better because it contained more chicken so I wasn’t just eating a damp over-cooked tortilla and cheese, but it still wasn’t great. I somehow got a few bites with actual crispy chicken (and I’m honestly not sure how that happened), and those were pretty nice.

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If you’re a fan of quesadillas in general, you’d probably get more mileage out of the Naked Chicken Quesadilla than me. I don’t generally like cheese forward food, so maybe this was never going to be a winner for me, but the execution really didn’t do it any favors. Like I mentioned, the second half was an improvement on my initial taste, even including two bites with actually crispy chicken! So there is a chance if I’d eaten this in reverse order, I’d have had a more favorable opinion. However, lack of consistency is a problem. Unless you really like quesadillas, I don’t think I’d order this. If you really wanted to get it, I’d recommend ordering a cheese quesadilla and chicken on the side to alternate your bites; you’ll probably come closer to what Taco Bell intended.

In my continuing series on Dunkin’ Donuts’ seasonal specific donuts, this post will feature the Vanilla Truffle Donut which I originally ate back in March, but may find itself back on the rotation at some point as Dunkin’ rotates in new flavors every few months now.

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Dunkin’s Vanilla Truffle Donut is their standard donut with a cream filling, chocolate frosting, and topped with little pieces of chocolate. On its own, the price was $1.17, continuing my constant shock at how much a donut costs. Not to sound old here, but these used to cost less than $1! And back in the day they were bigger! Old man grumbling aside, this little fella packed a wallop at 390 calories. Yowza. I guess the cost per calorie is reasonable enough.

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Taking the donut out of the bag, it smelled fantastic, as donuts always do. I got a nice whiff of the chocolate frosting and vanilla filling inside the donut. Before taking my first bite of the donut, I tried one of the chocolate curly things (truffles?) on the top. There was nothing particularly special that I could discern from that bite. It tasted like a normal piece of chocolate and seemed to be added just for texture.

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I finally took my first bite and… it was a regular donut. You generally know what you’re getting with Dunkin’ and this wasn’t the most adventurous flavor to begin with. The dough was soft and sweet and it was definitely fresh. It was the same donut that’d be used for a Boston Kreme. I managed to bite into the side without any filling (also a problem with the Candy Cane Crunch Donut), so those first bites were essentially a fancier chocolate frosting donut. The truffles on top added a different texture, which was nice, but that was still just more chocolate.

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I finally reached the vanilla cream filling about halfway through the experience and it did improve the flavor. The first half was too chocolatey for my taste, so the vanilla helped cut and balance that more intense chocolate flavor. Unfortunately, on its own the vanilla cream was nothing special. It smelled better than it tasted, because it didn’t have a strong vanilla flavor that I hoped for. The filling did the bare minimum and probably couldn’t have carried a donut on its own.

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Overall, this was a fine donut. If you’re a fan of chocolate and want something with extra chocolate flavor, then I’d recommend ordering the Vanilla Truffle Donut if it’s available again. You won’t be overwhelmed by the vanilla and you’re getting more chocolate than a regular chocolate frosted donut. However, for me and others who don’t want that much chocolate in the morning hours, this is a pass in the future. Boston Kreme still reigns supreme as their best filled donut because they cream has more flavor and blends with the chocolate to produce a better taste.

Countries, cities and regions are frequently linked to their famous foodstuffs. When you travel to that place, or go to a restaurant serving that particular cuisine, there’s always a local delicacy that you have to try; otherwise, did you really visit that location and eat what the locals eat?

Thus it is with Montreal. While the city is also famous for its French cuisine, bakeries, and smoked meat, in my humble option, poutine reigns supreme above all other local foods. I’ve had the chance to visit the city several times, and no visit is complete without one (or two, or three…) meals featuring poutine. Therefore, on my last visit this spring, even though I had already eaten poutine and a smoked meat sandwich for lunch, after a full dinner I needed to make a stop for one last fix at Montreal’s most famous poutinerie: McDonald’s.

I knew McDonald’s in Montreal had poutine, little did I know I arrive soon after the release of their Three Cheese and Bacon Poutine, also known as a Poutine au bacon et 3 fromages to the locals. Their regular poutine contains gravy and cheese curds over their regular fries, but this edition also contained bacon pieces and a shredded cheese blend. The price for this delicacy was 5.24 CAD, and after adding a medium soda and tax, the total was 7.74 CAD which is $6.39 USD as of this writing.

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One potential flaw in my plan for this snack: I purchased the food then walked back to my hotel before eating it. I hustled back, but it was still in the bag for 5ish minutes. While I held the bag open to reduce moisture and forestall sogginess, some sog was inevitable.

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Of course, the presentation of the poutine didn’t help keep it crispy. It was served in a box with a lid. I understand wanting to keep the whole mess contained so there was no leakage in the bag, but closing the box only created more humidity. The other issue is that the poutine took up all the space in the container, so it was difficult to pick around to choose my bites. If I’d eaten at the restaurant, I probably would have dumped it on my tray, and I think it would have been a better eating experience.

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Anyway, onto the actual eating experience. Upon taking the poutine out of the bag, I was greeted with a cheesy and bacon aroma. It was loaded with cheese, but I didn’t notice the traditional cheese curds. Instead the three cheese blend looked like it came from a bag of shredded cheese that you can get in a market. This doesn’t make it automatically bad, but without the curds, this isn’t really poutine. It’s more akin to disco fries. Of course, after some digging, I did find cheese curds buried underneath the initial layer of cheese, so they made sure to cover all their bases.

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I tried a bacon piece before I dove into the full experience. To their credit, the bacon wasn’t just bacon bits from a plastic container. It looked like McDonald’s actual bacon chopped up into good sized chunks. They were smoky and salty, and generally maintained their crispness as I ate.

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The layer of triple cheese on top, by now fully melted and solid posed as a real obstacle to digging down and getting some fries. It was thick, and the plastic fork may not been have been the best utensil for the task. I did sneak a plain fry on the side, and not much needs to be said about it: fresh McDonald’s fries are delicious.

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The poutine was really salty. I kept reaching for my drink as I ate. The bacon was a nice touch to break up the flavor, but of course added to the saltiness. As mentioned above, I was surprised we got whole curds. Not because they don’t belong, but because in McDonald’s interpretation of poutine, I figured the three-cheese blend would be enough. I can’t pretend to be an expert in cheese curds (I’ve only eaten them on poutine), but these met my standards in terms of cheesy flavor and squeakiness.

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Taking all of the components together, cheese was the biggest flavor, as the curds and cheese blend were the star of the dish. The next strongest flavors were unsurprisingly the salt and smokiness of the bacon. The fries were in the background, mainly as a vehicle for the more assertive toppings and the gravy as well had a slight beefy oniony flavor, but I really only  tasted that when it was isolated with the fries. The poutine was so cheese forward that I’m not sure that extra layer of cheese was necessary, or at least if McDonald’s wanted that cheese to make this their dish, then a smaller amount could have been used. It was hard to pick around the cheese to get non-cheese bites.

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As I continued to eat, I ran into the inevitable poutine problem (exacerbated by the walk to the hotel): eating poutine is a race against the clock. The fries are only getting soggier as they soak up the gravy and the gravy combines with the cheese to create humidity which saps crispness. The box also didn’t help, as the pouting filled the confines, so there really was no access to outside air. By the end, this was a soggy mess, with congealed gravy, which made some of those last bites undesirable. There were some untouched, fries that somehow stayed crisp on the bottom, and they were a nice reprieve.

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The Bacon and Three Cheese Poutine was a large portion of food, which I consumed after eating a full meal. Is it something I’d eat all the time if it was available in the U.S.? No, probably not. It’s a large, heavy side dish to add to a meal, plus poutine is something you want to eat immediately, and I usually save my fries for the end. However, if you really want to indulge and can handle being stuffed to the gills, then it’s worth it. Sure, this isn’t a traditional poutine, and if you have one chance to eat it in Montreal, you’re probably not stopping at McDonald’s, but if you find yourself in a McDonald’s in La belle province, treat yourself to something you can’t get back home.