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*.

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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.

 

Taco Bell’s general modus operandi is to create new food items or just double (or triple!) the portion size of an existing item. Why serve a regular burrito, when you can serve an XL burrito? The question is so silly it shouldn’t even be asked.

The XL Steakhouse Burrito comes with chips and queso. The chips and queso are not an add-on to the burrito, they are necessary accompaniments. I think I see that Taco Bell is looking to give a restaurant feel to a bigger and pricier item, but for me personally, I’d prefer to eat a different menu item rather than waste stomach space on Taco Bell chips and queso. The collection of foods cost $6.49, and I added on a medium drink for $1, which lines up with the cost of a meal at other fast food outlets. Of course, that means this is expensive for Taco Bell. The burrito itself contained steak, bacon, queso, sour cream and fried potatoes.

To run through the sides before we get to the main event, the chips were meh. They were nice and salty, but thin and stale tasting. The chips sometimes broke when dripped in the queso. The queso was better and is more in line with what I expect from Taco Bell. It had a nice spicy cheesy taste. The only problem with the queso was the consistency: it was too soupy, which makes me think it came from a mix.

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The meal came in a large cardboard box, and the burrito itself was in brown paper. From the looks of it, it was a hefty burrito. Taking into account on the presentation and the size of the burrito, you’d be happy receiving this form your local burrito establishment, while also wondering how they made an oblong burrito.

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My first bite was tortilla and fried potato. I wasn’t sure if the potatoes were fried pieces or tots, but it doesn’t matter. One of my policies in life is that adding fries potatoes to any foodstuff is always the correct decision. In a burrito, it helps to have that crunch to switch up textures as you eat. The Taco Bell tortilla is not great. It’s thick and chewy, but those qualities also mean it should be sturdy enough to hold everything together.

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The other prominent ingredient in the first few bites seemed like a bacon cheese sauce. There’s a chance it was just bacon pieces and queso (which I found out afterwards when researching the ingredients), but I want to believe it was one ingredient. I like queso and thought it complemented the steak well, when I eventually got to the steak, that is.

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The burrito suffered from poor construction. I made it 1/3 of the way through getting any steak. Seeing the ads, I knew XL meant a bigger burrito, but also should mean more steak, which didn’t seem to be case.

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When I finally reached the steak, I was surprised at how tender it was. I always hesitate when ordering steak burritos because if the meat is too chewy or difficult to bite, then it’s difficult to get just a bite of steak, as opposed to a whole piece. It goes without saying that I was expecting hard and chewy pieces. The steak was decently spiced I think. I twas hard to isolate alone because of the sauce throughout the burrito. One nit pick: the steak pieces were pretty small. The pieces were small enough that it almost didn’t seem like I was eating steak. Soon after I encountered the steak, I reached a sour cream cache in the middle of the burrito. I’m not a fan of sour cream in general and don’t think it helped the burrito.

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Taken as a whole, the burrito was extremely messy and saucy. At the halfway point, the burrito started falling apart. It seems the tortilla wasn’t as study as I thought. Combining all the ingredients, there were some good bites here. Anything steak heavy was tasty and I applaud the use of fried potato, rather than rice, as the burrito filler. The bacon, when not a featured bite, fell into the background and seemed to just be there so they could advertise that the burrito had bacon on it. Maybe if it had more of a smokey flavor that would have been good for background.

The XL Steakhouse Burrito was filling. While on the pricey side for Taco Bell, it was a substantial meal. The fact that I’m leading off with that point is not a great sign though. I felt like the burrito was less than the sum of its parts. The bites without steak, of which there were many thanks to uneven ingredient distribution, just didn’t have strong enough taste, and too much of the heavy lifting was left to the sour cream. As I write this, the XL Steakhouse Burrito isn’t currently on the menu, so no one can actually order it right now, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it as anything other than a filling meal.

The paradox of introducing a new base ingredient in the implication that the previous incarnation was somehow less than. (And how’s that for an opening sentence on a blog about fast food?) Was it not healthy? Maybe it was full of additives? Or not properly seasoned? Regardless of the reason for replacing the old food, some credit should be given to a restaurant which is looking for ways to improve their core products.

This, of course, brings us to Wendy’s “new” Grilled Chicken Sandwich. The new is in quotes because the sandwich debuted in October 2016 and I ate in in November when it was actually new, as opposed to July 2017 when Wendy’s has already begin rolling out new products based around the grilled chicken (R.I.P. Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich, we hardly knew ye). My opinion and unscientific polling indicate that Wendy’s for whatever reason(s) (probably the salad bar that I haven’t seen in 10+ years), is considered the healthiest of the bigger fast food chains, so their grilled chicken sandwich is more important that, say, Burger King’s.

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Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich “is a juicy, all-white meat chicken breast fillet, marinated in a blend of herbs, topped with a smoky honey mustard, vibrant spring mix and fresh-cut tomato, all served on a toasted, multigrain bun.” It’s priced at $4.29 for the sandwich and $7.29 for a combo with medium fries and soda.

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As a note, I ate the Taco Salad first, but this sandwich was still hot when I ate it. Taking the sandwich out of its wrapper, it did smell like real chicken. To be clear, I didn’t put my nose directly up against the sandwich, but it had a strong aroma. As I looked at the sandwich before eating, it appeared to suffer from poor sandwich construction, like everything else at Wendy’s. I pulled up the top bun to see the insides. The lettuce looked crisp and fresh, but it also protruded enough from the bun as to make picking up the sandwich slightly difficult. It has also just dawned on me that I received regular iceberg lettuce and not the spring mix as advertised. Either they made a change after I ate it, or I wasn’t given the proper toppings. I also didn’t initially find a tomato, which struck me as an odd choice. Of course, as we’ll soon discover, a tiny one was added, but it was hidden by the giant lettuce.

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My first bite, by design, was only chicken. It tasted well seasoned, my guess is that lemon pepper features prominently in their spice mix. As good as it tasted, the texture of the chicken was a problem. The texture was soft and off-putting. I ate before noon, so it’s doubtful the chicken sat in a holding tray for very long, if it was cooked that morning, and I’ll give this location the benefit of the doubt that the chicken wasn’t originally cooked the night before and then served to me the next day. But discounting those two possibilities leaves an extremely unfavorable impression of the chicken.

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As I ate the components together, the lemony flavor from the chicken stuck out. It combined with the sweetness of the honey mustard, to produce what is probably a good taste if you like honey mustard. But I don’t, so the sweetness didn’t do anything for me. If it had been replaced with some barbecue, or hot sauce or even a flavored mayo I would have much preferred the sandwich.

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The multigrain bun didn’t have any special taste beyond having grains sprinkled on top.. Unlike most specialty fast food bun, this was fine, without any weird taste, and it fit the “healthier” theme of a grilled chicken sandwich.

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Taking everything into account, the sandwich felt plain and repetitive in taste, which is a common weakness for grilled, white meat chicken. There was no real depth or variation of flavor. I tasted lemon and sugar in every bite.

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The experience was made worse by the sandwich falling apart as I ate it, because there was too much honey mustard. The plus of the sandwich disintegrating was my discovery of the tomato hiding underneath the lettuce. Unfortunately, it was too tiny to make any difference in texture or flavor in the sandwich.

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One compliment I can definitely give Wendy’s is that they did not skimp on the chicken portion. It was substantial. The large chicken breast give the sandwich heft, and made it filling, even without eating a Taco Salad. Unfortunately, it’s a big piece of chicken on a substandard sandwich. The lemon taste was too much. The chicken needed more salt to balance the lemon, and maybe a little more black pepper, or a spicy sauce. The honey mustard was too sweet and there was too much of it. It was literally dripping out of the sandwich.

While I applaud the effort, I just don’t see myself ordering the regular Grilled Chicken Sandwich again, unless they make some tweaks. As they add variations to the menu, I’m sure I’ll come across it again and check to see if they solved the seasoning and texturally issues, but I don’t need the honey mustard overload again.

 

This post will conclude our KFC Conversation, which began last week with the Nashville Hot Chicken. To include the introduction again, this post is a continuation of last week’s conversation. I went with four friends (AB, AP, HJ, PM plus me [FFC]!) to my local KFC (no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken) to sample their two newest selections: Nashville Hot and Georgia Gold Chicken.

KFC’s Georgia Gold Chicken is KFC chicken topped “with its delicious, tangy honey mustard BBQ sauce.” After KFC debuted their Nashville Hot Chicken last year, I guess KFC decided it could keep the train rolling with a new creation, using their regular chicken and adding a different sauce to it. Since we started the meal with two Nashville Hot Chicken meals, I’d wanted to order just the chicken for this round of eating. I’m not entirely certain whether that’s not possible, or if the people behind the counter didn’t fully understand, but I was not allowed to order just the chicken, because they said it had to be a meal. Therefore, I ordered two more baskets, each of which come with six tenders, two sides and a biscuit, and is priced at $9.99.

What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation centered on the Georgia Gold Chicken and a comparison with the Nashville Hot Chicken. In the interest of full disclosure, we ate the Nashville Hot Chicken first.

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Act I: So We’re Eating More Chicken… plus sides!

FFC: We ordered the Georgia Gold, and I was told I cannot get just chicken so now we have two meals, each with 6 tenders, two sides and two biscuits.

AB: Let’s give it a good sniff test.

FFC: We did not get pickles with his one.

AP: Were they not offered? [Ed. Note – they were not, but they should have been added.]

HJ: So the pickles were intentional?

­­­­­­­­­____________________

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Act II: This Is Not My Honey Mustard

FFC: I guess for the Nashville. It smells like honey mustard, for better or for worse.

AP: it was not what I was expecting…

FFC: AP looks perturbed…

AP: It tastes like a mustard powder or something.

HJ: Yea, that’s what it tastes like.

AB: This is not honey mustard.

PM: Is it mustard oil? Is it mustard gas?

FFC: I have not tasted it but, but the three who have tasted it so far…

AB: This is not good honey mustard.

PM: It looks semi-lethal.

AP: This is a rehydrated, dehydrated…

HJ: I think if they just gave me a honey mustard packet I’d be happy, but it’s not bad.

AB: It’s not sweet, honey mustard should be sweet.

PM: This is just mustard chicken.

FFC: I actually don’t mind it…

AB: Yea, you wouldn’t…

FFC: … because I don’t like honey mustard so this is fine.

AB This is edible.

FFC: The texture is weird.

AP: It is grainy.

HJ: It IS grainy.

PM: Yea…

AB: This is no Ma Magoos, let me tell you that.

AP: What is that taste?

PM: MSG.

HJ: Is that the chili oil? With sugar and mustard in it.

AB: Yea, if you sniff it, it almost like burns.

FFC: it does have a weirdly sharp mustard taste.

AP: Yea and the after taste, I’m getting… not good.

PM: AB really wanted this, I’m interested what he has to say.

AB: I don’t like it.

HJ: You know what it tastes like? You know those honey mustard pretzels? It tastes like that.

AP: OH!

PM: Oooo.

AP: The dust on those…

FFC: Yup.

HJ: The dust on those pretzels

PM: Mixed with olive oil.

AP: That’s what that is.

HJ: Yea, you’re welcome.

AB: Snyder’s.

AP + PMM: Yea, Snyder’s.

HJ: Here’s what I want: just give us chicken and give us honey mustard packets. Now that we’ve identified it… it tastes like. It’s like ‘oh that’s what they’re going for’.

AP: Yea (laughs). Snyder’s dust of honey mustard.

FFC: Like a Doritos Locos Taco.

HJ: I might die.

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Act III: Georgia Gold v. Nashville Hot

HJ: So who likes which better?

FFC: I like Nashville better.

AB: I like Nashville better too but I was convinced I’d like this one more.

HJ: I think I like this one better.

FFC: I feel like I’m in the top on this one also though, because with it not being real honey mustard, and I don’t like honey mustard, so for me, it’s fine.

AB: I think I was disappointed that it doesn’t have that sweetness.

FFC: Higher expectations.

AP: It’s not a good honey mustard.

AP: Nashville for me.

HJ: I Like this one better.

PM: Hahah you’re the only one.

HJ: I know!

AP: And I’m a pretty good example because I would love either flavor. The idea of them are both great to me and this one really fell short.

PM: They both could have been a lot better.

AP: Oh yes, this could have been better.

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[Ed. Note – brief discussion of the commercials, PM hated them]

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Act IV: Maybe It’s Better With the Biscuit and the Sides

AB: I can taste more of the Snyder’s.

PM: That’s all I can taste now, but there’s more of a depth to it.

HJ: There is more of a depth.

PM: Not a shock and then nothing.

FFC: It tastes sharper when you dip a wedge in there.

AB: So does the chicken itself neutralize it?

FFC: Maybe the breading, because it’s just a regular tender which is seasoned, so maybe that overtakes the honey mustard sauce.

AB: Are these pepper flecks in the sauce?

FFC: I don’t think so.

PM: It’s the breading.

AB: Does it always have those?

FFC: Yes, those are the Colonel’s secret spices!

AB: I’m full.

AP: I’m sad I ended on this one.

AB: Sorry, I thought this one would be better.

HJ: It’s like a train wreck, I want to keep eating it to examine.

FFC: I’ll probably eat one more [Ed. Note – I did.]

AP: I feel like my body is going to give out.

AB: I have dinner with my family in an hour, so I have to stop eating.

*Everyone laughs*

FFC: What are you having for dinner, is it going to be better than this?

AB: Yes. Sushi.

FFC: So not better than this.

­­­­­­­­­____________________

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Act V: Bringing It Home

AP: I’m overall not happy with this meal.

FFC: That’s good. Everyone give me your final thoughts on the Gold and overall…

AB: I regret coming here.

AP: I seriously regret the Georgia Gold.

HJ: I regret it too, we could have been in a spa…

PM: I’m gonna go with that answer.

HJ: … instead of eating saturated fat.

AP: Already my stomach is upset and I regret this meal.

HJ: So is mine. Do you include that in your reviews, like how you feel after?

FFC: I feel fine.

AP: He eats this crap all the time.

PM: He feels the same after.

AB: I enjoyed the company.

FFC: That’s irrelevant.

HJ: Part of me wants to get back in there and see what happens.

FFC: I’d stop.

PM: That’d be the last thing I ever did

FFC: So the general consensus other than HJ is that the Nashville Hot was better.

AB: Yea, Nashville was better, but not sure I would order it again.

FFC: Would anyone order it again?

AP: I’m never going to come back here.

FFC: in a hypothetical…

AP: In a hypothetical I would eat the Nashville again.

AB: If I came back, I would prefer regular (consensus opinion).

 

And there you have the exciting conclusion to our conversation.  The consensus is that the Nashville Hot Chicken was better because the Georgia Gold was grainy and did not taste like honey mustard. After the meal, we had some leftovers, which I took home and ate for lunch two days later. I can attest that the grainy texture to the honey mustard sauce was gone at that point, but it did not taste any better. If you’re going to KFC, order the original (or extra crispy!) recipe. If you’re going to order one of these squirted sauces, go with Nashville Hot.

Today is an exciting day for the blog, as I’ve changed the format for the next two posts. Instead of my usual solo musings on the food I write up, these next two posts will be presented as a conversation. This will be slightly longer than usual, but hopefully the journey is worth it. I went with four friends (AB, AP, HJ, PM plus me [FFC]!) to my local KFC (no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken) to sample their two newest selections: Nashville Hot and Georgia Gold Chicken.

KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken is “a perfect blend of spicy cayenne and smoked paprika” obviously inspired by the classic Nashville Hot Chicken, which has been having something of a moment recently. To feed five people, I ordered two meals, each of which came with six chicken tenders, two sides, and a biscuit. It also is supposed to be served with four pickles. One basket is priced at $9.99.

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What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation centered on the Nashville Hot Chicken. The second post will feature the Georgia Gold and our thoughts on the two. In the interest of full disclosure, we ate the Nashville Hot Chicken first.

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Act I: The Beginning:

FFC: So let’s open this one. Generally where I start is I kinda smell and look.

AB: Nice, should I close this to keep it warm. Did you get photos?

FFC: I got those.

PM: Did you get your thumb in them?

FFC: Not yet! I need to start eating.

HJ: I don’t remember the last time I had KFC, it may have been the 90s.

PM: The last time I had fun was the 90s.

FFC: Actually that’s good, when was the last you all had KFC?

PM: Last time for me was sometime in college, maybe?

AB: When I was in Trinidad. [Ed. Note: Mr. Fancypants!]

AP: I had Kennedy Fried Chicken in college. It was a different KFC. I cannot… I don’t know if I’ve ever had it.

FFC: Ok, so it’s been awhile for everyone.


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Act II: Our First Impressions

FFC: I don’t need a spork, I’m just going to pick it up. Also, I got mashed potatoes and wedges. How does it look to you guys?

PM: The same.

AP: Soggy.

AB: Darker than I would have thought. On the sauce there are kinda pepper chunks.

HJ: Yea.

FFC: This is all Nashville hot. These are regular tenders, then they poured the sauce on them after putting them in the box.

Everyone (yes, everyone): Ahhhh!

FFC: So [the sauce] is not baked in. They just had a squirt bottle.

AP: Interesting. It looks appetizing. It looks greasy and like yummy.

AB: Alright, interesting.

PMM: I’m not so interested in it now that I know it was a mix.

HJ: I’m excited. I can’t really smell it.

FFC: Yea, I don’t think it has a distinctive smell, but I don’t know what it smells like, we’ll have to find out.

AB: It does have a smell.

AP: Let’s see if it’s too hot for me because I don’t really do hot stuff well. Oh, its crispy, good crispy. Look at that! Oily, hot goodness is all over my fingers.

FFC: The Nashville sauce is supposed to be hot oil with like cayenne and crap in there.

HJ: It tastes like a chili oil.

AB: The kick comes in about two chews in.

HJ: are you supposed to eat it with the pickle in the same bite?

FFC: You can have a pickle bite and a non-pickle bite to get an impression. It’s kinda smoky.

HJ: I like it with the pickle on it.

AP: Really good, juicy chicken.

HJ: Yea.

AP: Just a general comment about KFC.

FFC: So it’s not disappointing then, not a dry batch?

AP: Yea.


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Act III: More Sauce Talk

HJ: is it spicy for you?

AP: Like a mild heat. It’s really good.

HJ: It is good.

AB: I still prefer regular KFC chicken.

PM: Do they have levels of the flavor like where you can get it more?

FFC: I think if you just ask for extra sauce.

HJ: It’s like a blackened catfish flavor.

FFC: it definitely crispier than I thought it would be. When you pour sauce on top of fried chicken it usually gets soft and gross.

AB: That’s probably why they wait until the very end.

FFC: That’s true.

PM: How’s the biscuit with the sauce oil?

AB: Not bad.

FFC: Is it really oily when dipping stuff into it?

AP: It’s absorbing all of the oil.

AB: The biscuit and sauce isn’t very flavorful. The biscuit is like Bertucci’s dough that they give to kids.

FFC: Dipping the biscuit into the sauce, what is it?

AB: I’m not getting any flavor. I’m not sure if the sauce is just oil and they put some blackened spice on top of the chicken…

AP: Yea…

AB: … that’s giving the flavor.

PM: The biscuit is a good theory to test that out.

Break: We spent a lot of time talking about the biscuit in the oil. Then we discussed the mashed potatoes (not good), the potato wedges (good) and dipping the wedges in the mashed potatoes (a FFC specialty- really good). We also digressed into dipping fries into Wendy’s chili.

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Act IV: Proper Spice Levels and Flavor

HJ: Maybe they should add more flavor to the sauce?

FFC: More spice?

HJ: No, it’s spicy enough and I think its salty enough, but not flavor.

AP: You’re right, I’m just getting hot, only some flavor. It’s just heating up my mouth and its salty.

FFC: I get the smoke flavor.

AP: My mouth is kinda hot.

AB: What size was this that you ordered?

FFC: I think I got ten or twelve, so everyone gets two.

AB: I’m trying to think because I’m more excited for the Georgia Gold.

FFC: I’ll get the same size and I’ll try to avoid getting the sides with that one. [Ed. Note: this didn’t happen.]

AP: Yea, you can do chicken only.

FFC Yup. [Ed. Note: Nope.]

HJ: I like the pickle though.

FFC: I like the pickle with the chicken too.

HJ: It adds more flavor and extra texture.

AB: What’s your assessment now?

HJ: It’s so much better with the pickle!

AP: I know, right!

FFC: It’s really good.

AP: I guess were getting that style..

FFC: Chick Fil A?

AP: Yea.

HJ: I’ve never eaten at Chick Fil A.

FFC: I think I’m going to like this one more than the Georgia Gold, between not liking honey mustard that much and preferring spicy food. I could see myself eating a full meal of this.

PM: Its spicy but not really flavorful.

FFC: Yea, but as opposed not liking honey mustard, I’d rather just have spice rather than a taste I’m not a fan of.

PM: I prefer regular.

AB: I prefer regular.

FFC: I’d rather regular with hot sauce on the side.

PM: It tastes like a patch of icy hot on my tongue.

AP: It’s cleaning out my sinuses.

 

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Act V: Conclusion

AB: Do you do a five-point scale?

FFC: I don’t do a number.

AB: You just do happiness? Are you happy?

FFC: It’d be too hard to give numbers and keep it consistent.

AB: Are you biased because you’re in a happier mood now than you would be by yourself?

FFC: I don’t think so, I like the food or I don’t. This is different, but I’ve brought FFC Spouse before, and sometimes she’ll try it and sometimes she won’t, but I’m not always alone when I try food.

HJ: Do you try and temper your hunger so you’re the same hunger every time?

FFC: I just try and be hungry, because if I’m not hungry, it’s going to be gross and I won’t be happy. Today was a weird time to eat [Ed. Note: we were there around 4:30]. I went to lunch at 12:30 and didn’t eat a full lunch because then I wouldn’t have been happy eating this.

FFC: I could eat one more.

HJ: I don’t want anymore.

AP: I’m good.

AB: Want to split one?

FFC: We can each have one.

FFC: A quick run through of your final thoughts. Since PM has food in his mouth, let’s start with AP.

AP: This is the tough one because I can’t really compare it to regular KFC, but delicious fried chicken. I understand why they try and keep the recipe so secret. I really enjoyed the heat. I am probably more sensitive than you guys to heat, so it was the perfect amount for me, so maybe it’s kinda mild/hot overall if I were trying to describe it someone else. I really liked it.

HJ: Like the chicken. The sauce is maybe too spicy and oily and salty but no flavor, like there was something missing and I liked the fries. I liked the pickle

AP: Oh man, those wedges.

PM: There was no depth to it. There’s flavor now.  It doesn’t last.

AB: There was spice, but it wasn’t flavorful. There was mouth tingling but it’s not like I’m still tasting anything. But the chicken was really good and with the pickle it was better. The biscuit even with sopping up the sauce didn’t have taste, which speaks to the lack of flavor in the sauce.

 

So there you have the first conversation post! The general consensus was that the chicken was good, but the sauce was perhaps not fully developed. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion where we try the Georgia Gold Chicken and compare the two!