Archives for the month of: September, 2016

Oh boy, this is exciting. Usually, fast food restaurants use Columbus, Ohio and other middle America locations as test markets for new concepts. I don’t quite understand why, but I’m sure the marketing department says the demographics are favorable, or something like that. Sometimes that changes to California or New York if it’s more upmarket. But Boston never gets new products before they’re available to the general public, which is unfortunate because it would really help this blog (and pique my own personal interest) if we got to try products before they were available to the general public. Well, today the fast food gods have smiled upon your humble author and Wendy’s is using Massachusetts and Tennessee as the test market for their Truffle Bacon Cheeseburger.

I originally went to Wendy’s to try the new Grilled Chicken Sandwich, but as soon as I saw the large placard advertising the Truffle Bacon Cheeseburger, as well as Bacon Truffle Fries, I knew my true dinner destiny. I don’t have an official description of the burger since it is not listed on the Wendy’s site, but this article mentions the limited release as well the as the ingredients which are “a beef patty topped with mixed greens, Applewood smoked bacon, truffle aioli, Parmesan cheese sauce, tomato, and cheese” on “a buttery croissant bun.” A meal cost $7.09 and the burger alone was $4.99, so this isn’t cheap. The Bacon Truffle Fries were $2.29 as a side and were offered as an upgrade to a meal for an extra $0.75, which I thought was a great idea, and almost led to me ordering just the fries and getting that Grilled Chicken Sandwich, but of course I didn’t.

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The food came out pretty quickly and my first impression was that Wendy’s now puts burgers in boxes! Usually they come in that weird foil that always gets greasy (and I like Wendy’s burgers but they’re insanely greasy and come with mayo so I rarely eat them), but the box is a nice touch to keep it neat. The only problem with the box is that this sandwich is so big that I had a hard time picking it up because there wasn’t enough space for my fingers. I don’t have tiny hands, folks!

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After I figured out how to pick up the sandwich, I could examine it. The croissant looked flaky and smelled like butter, but wasn’t greasy or slippery, a huge bonus for someone who needs to use his phone to type notes as he eats. Thanks to Wendy’s for looking out for us fast food bloggers. Anyway, the croissant also had enough heft to it to stand up to the burger and not fall apart as I ate, which was a distinct fear of mine before I ordered.

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My first bite was weird. I don’t usually eat croissants and I definitely have never had a croissant burger, so the croissant taste/texture combined with beef was unfamiliar. My second bite was better as I got used to the beef and croissant combo, and I seemed to get all the ingredients. It tasted like a fancy bacon cheeseburger, and everything seemed to come together well.

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On its own, the Parmesan cheese sauce tasted like a Caesar dressing, which I can’t believe I’ve never had on a burger before. I’m guessing the truffle aioli was also represented in that taste, since I couldn’t see two distinct sauces, so I assume they were the same color. I don’t know what specific leaves actually composed the mixed greens, but I know they seemed like things I would normally put into a sandwich. They looked and tasted fresh and made the burger feel fancier. Usually fast food places don’t pay much attention to the lettuce, putting a crappy piece of Iceberg which doesn’t belong and tastes terrible, if it has a taste, on a sandwich. But the inclusion of these greens was a great choice especially if, as the linked article above mentions, Wendy’s is going for an upscale bistro burgerish vibe. The tomato also didn’t fall apart and added heft to the sandwich. I’ve now written more words on vegetables here than on every post on this site combined.

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Going back to the croissant, as mentioned before, it did not fall apart as I ate. I’m not usually a big fan of croissants, but it worked for me here. It was light enough that I didn’t feel gross eating which is essentially butter bread with a bacon cheeseburger. I’m not sure how people who like croissants would feel, but it worked for me.

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The beef patty itself is a generic Wendy’s burger. The beef is fine and well seasoned. The Applewood smoked bacon is also a standard Wendy’s feature at this point. The put a good amount of bacon on the burger, so almost every bite had some bacon. It had a good smoky taste and was cooked perfectly for me: it wasn’t burnt to a crisp, but also wasn’t floppy. The few bites without bacon definitely suffered from a lack of bacon.

This is a limited item which may never see a wider release, but I hope it does. If the aim here was for an upscale pub style burger at a fast food price, I think they hit a home run. If you swapped out a Wendy’s patty for some high quality beef, I would absolutely pay $10+ for this burger. Every ingredient complemented each other and added to the experience. The burger just felt fresh and good.

There are only two downsides that I saw. First, it was sloppy. Wendy’s burgers just can’t stay composed and by the end it was definitely messy and I was working to keep everything together. Second, this is a bacon cheeseburger on a damn croissant. It may as well come with a defibrillator. Adding on a small box of fries (plus some spicy chicken nuggets…), and I definitely needed to walk most of the way home after finishing my meal. But if you grab some extra napkins and plan a workout session, the Truffle Bacon Cheeseburger is definitely worth your time and stomach space if it appears near you.

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Moving on to the Part II of the Taco Bell Cheesy Core Burrito Series, now we’re focused on the Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito (see the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito review here). Pricing is the same for the Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito as it is for the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito: $2.29 (ground beef), $3.09 (chicken), and $3.29 (steak). It can also be ordered in a box for $6.39 and comes with a Doritos Locos Taco, a crunchy taco and a soda. To make the comparison easier, I also selected the ground beef option for this offering.

I went to Taco Bell’s site to get the official description, but the page has already been taken down, so perhaps they have already moved on from the Cheesy Core Burrito series. I’ll focus on the ingredients which made an impression, which should hit everything important.

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The first impression upon picking up the burrito was its heaviness, similar to the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito. My first few bites were heavy on the seasoned beef, which was a nice departure from the other burrito. I got a few hints of jalapeño in those bites. I wouldn’t describe it initially as spicy, but just the taste of the pepper itself. I finally grabbed a jalapeño to taste it on its own, and it was a typical pickled jalapeño that you can find in any supermarket. If you like jalapeño peppers or eaten basic stadium nachos before, you know what these taste like. I was a little disappointed, but I’m not sure why I was hoping for fresh jalapeño peppers at Taco Bell. The only textural difference in the burrito came from these jalapeños. I wouldn’t call them crunchy, but there was some bite to them.

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As I continued eating, I realized this burrito is pretty spicy. I never felt like any bites were too hot for my palate, but eating a bunch of pickled jalapeños in one sitting will raise your temperature a few degrees, so the burrito definitely delivered on its spicy promise. When I put down the burrito to jot down some notes, I actually felt a little flush and needed my drink to cool off.

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Unfortunately for the Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito, any bites which didn’t include either beef or jalapeño pepper was quite bland. It seems like the rice and cheese should be the same as in the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito, but they didn’t really have a taste. Maybe the spice from the jalapeños masked it? Luckily, the ingredient coverage on this particular burrito was good, so I didn’t get too many of those bland bites. I also didn’t really have any bites that were only tortilla.

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One problem, which the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito also suffered from, was that the ingredients weren’t really blended together, and I think this is a problem with the basic concept of what they’re selling. By wrapping the tortilla to create this cheesy core, it pretty much divides the burrito. When eating, I can have a cheese and rice bite, or a cheese and meat bite. Bites containing every ingredient were rare. Though they were good, I had way too many bland cheese and rice bites.

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The Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito was fine. I know that’s not much of a conclusion, but I don’t have too much to say about it. When everything came together, I thought it was good, but that didn’t happen often enough. It also greatly suffered in comparison with the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito, which I ate right before. The chips were a big difference and I really liked eating that one more. If you really want spiciness, then I’d just order the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito and get some hot sauce on it. Maybe sneak in some pickled jalapeño in your pocket if you’re feeling particularly frisky.

 

I interrupt the scheduled Taco Bell post because of the huge anticipation for Burger King’s newest creation: Cheetos Chicken Fries. These seemed to take inspiration from the Doritos Locos Tacos: a junk food mashup that would add an extra layer of flavor to an already existing product. They’ve currently featured in an ad campaign and mentions of this creation are all over social media, and not just because people now send me fast food news (thanks!). Once I learned these were soon to be sold, they immediately jumped the line and had to be the next item I ate. The eating experience also prompted me to jump this post to the top of the pile because… well, you’ll see below.

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I’m a huge fan of fried chicken in pretty much any form. My default order at most fast food locations is nuggets/tenders/fried chicken sandwich. That being said, I’ve never been a huge fan of Burger King’s Chicken Fries. Birthed from a type of food that is generally processed and doesn’t feel natural, Chicken Fries stand out even more. They don’t particularly taste like chicken, they aren’t well seasoned, and eating them gets kinda boring. Chicken Fries exist to serve as a vehicle for whatever dipping sauce you want to consume and to provide a satisfying crunch. My hope was that the Cheetos dust would actually make the Chicken Fries good. More care should be put into making the chicken taste like chicken, and cheese dust is good! Taco Bell proved that, right?

Burger King says that “Cheetos Chicken Fries are made with white meat chicken like original Chicken Fries, and are covered in a crispy Cheetos-flavored breading.” I opted for a medium sized meal, which was $5.39 and came with nine Cheetos Chicken Fries. You can order the fries alone for $2.99. I was a little disappointed that nine is the minimum amount. I’d prefer an option for six, but maybe since this is a limited time item, BK is going for volume. I also chose to get BBQ sauce, just to see how they would pair with a sauce.

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I got to my table, sat down, opened my special Cheetos Chicken Fries box and my initial reaction was… CONFUSION! Based on the commercials and having eaten Cheetos more than once in my life, I expected these to be a bright orange. I also expected Cheetos dust like the Doritos Locos Taco. These were dark brown. There was no dust. I actually thought they had given me the wrong order. I double checked my receipt, then Googled Cheetos Chicken Fries to see a photo to make sure I actually received the correct food.

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I bit into my first Cheetos Chicken Fry and my initial reaction was … CONFUSION! It did not taste like Cheetos. I really thought there was a chance I had the wrong order. Still. I decided to keep eating, and I started to at least get a salty-ish taste, which I’m guessing was the special breading. Still didn’t taste like Cheetos, cheese, or really anything other than salt. I bit into the breading alone. Salt. It did have a slight orange hue though, so I guess that proves that Cheetos at some point were used in the product. They also kinda smelled like Cheetos (Yes, I sat in a food court smelling Chicken Fries. Don’t judge me.).

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The Cheetos Chicken Fries also suffered from the same issues as original Chicken Fries: they were incredibly dry and at no point did I feel like I was eating chicken. When I used the BBQ sauce, these were okay, but that’s only because the BBQ sauce was okay, it was all I tasted.

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I ate all the fries, chicken and potato, and was still a little hungry afterwards. Eating was a monotonous experience. All the bites taste the same and all the bites are mediocre at best. The problem with both concept and execution: Original Chicken Fries are terrible! We’re starting with a flawed concept, then Burger King and Cheetos half assed this concoction. No Cheetos dust. No real Cheetos taste. No real cheese taste. No fake cheese taste. If executives at Cheetos actually tasted and signed off on the product I ate, they should be embarrassed by this blatant cash grab. How can this food item be so dispiriting when they had a positive example in front of them from Taco Bell, which has been on the market for years! There’s no need to rush this out to capitalize on their buzz! Make a good product, or at least try to make a good product.

I sat in a food court with Taco Bell, Panda Express, D’Angelo’s, and Sarku Japan and ate these things. I’m still angry they ruined what could have been a perfectly good lunch. These were terrible and are a waste of menu space as long as they last.

Taco Bell, along with Jack in the Box, have done the heavy lifting in pulling fast food chains towards more inventive fare. They had the Doritos Locos taco. Their breakfast menu changed the fast food breakfast game. In short, they’re always looking to push the envelope and see how far people can go. Sure, some of that is pandering towards millennials and looking for that perfect Instagram/Snapchat worthy food, but there is a certain nobility in going crazy and seeing what tastes good, as opposed to ideas that need to be sent to the glue factory. There is no Whopperito, without Taco Bell, and do we want to live in a world without the Whopperito? Instead of going upmarket and seeking to cater to a more health conscious clientele, Taco Bell doubles down on what they know best.

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That being said, I was happy to see commercials for the new Cheesy Core Burritos, giving me an excuse to head to Taco Bell and get some solid #content for the blog. The Cheesy Core Burritos come at three price points, depending on your choice of protein: $2.29 (ground beef), $3.09 (chicken), and $3.29 (steak). You can also get a box for $6.39 which includes a Cheesy Core Burrito, Doritos Locos Taco, crunchy taco, and soda. I opted for the ground beef individual burrito, since I was eating two… and going to Burger King after this. In the interest of full disclosure, I also ordered a crunchy taco, which was delicious but completely unnecessary (Taco Bell also has a new Diablo sauce, which seems to have replaced fire. I’m not a fan. It tastes bitter.).

Taco Bell describes the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito as “a warm melted 3-Cheese blend, warm Nacho Cheese sauce and Crunchy Red Strips. With a melty, cheesy center surrounded by Seasoned Beef, Premium Latin Rice, Reduced-Fat Sour Cream and a flavorful Red Sauce.” Yes, they did capitalize all those words. My first reaction upon picking up the burrito was realizing that it was pretty hefty. Then I looked at all the food in front of me and realized I’d committed to consuming way too much in such a short time span. Never say I’m not dedicated.

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Anyway, this looked and was sized like a normal burrito you could get at any normal Mexican place, i.e. not an enormous way too big for one sitting Chipotle burrito. A sensible portion. My first bite was all tortilla, which is a terrible first impression, but also typical of Taco Bell burritos so it wasn’t surprising. The Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito also had the common issue of improper distribution of ingredients. It actually felt like two different burrito experiences: half had all of the toppings, and the other half was just tortilla. I’m not sure if this meant that the tortilla was too big, or just a poor wrap job, but I wouldn’t have been pleased if this was my main food of a meal.

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Moving on to the actual taste, when I took one of those bites with all the fillings, it was good! The red chips are the differentiator between this and the Spicy Cheesy Core Burrito, and they make a huge difference. Because a burrito can run into the problem where everything has the same general texture, having the chips to provide crunch breaks up the monotony and works really well. I also made sure to eat this first, so the chips would not get soggy. If you are a slow eater, soggy chips will be a problem towards the end of the Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito experience. The problem may have been exacerbated because I paused between every bite to take notes.

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As for the rest of the burrito, there was a lot of cheese and rice in here. Rice is a natural filler, and it was fine, if a little bland. I like rice in burritos though, so as long as it doesn’t taste bad, then I’ll view it favorably. For the cheese, I really only tasted the Nacho Cheese. As someone who is a fan of Nacho Cheese and thinks it should appear in more menu items, I liked it. I’ve never had it in a burrito before, but now that I’ve experienced it, I would not be opposed to seeing it again. The cheese gave the most flavor to the burrito because it’s in every bite. It also dominated because it seemed to be light on ground beef. I couldn’t get many composed bites because there was ground beef at the top, and at the bottom, but not really in the middle. As mentioned before, bites with all the ingredients were good! There were just too few of them.

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There was sour cream. I’m not sure why, and I don’t think it was necessary. I also made no note of the “flavorful” red sauce, so I have no comment.

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The Crunchy Cheesy Core Burrito is basically a standard Taco Bell burrito with extra cheese, so if you’ve eaten one before, you already know if you’ll like this or not. Taco Bell isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel by stuffing some more cheese and some chips inside a burrito, but I’m not complaining; it hit the spot. While I wouldn’t say one of these made me full, if you order the box or get some more items to go along with it, I think you’ll be happy. The only real complaint is the composition of the burrito, but that’s a general risk when ordering a burrito.

When I was putting together my thoughts back before I started this blog, I was drawn to choosing new items because fast food chains, as well as stadiums, seemed to revel in outdoing themselves in creating imaginative items that sound repulsive, but when given a second thought, intriguing in the sense that they may have stumbled across a new combination of items from their kitchen that could be refashioned into a new, and tastier treat. I’ve been writing off and on (mostly off) for the past 2.5 years, but I believe Burger King has recently released a food item that is the platonic ideal of this blog. Without further ado, I give you the first new food I’ve eaten since the restart a few weeks ago: Burger King’s Whopperito.

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Burger King frequently plays around with the Whopper, its signature sandwich, but that usually involves some BBQ sauce, bacon, special cheese, or hot sauce. This is the first time they’ve changed the actual concept of the burger, turning into a “burrito”. Per the official description, the Whopperito is “savory flame-grilled 100% beef and seasoned with a special blend of spices […] with a creamy Queso, pickles, diced onions, juicy tomatoes, and crisp lettuce all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.” At the location I visited, the sandwich cost $3.29 on its own and $5.49 as a meal with a small soda and fries. I opted for the meal, which may have been a mistake because I’d just visited Taco Bell for some research on future blog posts. Don’t ever think I’m not dedicated to this… or have a slight disregard for my health.

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Anyway, the sandwich took a long time to put together considering no one was in front of me in line. It’s still a new item and it’s completely out of line with all other Burger King offerings, so slack can be cut, but we’re talking five or so minutes for a fast food sandwich. I originally sat down in a booth to eat this delicacy… then immediately had to move to a table with a harder chair. The sinking feeling did not sit well with the Taco Bell and the thought of eating this monstrosity. I’m saying Burger King needs firmer booths.

To get to the actual food (finally!), the Whopperito comes wrapped in sandwich paper. With the way it was wrapped, you couldn’t quite unfold it and keep it wrapped as a regular burrito, so I took it completely out, which of course imperils the integrity of the bottom of any good burrito. Upon first glance, the Whopperito looked thin for a burrito, but it was, uh, quite lengthy. The tortilla also was slightly frayed at the edges and didn’t look fresh. I tore off the top because the first bite was only going to be that old tortilla, which would be a terrible first impression.

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My first bite was beef and tomatoes. Not gonna lie, it was weird. It wasn’t bad, but my head was having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea of this being a burrito. After that bite, there was some spice that crept up on me. I realized that it came from the raw onion, which is a taste I usually hate, except for Mexican food. And it pains me to say it, but it really worked here. I liked the taste of raw onion in a Burger King burrito. Words I never thought I’d say.

The burrito was really beefy, because there was no rice or beans filler. Think of it like a legit carne asada burrito, San Diego style. Except instead of carne asada, it’s a Burger King burger… with Whopper toppings. So just like the concept of a carne asada burrito. Of course that simplicity also meant that the Whopperito lives and dies with the burger meat. The beef was a typical Burger King burger, just chopped up. The pieces were inconsistently spiced, but when the special blend of spices showed up, the sandwich was really good.

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Around halfway through, as I was pondering the sandwich as well as my own existence, I came to the realization that if I thought of the Whopperito as a cheeseburger wrap, and not a burrito, the concept makes sense and is easier to accept. If you go into the experience thinking you’re eating a burrito, you’ll likely be disoriented and disappointed.

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In that vein, the pickles really shone though. While they’d be unwelcome on a burrito, they provided a good burst of flavor and contrast with the other ingredients. Since there’s no pico de gallo or hot sauce, the pickles were the only acid represented and my favorite bites of the sandwich always had a pickle. The tomatoes were good for the juiciness, but were cut way too big. I think instead of chunks, they should have diced. This would have been helpful on two fronts: 1) I think they’d be distributed better inside the tortilla and 2) more of the juice would be released, so the sandwich would be moister. The lettuce was filler. I don’t usually get lettuce in my burritos and I wasn’t a fan, but it makes sense with the sandwich as presented.

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Now onto more of the actual problems and not my quibbles with the Whopperito. The creamy Queso was there, but it was flavorless. Cheese would have been a big addition. I think a melted piece of cheese would have served this better than the flavorless sauce, or a cheesier queso. It also had the consistency of a sauce, and wasn’t as thick as a decent queso. In addition, the sandwich, particularly the meat, was extremely oily. I don’t think regular burgers at Burger King are like that and I don’t know where it came from here. The leaking also produced a giant oil slick on my tray as I was eating. Lastly, the tortilla added nothing. The best that could be said is that it held the ingredients and didn’t fall apart, though it could not contain the meat oil.

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So where do we end? Burger King took a giant swing on this one and came up with a surprisingly bland sandwich. The queso didn’t work, which is probably the real failing. Without that cheesy flavor, the Whopperito lived and died on the meat and pickles. In what was already an unorthodox sandwich, maybe adding bacon would work. I understand calling this a burrito produces intrigue and marketing #buzz, but embracing this as a wrap could allow Burger King to be more creative. Or, if they want to follow the burrito route, get some guacamole in there. This isn’t a complete loss, but it was disappointing. The Whopperito just needs one more flavorful ingredient to shine through and make this a win.