February 22, 2010

NBA $5 Buck Box at Taco Bell

If the title of this post didn't make you think of Charles Barkley it's time to visit American pop culture and watch the YouTube video below. Sir Charles' ode to Taco Bell's big box is the best commercial from this year's Super Bowl and possibly the best jingle of the last five years.

Actually you should watch the video even if "$5 Box" does make you think of Sir Charles rhyming away. The former NBA player reminds me of Sugar Bear from Golden Crisp -- you can't get enough.

Now that we're finished staring at embedded videos and lavishing praise on advertising honchos, we can move on to the review of Taco Bell's NBA $5 Buck Box. We'll start with the obvious: the name.

The words "Five-Buck Box" jump from Charles Barkley's mouth so easily they nearly make you forget the bizarrely lengthy and redundant "NBA $5 Buck Big Box" stamped on the side of each cardboard container. Nearly.

I know I've been heavy-handed on product names recently, so I'll make this short. The box should be called either an "NBA $5 Box" or an "NBA 5 Buck Box," not an "NBA $5 Buck Big Box." As it's currently written you would read the the name aloud as the "NBA Five-Dollar Buck Big Box." That sounds like you purchased a $5 mail-order deer hunting kit for basketball players.

For the rest of this post I'll refer to it as the "Five-Buck Box" because that's what Sir Charles calls it in the commercial. And I'm sure Sir Charles knows best.

Anyway, I was a little disappointed in my Five-Buck box. Not because of the food, which includes a Cheesy Gordita Crunch (to munch), a Burrito Supreme, a Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twists and a drink. Because of the cardboard. I didn't get any.

I ordered my Five-Buck Box to go, and Taco Bell decided to stuff my items in a bag without the advertised cardboard. The packaging was all wrong, even if the price was right.

It slightly flattened my Burrito Supreme and caused my Cinnamon Twists to spill. I even believe my lack of a box led me to have a definite inability blocking shots on guys with dreadlocks.

On another note, I was allowed to order either a Cheesy Gordita Crunch to munch or a Volcano Taco (to mock-o?). Options are always nice, but anyone who's read my reviews of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch and Volcano Taco knows there's no choice between the two. The Volcano Taco merely simmers while the Cheesy Gordita Crunch explodes in wondrous flavor.

None of the products in the Five-Buck Box are new, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Crunchy Taco does its just-a-little-too-small thing, crunching away for a few bites. Cinnamon Twists, similar to pork rinds doused in sugar, are wonderfully guilt-inducingly tasty. And even when flattened the Burrito Supreme packs enough re-fried beans to be satisfying.

The products in the Five-Buck Box are lots and lots and make up a good deal. Be warned, though, it's a lot of Taco Bell.

Regulars at the chain know just one Burrito Supreme can lead to an afternoon nursing an uncomfortable tummy. The Five-Buck Box has potential to cause the mother of all Taco Bellyaches.

Since I received my Five-Buck Box in a bag I have no choice but to rate the experience at only two sporks. I had Charles Barkley's jingle in my head the entire time I ate, making matters worse. "The Five-Buck Bag, it rocks, it rocks" does not rhyme.

I tried to make up my own "Five-Buck Bag" version, but it just isn't the same:

The Five-Buck Bag, it lags, it lags
It lags for a meal since the plastic sags
It lags for a hag, it lags for a JAG
It lags tagging nags while I try not to gag

It would easily rock if it came in a box
But Taco Bell hoards cardboard like Fort Knox

The 5 Buck Bag, it lags, it lags

It sure does lag since it's in a bag

February 19, 2010

Bruegger's Maple & Sausage Breakfast Sandwich

Who's up for a little Friday brunch?

If I'm right, some eggs, sausage and a bagel sound like the perfect way to tie you over for a few hours until the weekend starts. Fortunately your intrepid food critique recently stumbled upon a better way to eat them.

I speak of Bruegger's new Maple & Sausage Breakfast Sandwich. Curiously dubbed with an ampersand, this concoction is essentially a better take on McDonald's McGriddle. It has an egg patty, a sausage patty, a "French Toast Bagel," and "Vermont Maple Cream Cheese" -- deemed proper nouns by Bruegger's nose-in-the-air promotional materials.

Set aside the curious naming conventions for a moment -- we'll get back to them. Let's tear into the meat of this meal.

First, the negatives: The sandwich has a very utilitarian egg patty. While I can't say for sure, I suspect it was freeze dried or dehydrated before being reincarnated in Bruegger's "bakery." The same can be said of the sausage patty.

These aren't necessarily deal-breakers, though. Lower-crust egg and sausage patties have their own charm, like pulling on your favorite shirt purchased from the $1 sale rack at Old Navy. They get the job done, they're satisfying and they're comfortable.

They're also bookended by two fast food studs: the "French Toast Bagel" and "Vermont Maple Cream Cheese." French toast bagels are proof that duality can be successful in foods. Bagels that taste like French toast are simply delicious. Throw in the maple cream cheese and its syrupy flavor, and you're wrapping your sandwich with a plate straight from your grandma's kitchen.

Let's be clear that the cream cheese is "syrupy" in flavor only. It's not gooey or disgusting. In fact it's creamily delicious, improving on the consistency of maple syrup by, well, replacing it with the consistency of cream cheese.

The flavors all work together in a harmonious breakfast sandwich far outshining McDonald's similar offering. Where McGriddles are a rush of supersweetstaggeringlysalty, Bruegger's offering is a more subtle blending of flavors producing a rich eating experience. Bruegger's is even thoughtful enough to slice the sandwich in half, a nod to the difficulty of eating bagel sandwiches.

The only place Bruegger's seems to have overthought the sandwich is in naming and advertising. Ampersands abound, from the name of "Maple & Sausage Breakfast Sandwich" to the product description posted in stores' windows, which say the meal is comprised of "Vermont Maple Cream Cheese, Egg & Sausage on a French Toast Bagel."

Ampersands aren't confined to this meal, they're everywhere in Bruegger's stores. Would it kill the place to spell out a-n-d? The symbols only serve to make things confusing.

& what's with the decision to make everything related to the ampersandwich a proper noun? My guess is the ampersands are used in order to try to dress up Bruegger's, making it look classy. The place should let its food speak for itself.

The Maple & Sausage Breakfast Sandwich speaks pretty well, bringing home four sporks out of five. Add a higher quality egg & Sausage & we'd be looking at a mouthful of perfect.

February 10, 2010

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets

I recently reached out for Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets. Why in the name of fiery fowl didn't someone come up with this idea before?

The equation is so simple it sounds cliche: Take two fast-food favorites and combine them. Scrumptious spicy chicken sandwich plus always-desirable chicken nuggets equals delicious spicy chicken nuggets.

For those of you who prefer mathematical notations, I'd imagine the equation would look something like this:


I know that doesn't follow classic algebraic rules, but cooking is an inexact science. All you need to know is the simplified equation, which looks a little something like this.


Spicy chicken nuggets equal better-than-regular nuggets, actually. They're wrapped in basically the same breading and seasoning as Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich, although they don't have as high a quality meat as their bun-wrapped big brother. If the spicy chicken sandwich is a chicken breast rushed straight from the chopping block, the nuggets are meat slowly trucked in from the food processing factory.

That doesn't much matter because nuggets aren't about the quality of their meat. They're about greasy flavor and heavy breading, both of which these little nibbles pack. The spicy chicken nuggets have an ideally high breading-to-meat ratio and boast a decent heat. On a spiciness scale of one to 10 I'd give them somewhere between a five and a six -- pretty good for the fast food world.

On the price scale they slot in at a 99. As in 99 cents for five nuggets, or great on the bang-for-your-buck meter. They make a great cheap snack to spice up chilly February days.

All in all, Wendy's new spicy nuggets won't disappoint in their current form. Higher quality meat would push them into legendary territory, but they're plenty desirable in their current form. The final equation simplifies to this.


February 9, 2010

Returning with Denny's free Grand Slam breakfast

Food fans, it's once again time for me to offer my apologies for leaving you dining alone for an extended time. I last served you a new post 66 days ago, leaving you to face a devilish stretch of winter with no intellectual nourishment. I am sorry.

I could offer you a large menu of excuses: Winter blahs, a job hunt siphoning my time or just general holiday business. But excuses are like The Who singing at halftime of the Superbowl -- no one wants to hear them, and they get old rapidly.

While you are, no doubt, a polite reading public willing to grant me some weeks for R&R, you needed some food critique to guide you through the long holiday months. At very least you deserved a repost of last year's Super Bowl special and the Bacon Explosion before this year's big game. And I'm sure everyone could have stood to reread my pontifications on ham while planning this year's Christmas dinner.

I promise to make it up to you. Today I'll start with a review of Denny's free Grand Slam breakfast. After you've had time to digest that we'll move on to a review of Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets. And I'm in the process of preparing the annual Spork Awards for 2009 -- better late than never, I always say. The way back into your hearts is through your stomachs, and I'm ready to start making up.

Denny's Free Grand Slam

I wasn't alone in following up on Sunday's Super Bowl ads and ordering my free breakfast at Denny's. The restaurant Tuesday was full of folks ordering the free Grand Slam breakfasts, which consist of two eggs, two sausage links, two bacon strips and two flapjacks.

Seeing identical breakfast foods on every table in the restaurant was downright creepy, similar to seeing 40 men in matching suits walking toward you. It makes you think you're headed for the funny farm.

If it was the funny farm, it wasn't the freshest farm. My sausage links and eggs had an extra-processed quality to them that screamed "impending heart attack." That's not a bad thing from a taste standpoint, but I was worried I was dumping enough extra preservatives into my digestive tract to keep my stomach around for the benefit of future generations.

The same can be said for the bacon, but I refuse to criticize bacon for having preservatives. It is, after all, bacon. What I will criticize my bacon for is its limpness. Surely Denny's could have crisped it up a bit.

By contrast my pancakes were beyond reproach, packing a good balance of fluffiness and butteriness. My only complaint is that I was given a dinky container of syrup. A few ounces was not enough to cover the broad stretch of flapjack on my plate.

I must pick one final nit. My food was served merely warm. On a related note, my service was fairly slow. It's a small complaint considering the restaurant was busy and giving me free food, but worth noting nonetheless.

So it's time to rank the free breakfast. The price was right. The food was decent. Sounds like five sporks to me.

The rating would, of course, be a little different if I had to pay for the meal. I'll try to do that at some point for the sake of future generations.