May 22, 2010

Iced Dunkin' Dark: Where's the heat?

Good morning foodies! I'm ready to start the weekend off right with a Van Winkle-waking review of Dunkin' Donuts Dark iced coffee. What say you?

If you're saying, "Pour me a nice hot cup," you're going to be disappointed. My bid to secure a steaming mug of dark java was flat-out denied by a local Dunkin' last week. They only had the dark roast on ice.

I appreciate iced coffee, and even prefer Dunkin's regular brew chilled to its less-than-ideal hot counterpart. But it's simply not acceptable to have a variety of iced coffee and not offer it hot. Don't you first brew hot coffee to make iced coffee? Would it be that hard to set half of the destined-for-ice pot on a heater and keep it warm?

So negative sporks for that development. I'll move on and review the iced dark coffee for what it was, rather than what it should have been. You know. Hot.

As a cool beverage the dark roast does pretty well. The flavor contains light bitter tones that are pleasant rather than off-putting, and the taste is fairly rich. We're talking Ken Jennings-rich, not Mikhail Prokhorov-rich, mind you. But plenty rich, nonethesame.

My advice is to forgo Dunkin's offer of sugar and cream and season the coffee yourself, if you must. While I prefer mine black, even those who like to load up on sweeteners can be blown away by the amount of C12H22O11 the stores will pack in a cup. It doesn't dissolve fully, leaving you crunching your drink rather than sipping it.

Of course, if you're looking for a wake-me-up the iced coffee is inferior to a hot brethren. There's nothing like a slightly scalded tongue and warm belly to snap you out of a morning funk. A cool mouth and throat certainly don't come close.

Overall, I would say Iced Dunkin' Dark is tasty but not outstanding -- three sporks out of five. I'd love to know what it's like hot, when flavors shine fully and aren't muted by the chill of ice. Shockingly, I wasn't afforded that chance.

May 18, 2010

Do Facebook friends connect to make good vitaminwater?

I've spent my fair share of words on this blog criticizing food product planners. Time and time again I'm at a loss to understand what they were thinking when they picked misfit ingredients and settled for strange seasonings. I envision product planners as bald-headed men in starchy lab coats who work in secret food silos and return home each night so out of touch with the world that they have to ask their kids to explain this newfangled Hannah Montana.

Tonight we have the unique opportunity to pit the product planners against normal people. Well, that's provided you consider Facebook users normal people. I'm a little doubtful, what with the prevalence of FarmVille and its ilk, but we'll pretend it's normal to care whether your friends fertilized some random imaginary field or found a lonely cow wandering through cyberspace.

Getting back to the point, vitaminwater recently released some new flavors. One of them, dubbed "connect" in the industry-standard all-lowercase letters, features black-cherry lime flavors and packaging claiming it was made "by fans, for fans on Facebook." The other one, "spark," with grape-blueberry flavor, seems to have flowed out of your typical product pipeline. So which one is more successful?

The black cherry-lime combination trends heavily toward the lime end of the equation. It's not as puckerworthy as the citrus flavors of vitaminwater's "energy,"  but it's surprisingly sour. It also falls a little flat on my tongue and could very much use some more black cherry notes for richness.

Spark, on the other hand, has a pleasant but not-overpowering sweetness that successfully wraps beginning and end tones of grape juice around a sweet burst of blueberry in the middle. As a result it's tastefully sweet without slapping you with an immediate avalanche of sugar. It also doesn't leave you with that annoying just-drank-too-much-corn-syrup thirsty tongue.

Throw in the fact that connect contains caffeine, and the crowd-sourced beverage comes in a distant second. Its flavors are merely OK, and if I wanted caffeine I would have picked up some coffee. Sorry, Facebookers. Connect earns just two sporks out of five.

It just isn't as good as spark, to which I award four sporks. Those balding men must get it right once in a blue moon.

Of course, this experiment has a severe lack of double blinds, control groups and scientific methods. In other words, I'm not ready to anoint product planners a better alternative to crowd-sourcing.

After all, even a blind cow finds her way out of the digital forest every once in a while.

May 15, 2010

Lunch-sized picklePak

Good evening, foodies.

Unfortunately I don't have a full review ready for you tonight -- I'm sorting through my thoughts on two new beverages: the new Dunkin' Donuts "Iced Dunkin' Dark Roast" iced coffee and the latest flavor from vitaminwater, a black cherry variety called Connect. Full posts on those will come later this week.

Tonight I'm writing to let you know that my girlfriend Deb is currently eating a lunch-sized picklePak filled with petite kosher dill pickles. Yes, you read that right. Picture the elementary-school-ubiquitous 7 oz. plastic cups of apple sauce, but filled with tiny pickles and brine. That sums up the picklePak, produced by Mt. Olive.

Deb won't let me take her picture eating the pickles, but I wanted to note the pack's existence somehow. Not being a pickle person myself, I don't feel able to review a picklePak objectively. For now I'll just tilt my head to the side and marvel at the fact that there are enough pickle lovers in the world to justify the existence of such a product.

May 13, 2010

Cow Tales still tell a good story

Those of you who follow my Twitter account know that last week while meandering through a gas station I stumbled upon nostalgia in a long, thin wrapper: Cow Tales.

I don't know how long it had been since I ate one of the caramel tubes wrapped around a cream center, but my guess is it was when Taco Bell still advertised with a Chihuahua and KFC was still Kentucky Fried Chicken. Just seeing the box of cylindrical candy on the shelf brought me back at least ten years to a day when Hershey bars were still wrapped in real foil and Milky Ways weren't available in dark chocolate or all-caramel varieties. For a few moments the world of sweets became innocent, simple and unhindered by worries about cavities and calories.

And I'm barely an adult. I'm sure if I were out of my 20s the sight of a Cow Tale could bring back a bigger drawer full of repressed memories. Even so, I grabbed a taste of the classic candy while the moment was right.

I almost opted for the Strawberry Cow Tales that sat next to the traditional variety, but something stopped me. While I can't claim to know the history of the bovine derriere, I don't remember a strawberry version gracing the shelves of the candy barn while I was a kid. Maybe I'll review one of those in a few weeks, I thought. This was about a trip down memory lane.

As a brief aside, the intertubes tell me Cow Tales are actually available in a number of varieties including chocolate and caramel apple. The world, it seems, is always spinning, and companies are constantly looking for a way to milk a successful product for new triumphs. Hopefully I'll be able to track down some of these newfangled versions and tell you whether they're successful.

For now I can tell you the classic Cow Tale is still successful. Chewy caramel spoons with the sugary cream center for a treat that's equal parts sinful indulgence and necessary soul food. I felt years younger after my mouth listened to the tastes of the Cow Tale. For a few precious moments I was a bite-sized person experiencing the pure bliss of a sugary childhood snack.

Since it's such a classic, I feel no need to give this candy a traditional rating. Instead, let this post serve as a special tribute to a candy that has done so much to lift so many people's spirits. Cow Tales, Rick's Food Critique salutes you!

May 5, 2010

Wheaties Fuel: You bet I'll eat my Wheaties

I'm not usually a big fan of foods that work harder to plug their celebrity endorsements than than they do to boast about their ingredients and flavor. It's usually a sign of blandness and lack of inspiration. So you can imagine I wasn't any too thrilled at the idea of Wheaties Fuel.

Being on the Wheaties box is one of the pinnacles of sports celebrityhood -- and a traditional way to endorse a bland, less-than-inspiring product. No offense to classic Wheaties, but they lack the zing I want in my breakfast bowl every morning.

Now Wheaties has a new product in an edgy carbon-colored box filled with the eerily disembodied faces of A-list of sports celebrities: Albert Pujols, Kevin Garnett, Peyton Manning, Bryan Clay and Hunter Kemper. The fresh box has a new set of insides, dubbed "Wheaties Fuel" and supposedly co-developed with the cover athletes and a nutrition expert. It sounds like an attempt to spruce up dull old Wheaties with a new skin-deep paint job, doesn't it?

Surprisingly, it's not.

Wheaties Fuel is a marvelous cereal, paralleled by few on the store shelves today. Fuel is comprised of puffed rice and dense Wheaties bunches, and manages to have a delicious flavor without being sugary. Even better, it is stout enough that you won't be left hungry an hour after downing a bowl. The Fuel website says that's because of a mix of complex carbohydrates and fiber -- and that would make sense, nutritionally. Think of it this way: Wheaties Fuel is flat-out more dense than other cereals.

For starters, Fuel feels heavier in your spoon and fills your stomach more completely. It also pours with an impact unlike your standard corn flakes. The way it hits the bowl is granola-like.

In case you don't believe me, lets look at the tale of the box. The fancy-duds Wheaties Fuel box is much smaller than most other cereal boxes, yet it packs a lot of weight. Compare it to a Chocolate Cheerios box, another smaller-than-average sized box that also happens to be on my breakfast shelf at the moment. The Chocolate Cheerios box, while diminutive, is still wider and thicker than the Wheaties fuel box. Even so, Fuel outweighs it 1 lb. 1.1 oz. to 11.25 oz.

I suppose the moral of the story is that good things come in small, dense packages. Wheaties Fuel starts the day with Five sporks out of five.

May 1, 2010

KFC Double Down: The verdict

Foodies, I'm pleased to announce that after a week of deliberation I've reached a verdict on my brush with meaterdom, also known as the KFC Double Down.

Long story short, I got a kick out of eating the two pieces of fried chicken sandwiched around bacon, cheese and "Colonel's sauce." But I don't plan on eating another.

The Double Down is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal -- and I mean that in more than one way. First of all, a creation this bold seldom hits the glowing plastic menu boards at fast food counters. Second, I'm not sure how many times you can eat one without permanently impacting your health.

While the sandwich isn't as calorically catastrophic as you might guess, I didn't feel any too perky after eating mine. Once the initial adrenaline of eating my Double Down wore off I was sluggish and tired. I can only attribute those side effects to the Double Down.

It was similar to a sleepiness I felt after wolfing down Kentucky Grilled Chicken in November. The chicken sat in my stomach and dragged my energy levels down like an anchor. It was all I could do to post my initial reactions to the Double Down -- and we all know how excited I was to talk about this bold chicken sandwich.

The aftereffects are a shame because the Double Down tasted very good heading down my gullet. The massive amount of chicken approached overwhelming proportions and had me pecking around for bread, yet it was strangely pleasing all the same. Fried chicken is wholesome American goodness, and your mouth feels really good when you're in the middle of a double down.

Let me also give kudos to the "Colonel's sauce." It tasted like Thousand Island dressing and matched the sandwich perfectly.

In the interest of science I should attempt to eat another Double Down to see if the health effects are as disastrous as I fear. I am not ready for that day, though.

The need to wait before eating another Double Down is enough to keep the sandwich from receiving a perfect rating. I'm assigning it a rating of four sporks out of five, with the provisions that you eat just one and schedule a nap for the hours immediately following consumption.

Eat Double Downs regularly, and I fear your doctor will be clucking his tongue.