December 31, 2010

Third Annual Golden Spork Awards: The best foods of 2010

Button up your tux or zip up the back of your fanciest gown! It's time to hand out some of the most highly sought-after awards in affordable food: the 2010 Golden Spork Awards.

All you historians out there have no doubt noticed that this year's ceremonies have been moved back to their original date of New Year's Eve after 2009's festivities were experimentally held in early March 2010 to piggyback off the popularity of the Oscars. That scheduling, really just a shameless attempt to gain some cheap traction on search engines, never really panned out. Apparently readers searching the web for movie awards don't eat.

The jostling schedule for the Golden Sporks leaves list fans in luck. You get two food critique awards in the same calendar year! Mazel tov!

In a desperate attempt to keep some continuity, the awards handed out this year will feature the same categories as in 2009. To be eligible, a food had to be reviewed during the 2010 calendar year. Anyone who wishes to look through the candidates can do so by following this link. Those of you looking for previous Golden Spork Awards can find them here.

A quick rundown of the awards: We start with the worst of 2010, the "Put a Spork in Them" list, before moving on to the Best Free Food, Best Sub-$1 Food and Best Seasonal Food. Things start to heat up with the prestigious Best Snack/Candy award and Best Supporting Beverage honors, then turn into an all-out food fight as contenders duke it out for Best Dessert in a Leading Role. Finally, we wrap it up with the honor of all honors, the top food of 2010, the Best Picnic trophy. To contend for Best Picnic, a food had to have received five sporks out of five in its initial review.

In an effort to cover as much ground as possible, foods aren't eligible for more than one award. So if a 99-cent burrito wins Best Picnic, it cannot win Best Sub-$1 food.

2010 was a year dominated by high-profile food news: The KFC Double Down grabbed headlines while Mountain Dew and Vitamin Water waged crowd-sourced competitions for new flavors. But the low profile flavors were just as noteworthy, as Chocolate Pop Rocks and new Taco Bell sauces, Verde and Fire Roasted Border Salsa, deserve their fare share of attention.

Which foods take the cake as the best of 2010? Without further ado, let's find out!

Put a Spork in Them: 2010's foods to forget

Cinnabon Cereal More sugar than a grocery store's baking aisle and a flavor that could have been taken straight from Post Waffle Crisp made this cereal a blemish on breakfast. Parents, don't let your children try this Molotov cocktail in a breakfast bowl, lest they become sugar junkies like the title character in Calvin and Hobbes.

Vitamin Water Connect Facebook may have inspired a successful movie this year with "The Social Network," but the site's Vitamin Water stepchild fell far short of expectations. Touted as a combination of black cherry and lime, this drink was the pits with an overpowering citrus flavor. If ever there was a reason to call for a "Dislike" button, this is it.

Golden Spork Awards: The top foods reviewed in 2010

Free Food: Burger King Seattle's Best Coffee The King rolled out a partnership with Seattle's Best Coffee this year and celebrated by handing out free coffee every Friday in November. While Seattle's best isn't the most bewitching brew, no other handout came close to matching four straight weeks of something-for-nothing bliss.

Short Payment (Best Sub-$1 Food): Taco Bell's $5 Box Sure to be a controversial pick, the $5 Box managed to win a category for which it didn't even appear to be eligible. Worse, it received a paltry two spork rating on initial review! That low rating stemmed largely from the fact that the $5 Box was handed to me in a bag, but it didn't reflect the value of the meal, which packed a Cheesy Gordita Crunch (to munch), a Burrito Supreme, a Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twists and a drink. That's a ton of food for $5, and it was enough to propel the $5 Box to an oxymoronic victory in a category for foods priced less than $1.

Seasonal Food: Starbuck's Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha The next best thing to dipping a white-chocolate-coated candy cane in espresso, this rich drink packed enough Christmas flavor to have even the biggest Scrooge singing "Jingle Bells."

Snack/Candy: Pretzel M&M's A near-perfect take on the classic combination of chocolate and pretzels. You'll be tongue twisted as you try to come up with adjectives to describe these delectable nuggets.

Best Supporting Beverage: Mountain Dew White Out A tasty citrus soda should always find room on the shelf, and an online vote affirmed the supremacy of this flavor. While the opinion of the interweb masses was way off when it came to Vitamin Water Connect, Mountain Dew White Out is evidence that democracy really can work.

Best Dessert in a Leading Role: KFC Double Down The Double Down defies convention, and we're defying convention today by awarding it the title of best dessert of 2010. While it's served as a main course and has none of the traditional sweetness of dessert, the Double Down qualifies for this category because it truly is the icing on the cake of a memorable year in food -- not to mention the fact that it didn't fit any other category but definitely deserved some sort of award. As excessive as some of the most over-the-top desserts, this chicken concoction will live forever in our memories as one of the most brazen dishes to ever hit a fast food menu.

Best Picnic: Milky Way Midnight Only two foods pulled down the five-spork rating necessary to qualify for this year's Best Picnic Award: Wheaties Fuel and Milky Way Midnight. While both stars of this year waged war as worthy contenders, the Milky Way just edges out Wheaties Fuel with a stellar combination of dark chocolate, vanilla nougat and caramel working together with enough force to topple empires. This is what candy bars were meant to be, and eating one will pull anyone over to the dark side.

Congratulations to all of this year's award recipients. The real winners, of course, were those of us eating these delicious foods. We'll see you in 2011!

December 24, 2010

Wendy's Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt

Ah, Christmastime. The season of eggnog, cinnamon peppermint bark and ... French fries?

Well, it might not be the most timely of reviews, but I recently tried out Wendy's revamped fries. You may have seen the commercials. "At Wendy's, we start with a whole russet potato. Naturally, we slice it. Then sprinkle it with sea salt and serve it hot and crispy."

I'm not quite sure how you slice a potato naturally -- they don't cleave themselves in the wild, after all -- but the real change here is the fact that the new fries still have their skin. This is a great sign, as it brings them closer to my all-time favorite skin-on fare fries.

Unfortunately, the skin isn't the feature that pops out when you bite into one of the new fries. Instead, the sea salt comes out in full force. It's definitely different from the salt on Wendy's old fries, and adds a distinctive oceanic flavor.

Nearly lost in the sea of salt is the aforementioned skin, which adds little of the distinctive texture you'd expect. A little extra chewiness lurks on the peripheral pieces that have skin running the whole way down the edge, but most slices have the composition of your standard fast-food fry. Bummer.

Before I reach a final conclusion on the new Wendy's fries, I'll compare them to the version they replace. Those now-defunct fries were my favorite in the world of fast food, so the evolved spuds face a stiff test.

The sea salt is a definite upgrade. Sodium was the previous iteration's weakest point, as it tasted harsh and bordered on overpowering. I still find the sea salt a little strong, but it blends much better with the flavors of the potato.

Moving on to texture, though, these fries fall surprisingly short. Wendy's old fries were melt-in-your mouth delicious but still maintained a satisfying crunch upon the initial bite. Rather than improve on this crunch-and-melt combination, the skin-on fries tended toward chewy. It's by no means unappetizing, mind you. It's just not as good as version 1.0.

Overall, I'd say Wendy's regressed slightly with these fries. I'm hoping I received a bum batch, that maybe my next order will be much better. And maybe that hope will keep me from sounding like too much of a scrooge when I announce my rating: three and a half sporks out of five.

December 19, 2010

Chocolate Pop Rocks

Greetings, foodies! I'm making a triumphant return to the interwebs with the review of Chocolate Pop Rocks I promised so many weeks ago. You'll have to overlook my absence -- an unfortunate run-in with a hot bowl of lentil soup rendered my taste buds out of action for a short time.

No doubt your anticipation has been building, and you wondered why the review was so long coming. I could practically hear the questions resonating through the foodosphere as they burst into your heads: Were the Pop Rocks so bad they drove our intrepid reviewer out of the business forever? Did they make his head explode? Why haven't I heard about Chocolate Pop Rocks making anyone's head explode on the news?

Rest assured, the Chocolate Pop Rocks did not make my head explode. In fact I've never heard of any version of the candy having that unfortunate side effect. Wondering about bursting craniums is an integral part of eating Pop Rocks, though, so it's where I'll start my review today.

You've no doubt eaten Pop Rocks and are aware of the way they fizz and bubble in your mouth. Part of the fun of the rocks is wondering how much of a pop they're going to deliver on your palate -- "Will it be enough to make my head explode?" You know it isn't, but you can't keep the thought from crossing your mind the moment the rocks tickle your tongue.

I doubted how much pop the Chocolate Pop Rocks would actually deliver. In fact, I was sure it wouldn't be enough to stoke questions of exploding heads. See, the rocks are familiar sugar Pop Rocks coated in chocolate, which seems like a recipe for dousing their bubbly nature.

And when you first put them in your mouth, they don't pop. They don't do anything but sit there and taste creamy while the chocolate slowly melts. Then, just when you've been lulled to sleep, POP, there they go! It turns out guessing when the rocks will start crackling is a ton of fun.

It's no way to eat the whole bag, however, and I found myself biting into the Chocolate Pop Rocks with surprising regularity. That's something I never do with normal Pop Rocks, and it was quite the experience. They provided an extremely satisfying burst with each fall of my molars, and continued to sizzle on my tongue afterwards.

In fact, they kept popping long after I expected to hear from them. Chewing on the rocks must have led to some of them wedging between my teeth, because I was surprised by bonus pops when I took a drink about ten minutes after finishing the pack. My immediate thought was -- you guessed it -- "Will my head explode?"

I found Chocolate Pop Rocks to be a great way to spend Sunday afternoon. They're tasty entertainment, and they even have more substance than your run-of-the-mill rocks. However, I wouldn't call them hearty, and you can't count on them for any nourishment. They remain a novelty whose sole purpose is to disappear in your mouth.

That means a rating of four sporks out of five. Hopefully it won't make your head explode.