March 30, 2011

Subway Meatball Pepperoni

With April just around the corner, Subway is getting ready to introduce a new Featured $5 Footlong -- bumping a new sub into temporary placement on the $5 Footlong menu. Next month's sub du jour will be the Double Bacon, Egg and Cheese, which looks to be worth scrambling to your nearest sub shop to try.

Naturally, that means I'm ready to review the Meatball Pepperoni -- March's $5 Footlong.

Don't look at it as tardiness on my part. Look at it as my sparing you from another litany of egg jokes after beating you up with too much ovular humor in last week's Snicker's Egg post. Look at it as having a full day left to try the Meatball Pepperoni, if what I'm about to describe catches your fancy.

Should it catch your fancy? That depends on how much you like the standard Subway Meatball Marinara. Because to be honest with you, the pepperoni layered on the bottom of the sub is like the acting in a Nicholas Cage movie: It contributes so little that it might as well not be there.

Before you drive away angrily, let me tell you the sub's undoubtedly good. Subway's venerable meatballs and stalwart marinara sauce form the rock of the components, delivering a very satisfying spaghetti-outlet flavor. Get it toasted, like I did, and your provolone cheese will melt and infuse goodness throughout the sauce.

What won't be infused is pepperoni taste. The treated meat makes a few cameo appearances when you find a bite that's short on sauce, but it largely loses its face off with the bigger flavors on the bun and plays apprentice to the sorcery of the meatballs. At times I almost forgot I was eating March's Featured Footlong and thought I had accidentally ordered off of the standard $5 menu.

Perhaps the only major difference the pepperoni delivers is negative. It makes the sub harder to bite -- the lunch meat straddles the space between meatballs and is difficult to gnaw in half, resulting in some situations where you have to yank the pepperoni out from under a meatball in order to take your bite. As you can imagine, this is a treacherous situation similar to jerking the tablecloth out from under a full set of china -- only instead of breaking the china, a misstep will soil your shirt.

Flipping the sub and eating it upside down doesn't rectify the problem, either. The pepperoni still maintains traction on the meatballs, inching them toward your spotless clothing with each nibble and threatening that the cleanliness of your shirt will be gone in 60 seconds. If nothing else, it makes lunch exciting.

Knowing all that, I can assert that the Meatball Pepperoni isn't bad, per say. It's just a virtual flavor clone of the Meatball Marinara. Something with pepperoni needs to be more to be more than that. Three sporks out of five.

Bring the lunch meat into the spotlight by slathering on more pepperoni or fix the eating issues gnawing at the sub, and we'd have a footlong that might be worth labeling a national treasure.

March 24, 2011

Snickers Egg

With us hopping down the trail toward Easter and seasonal candy packing the store shelves, it's time we take a peep at some holiday candy.

But what to review? Jellybeans are passe. I've covered the Cadbury Creme Egg in words and Marshmallow Peeps in photos. It's too early to break down a full-sized chocolate bunny.

What we need, foodies, is to lay into a different kind of Easter candy -- something familiar enough to keep us perched in comfort, but different enough to crack a few boring habits. For some reason I'm inclined to stay within the comfortable shell of candy eggs, so I've hatched a quick review of the Snickers Egg. It should go over easy, right?

Those of you unfamiliar with the Snickers Egg should be able to picture one without much trouble. Take a Snickers Bar and shrink it a little. Mold it into a decorative egg shape. Send it to roost in stores in the spring. Voila.

Although the flavors of a standard Snickers are all present, you'd be a yolkel to think eating the egg is just like eating a Snickers bar. For starters, the egg is lighter on peanuts than its fraternal brethren. Caramel is also less prevalent.

As a result, each bite of the Snickers egg is filled with plenty of nougat. When you think about a regular Snickers, you might not find yourself wanting for more nougat. You will after eating the egg which impresses with a chocolaty yet creamy flavor. The eating experience is aided by the peanuts which assume a supporting role instead of taking center stage. They're very comfortable in that spot, almost as if they were born -- nay, hatched -- for it.

Far from large, the egg will still leave you satisfied. Ambitious eaters will be able to finish it in three or four bites, which is just about right for a novelty candy like this. You don't want your Easter egg scrambling your stomach on Sunday morning.

The egg's exterior is a nice blend of Easterly lines and dots that puts other springtime candy like the Reese's Egg and Cadbury Egg to shame. The wrapper, however, doesn't keep up with some of its nest mates on the candy shelf. It makes an attempt at bright vernal imagery but seems middling and messy at best.

The Snickers Egg is a hard-boiled competitor in the world of Easter candy. It's not the most imaginative remix of Snickers and Easter you could come up with, but it's a nice omelet of chocolate, peanuts, caramel and nougat. A very fluffy three sporks out of five.

March 10, 2011

Good luck holding on to your Shamrock Shake

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, I was eager to down a bright green Shamrock Shake from McDonald's. Nothing says March 17 in America like the amalgamation of milkshake, mint, emerald food dye, shameless capitalism and fast food, after all.

Imagine my shock when my shake arrived not nestled in the comfort of its familiar paper cup of yesteryear, but held rigidly in a clear plastic McCafe container. Apparently you can now order this St. Patty's Day classic topped with whipped cream and a cherry -- a puzzling option available across the Mickey D's shake lineup.

My distrust for the McCafe series is well-documented on this blog. The idea just doesn't seem to fit the M.O. of the house that Ronald built: Classing up McDonald's with fancy-looking cups and special cafe areas seems as off-balance as the hot chocolate they hawk. I go to McDonald's for my $1 burgers, not for my taste of West-coast coffee shop.

If juxtaposing a cafe into McDonald's introduces discord into the restaurant world, McCafe milkshakes are downright oxymoronic. These shakes aren't made with coffee and they have as much in common with a cafe as your local Baskin Robbins. McIceCreamShoppe would have been better branding.

All that notwithstanding, the new cup has some serious functional drawbacks, namely its plastic construction. When the old paper cups got cold, they maintained a homey comfort. They were an organic product, and the gentle bend of their soggy paper felt good in your hand. These new plastic mugs, by contrast, become clammy and slippery after a few minutes of holding the shake. Grasping them isn't easy, and it certainly isn't comfortable. They're synthetic -- manufactured -- like the whole McCafe experience.

Fortunately the good stuff inside the cup is unchanged. Provided, that is, you use proper judgment and forgo the whipped topping and cherry. I, for one, kept the jade purity of my shake intact by refusing the crimson imperialism of the fruit.

My advice is to ignore the newfangled packaging around your Shamrock Shake this St. Patrick's Day and enjoy the minty goodness inside. The packaging change nets a mortifying zero sporks out of five. And if the Irish have any luck, this plastic cup won't be coming back next year.

March 8, 2011

vitaminwater stur-D

I was planning on writing about the act of freezing yogurt to create a sweet treat for tonight's food review, but it didn't seem fair here on the eve of Lent. Those of you who will be fasting tomorrow or using Ash Wednesday to start a new pie-in-the-sky diet -- does anyone actually manage to give up sweets for the full 40 days? -- would hardly appreciate that, however.

Ever mindful of my loyal foodie followers, I've switched gears with a review of one of the latest vitaminwater flavors: stur-D. I hope you all appreciate that this is a bit of a pre-Lenten sacrifice for me. Glaceau, maker of vitaminwater, sees fit to run roughshod over standard rules of capitalization when naming products, making reviews of vitaminwater a painful experience for those of us who like pressing the shift key.

Drinking stur-D is somewhat less of a painful experience, fortunately. The beverage combines blue agave, passion fruit and citrus flavors in a bright blue liquid that's stranger to look at than it is to drink. If you can get past the fact that it looks like you're about to guzzle a liquefied Smurf, stur-D makes a tasty beverage.

Let me get the prerequisite disclaimer out of the way: vitaminwater is not packed with flavor. Do not confuse it with soda, fruit juice or flavored Seltzer Water and do not expect it to have the same strong taste as these aforementioned liquids. Evaluate it for what it is -- a washed-out tasting drink -- and you can enjoy it.

Having said that, I can tell you stur-D is one of the more flavorful iterations of vitaminwater. It's about as close to full-fledged fruit-juice flavor as the brand gets, and it fills that role without any major flavor imbalances. I find it to start a little on the sweet side, but some subtle citrus notes flare up at the end of each swallow to mute the sugary tones and leave a somewhat-crisp finish. It's a much more successful use of citrus than vitaminwater energy, which amps up the sour to near-grapefruit levels.

So how does this hypnotically colored drink fare in the realm of sporks? Pretty well, it turns out. Four sporks out of five. Dial down the sweetness, bump up the citrus a tad and ratchet back the color tone so that it doesn't remind me of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and we could have a perfect beverage on our hands.

March 1, 2011

Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito

Taco Bell may have created the eighth wonder of the processed food world when it placed the Beefy Crunch Burrito on its menu. A tortilla joins ground beef, rice, nacho cheese, sour cream and Flamin' Hot Fritos to create one of the biggest "Are you serious?" food's I've seen behind the fast-food counter.

That's right, foodies. Taco Bell's ground beef, the composition of which has been questioned recently by a lawsuit -- the suit says the meat is composed of only 35% beef, while The Bell's CEO claims that number is 88% -- wasn't enough processed fodder for this bad-boy burrito. Fritos corn chips, which have a label reading like the glossary of a collegiate chemistry textbook, had to be thrown on top.

To be fair, Fritos do contain corn, according to the label. But anyone who's tasted them knows they aren't exactly fresh off the cob. This combination sounds like it could be something straight out of a science fiction novel: more plastic than organic. So how did this conglomeration of prepackaged, processed gobbledygook taste to the mouth?

Pretty darn good, actually. While I can't vouch for whether it pickled my intestines, it tickled my taste buds in pleasing ways.

The rice, sour cream, beef and cheese all mesh in a tried-and-true combination of salty flavor that runs through much of Taco Bell's food. And the Fritos add just about the perfect amount of texture.

Don't get me wrong -- they aren't crunchy. All that gooey cheese and soft sour cream quickly saturates the Fritos, neutralizing their natural (?) crunch. Even so, they retain a hint of crispness that's satisfying enough to bite into but not hard enough to pierce your gums. That's a major plus. There's nothing worse than a stray shard of tortilla or taco shell digging itself haphazardly between your teeth as you chomp on your Taco Bell.

The Fritos come up a little shorter in the spicy department. Flamin' Hot may be their prefix, but fiery spice ain't the name of their game. I've tasted hotter oyster crackers. Even so, they added a hint of flavor to the meal.

Once all the pros and cons are processed, the Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito wraps up a very solid three-and-a-half sporks out of five. I could have used a little more spice to live up to the name, and this concoction is screaming for a stray chunk of lettuce or two to add an organic touch. In the end, though, who cares if it's grown in the ground or molded in a factory? Does it matter whether the beef is actually made of cows? This tastes like a winner.