December 10, 2014

Hershey's Candy Cane is more fun than you can shake a stick at

You might notice this wrapper is empty. I couldn't wait to take photos before eating.
It's the holiday season, a time for jingle bells, Christmas trees and absurd seasonal snacks.

You probably know about Reese's Peanut Butter Trees, but did you know there are Peeps Christmas Trees? How about green and red layer cake mixes?

Ignore all of that, which really does exist. There's only one seasonal product to try this year: Hershey's Candy Cane bars.

The name doesn't do nearly enough to describe these creamy candy morsels packing just the right hint of mint. Unwrap the bar and you'll find a relatively standard-looking Hershey slab, only it's made out of white chocolate and appears to have chicken pox.

Those pox aren't contagious, though. They're just tiny dots of candy cane. And they're delectable.

The whole idea is delectable, really. It's like a softer, easier to eat version of peppermint bark.

Try one and you'll be barking for more, too. I'd love to go on longer about this candy, but I need to get this post up quickly so you can hit the store and try one. Five sporks out of five.

November 9, 2014

Where's the pork in Pizza Hut's Bacon Cheese Stuffed Crust?

There's bacon in the crust. Supposedly.
Let's do another pizza review.

It's late fall, a time of early sunsets, long dark nights and extensive football viewing. What better way to warm the chill of creeping winter than with a warm pizza box delivered to the home?

And what better way to improve a warm box of pizza than with stuffed crust? What better way to improve Stuffed Crust Pizza than with bacon?

Pizza Hut seemed to have followed that thought process when it created its Bacon Stuffed Crust Pizza. Said pizza should be the precipice of junk food. It should deserve its own museum in Louisville, Kentucky, a place on the fast food Mount Rushmore and a spot atop every list of favorite takeout foods. It should marry cheese, bacon and crust in a union blessed by divine providence.

Unfortunately, the gods did not smile upon Pizza Hut's creation.

While one should finish a pie feeling pigged out on porky goodness, there's none of that bacon blast here. The tiny bacon bits in the crust are completely overwhelmed by Pizza Hut's salty, gooey stuffed crust. If I didn't know there was bacon in this pizza, I might have missed the meat entirely while eating.

That's simply unforgivable. Stuffed Crust Pizza is delicious in a what-did-I-just-do-to-my-body way. Bacon is delicious in the same way. Do a decent job of combining them and the result would be a heart stopper.

Instead it's a heart breaker. I can't get past what might have been here. Two sporks out of five.

November 2, 2014

Little Caesars Pretzel Crust Pizza is missing from your life

Pretzel goodness in a pizza. What more do you want?
Unless you make a habit of trying different Hot-N-Ready pizzas at Little Caesars, you probably haven't tasted Pretzel Crust Pizza.

Change that. Right now.

This is a pizza suited for children, adults who are young at heart and anyone else who likes pretzels. If you're a kid who eats nacho cheese, you'll like it. If you're an adult who buys SuperPretzels from your grocer's freezer, you'll like it. If you're willing to visit Auntie Anne's at the mall when you need a snack, this Pretzel Crust Pizza is worth trying.

Here's Little Caesar's recipe for the pie: Take pretzel dough crust, top it with a "creamy cheddar cheese sauce" that tastes like it belongs in a Velveeta commercial, put on a layer of shredded cheese, toss in some pepperoni and throw a heaping helping of salt on top of it all.

There's not a single thing there that doesn't qualify as sinfully delicious.

Here's the recipe for eating it: Find a $5 bill, get a humongous drink to take the edge off the salt, and sit down with someone who's not a food snob.

That's right, this pizza is only $5. For that price, how can you not try it?

The snotty people of the world will turn up their noses as they hurry off to find some expensive and unsatisfying foie gras. Let them go. Find someone who's not afraid to eat cheap and split this pizza with them. You'll feel greasy, you'll feel salty, and you'll feel happy.

Five sporks out of five, Little Caesars. Pretzel Pizza! Pretzel Pizza!

September 12, 2014

Wrapping up Lay's crazy chips

It's a great big potato chip world out there.
If you've done your homework this week, you know my winner in Lay's flavor competition. You've tracked the sporks, added the tines and called it game, set, match.

Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese is the best tasting, most well-rounded chip of the bunch. Its flavors match the words on the bag, and they work on a slice of potato. This needs to be a year-round chip. Immediately. It also needs to be in your pantry. Immediately.

Mango Salsa gave the mac and cheese chips a bigger run for their money than you might think, though. Yes, Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese fetched five sporks, a whole utensil above Mango Salsa. But Mango Salsa had a spring to its step that was sweet, refreshing and fresh all at once. A little more balance and it might have won or at least tied for number one.

Wasabi Ginger had a lot of potential to dominate as an offbeat contender, too. If all these chips were free, I'd have had a tough time ranking it along with the top two finishers — it's that offbeat and different from the competition. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for Lay's, the packaging is a huge undoing with those kettle chips. Don't charge me more for less and expect me to ignore it.

Finally, let's skip talking about Cappuccino. They shouldn't continue to exist, so I'm going to pretend they don't. What a letdown.

With this year in the books, I'm wondering if I should submit a flavor for a future Lay's competition. How about Pepperoni Pizza? Fried Shrimp? Everything Bagel? White Chocolate Macadamia Nut?

It's a great big potato chip world out there. And it should only get bigger.

September 11, 2014

Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese chips sizzle

These chips just shine.
Normally I have no extra love for the front-runner.

Whether in sports, movies or food, I've always reserved the soft spot in my heart for the underdog. It's just more fun to root for Rocky, a team that's never won a championship, or the unheard-of dish that deserves press but isn't getting much.

All of these chips in a short period of time must have given me a few extra soft spots in my cardiovascular system, though. Because Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese chips wormed their way into my heart in a big way.

They start out with a burst of cheddar not unlike a cheese curl. It quickly fades against a powerful smoky, meaty taste sure to send the pleasure center of the brain firing on all cylinders. That's the bacon, and it does its job: satisfy. To top it all off, there's a distinctly pasta-like aftertaste. I'm not sure how Lay's swapped these chips' starch taste from potato to macaroni, but they did it.

The cut of the chip is classic. No wrinkles or kettle cooking to distract from the main event. It's all about the cheddar, bacon, and mac. I wonder if things could have been a little better in wavy chip form, which would emulate the curls of a bacon slice. But I can't argue too much with letting the taste shine through here.

So while these chips are the obvious juggernaut heading into this year's Lay's flavor competition, I can't help but love them. Five sporks out of five. Grab a bag, if you can find any.

September 10, 2014

Mango Salsa chips are worth dancing for

Close, but not quite in focus.
Fruit can be oh so polarizing.

Depending on who you ask, grapes can be the best or worst thing to happen to chicken salad. Cranberries are the maker or breaker of trail mixes. Pineapple is the topper or tanker of choice for burgers.

At some level, the debate over fruit is about sweet and savory coming together. Some people love the combination while others hate it. I'm solidly on the love side, so it's no surprise I'm an enormous fan of today's crazy chip type under the microscope, Lay's Wavy Mango Salsa.

Mango hasn't made its way into too many supermarket foodstuffs, either because it's hard to replicate, relatively unknown or doesn't translate well. I'm guessing it can be difficult to duplicate, because while mangos are sweet, what really makes them special are their understated background flavor tones. Lay's did a decent job with these chips, as there's definitely a burst of mango on first bite.

There's also a burst of sweet that could be a little overpowering for some. But it quickly gives way to salty and heat sensations. While I could do with a little more heat, this is still a delicious chip. Don't start eating them if you want to stop.

The chips' wavy profile is also a big plus. Texture of some sort really kicks potato chips up a few pegs, whether it's the gentle undulation of waves, the sharp peaks of ridges or the rough weight of kettle cooking. Waves in this case let the imagination play. It's almost as if you can picture them trapping the chunks of a fresh mango salsa.

Even though bagged potato chips will never be consumed fresh, Lay's has a fresh flavor idea with mango salsa. Four sporks out of five.

Tomorrow I'm covering the final of four Lay's Do Us A Flavor chips, Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese. Come back, because like my blood pressure this week, that review is sure to be through the roof.

September 9, 2014

Small praise for Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger chips

Tasty but too small.
That green paste sitting beside your supermarket sushi that calls itself wasabi isn't very appetizing, is it?

I've always considered it more garnish than anything. It's certainly not meant to be eaten. In all likelihood, it's not even made of real wasabi.

Fake wasabi, incidentally, brings me to the topic of today's review: Lay's Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger potato chips. They're made with "wasabi ginger seasoning" that contains a host of ingredients including yeast extract and horseradish, according to the back of the bag. The ingredients list does include actual wasabi at its very end, but even so, these chips are far from traditionally flavored.

Somehow, though, they work enough to keep you reaching for more. It might be the kettle cooked crunch or the lingering sweetness at the end. It might be the 140 mg of sodium or 8 grams of fat per serving. It might be the simple fact that, despite what was surely every grocery store shopper's immediate reaction upon first laying eyes on this Lay's variety, wasabi ginger chips are not inherently disgusting.

No, they're actually pretty good. If we were only talking about flavor here, I'd be handing out sporks like it was Christmas morning in the cafeteria.

Sadly, Lay's saddled its wasabi ginger chips with one massive drawback when it sent them to store shelves. They come in 8 1/2 ounce bags, a full ounce less than the other three competitors in this year's Lay's crazy chip face-off. Yet they were priced identically.

Three sporks out of five. Find me the missing ounce, and we'll talk about more tines.

Actually, we'll be talking about more tines tomorrow with the next review in this series. Get ready.

September 8, 2014

Cappuccino chips aren't my cup of tea

It's a croppy chip.
There are plenty of things in this world that are better in concept than in reality.

New Year's resolutions. Yoga. The Godfather: Part III. Coconut milk. The Atkins diet. Vegetarian diets. Diets in general. Two-hand-touch football. Polar plunges. TV timeouts. The City of Dallas. How I Met Your Mother. Puggles. Leisure suits. Windows 8.

The list could go on and on. But the point is that we don't need to keep adding to the collection of  things that sound better than they actually are. And that's why Cappuccino Lay's Potato Chips are a shame.

It's a great concept, isn't it? Take delicious potato chips, add in the addictively amazing taste of coffee and sprinkle in a dose of sweetness to emulate cappuccino. What's not to like?

It would be simpler to ask what there is to like. Pick your platitude: the whole is lesser than the sum of the parts, some things are better left undone, there's no accounting for taste (at least the taste of the people who made these). This idea just doesn't work.

On first bite, the flavor is too much cinnamon and not enough coffee. At end, the taste is too much potato and not enough coffee. The smell is too much sugar and ... well, you get the idea.

Even more aggravating, the chips are just the right balance to keep you coming back for more even though you don't like them. You just keep waiting for that magical moment when that next handful of chips reaches flavor momentum and turns delicious. It just keeps eluding you.

Let's look for positives though. The ingredients list says these chips contain milk ingredients, which makes them more legitimate imitations of cappuccino, I guess. So there's that.

Enough of this. I'm ready to move on to a better flavor tomorrow. One spork out of five. Sorry, Cappuccino.

September 7, 2014

Lay's crazy flavors are back

As hard as it is to believe, it's been well over a year since Chicken and Waffle Potato Chips first graced our nation's store shelves in a flavor competition.

That competition, which saw Cheesy Garlic Bread shockingly unseat Chicken and Waffles and Sriracha to make it to Lay's list of permanent offerings, is long since over. But Lay's is back with another round of outlandish flavors, and we're all winners.

This time we have four flavors with which to ply our tongues and pad our waistlines: Cappuccino, Wavy Mango Salsa, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, and Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese. Note that we now have kettle-cooked and wavy varieties going up against the classic potato chip form. A flavor competition wasn't enough. We get textures squaring off, too.

At great risk to my cholesterol levels I've lined up a bag of each of these competitors, and I've been sampling them in different ways for quite a while now. I've had each flavor alone, back to back with others and as part of different snacking situations. Now, over the next five days, I'm going to release the results of my testing.

Why five days, you ask? Aren't there only four types of chip about which to pen personal essays? Well, for a flavor event of this magnitude I'm not going to merely write about each single flavor. I'm going to post once about each individual flavor and then do one additional rundown picking a winner! I might even go to, the website Lay's set up for this whole competition, and vote for my favorite.

It's hard work reviewing potato chips, but somebody's got to do it. Stay tuned.

August 9, 2014

Chocolate-frosted old fashioned doughnuts have downsides

The argument for this doughnut has a hole.
While it's labeled with a couple of different names, the old fashioned or sour cream doughnut is just about the most perfect doughnut in the whole world.

It packs a dense, cake-like consistency. Its top is ridged for optimum flavor delivery. It comes with an actual donut hole, not unnecessary cloying yellow or white cream filling.

The old fashioned sour cream donut is also often prepared with a glazing so thick it borders on frosting. You can get them unglazed, too. But the best option is usually that heavy glaze that combats the donut's only weakness, a propensity to come off a little dry.

So imagine my surprise the other day when I discovered a chocolate-frosted old fashioned sour cream doughnut in a Baltimore-area Wegman's. Replacing the classic near-buttercream glaze with an actual top of frosting is decidedly not old fashioned. It's new and edgy and worth a bite.

It's worth as many bites as it takes to finish the donut, in fact. After that, though, I'll be sticking to the classic preparation.

You see, the chocolate icing is a nice attempt at changing up that classic formula of doughnut goodness. On paper it's a match made in heaven: take two good things, combine them, and come up with a better thing. In this case, though, the whole concoction is less than the sum of the confectionery parts. The chocolate icing adds a depth to the donut without being as sweet as traditional glazing, but its cocoa tones only amplify the dryness problem.

So eat these things with milk, if you're going to eat them. Four sporks out of five.

July 14, 2014

Hook Honey Bun Goldfish if you can

These Honey Bun Goldfish Grahams must not have made enough of a splash to stick around.
Production of the honey bun variety of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Grahams may have already dried up, but I think it's important to write about them for the fossil record.

I found a few packs swimming around on the shelf of a Pepperidge Farm outlet in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and I haven't seen one anywhere else since then. The Honey Bun grahams are also conspicuously absent from the Goldfish Grahams product site, which currently only lists Vanilla Cupcake, Fudge Brownie, Cookies & Cream and S'mores varieties.

From an evolutionary standpoint, I can understand why these particular crackers may have died out. Goldfish Grahams, for anyone who hasn't seen them, are shaped like the swimming cheese snacks loved by children everywhere, only they're graham crackers. I've previously sampled the Vanilla and S'mores varieties, reviewing the latter. It netted an impressive four-and-a-half sporks out of five.

The Vanilla version, while not making this particular blog, was almost as good. But it no longer exists, apparently having given way to the fancied-up Vanilla Cupcake version. And that's where we come back to the subject of today's discussion, Honey Bun grahams.

The Honey Bun flavor is good, but it's not that different in taste from regular Vanilla. Since Vanilla seems to have had to evolve into the whiz-bang "Vanilla Cupcake" to survive, it stands to reason that plan old Honey Bun just wasn't cutting it on store shelves. Still, if you see a pack in an outlet or online somewhere, it might be worth shelling out a couple of bucks to grab a piece of history.

There's just a trace of honey that lingers after every bite. It combines with the standard flavor of graham crackers to drive you back for another handful. You also might want to have a glass of milk handy, because the eating process is bound of leave you thirsty.

Overall, these fish are worth eating, even if they are a rare breed. I'm a big supporter of sustainable seafood, but this is one fish that we can't (and shouldn't) preserve. Any bags of Honey Bun Goldfish are quaint relics of time at this point, but they're moving closer to suffering as fish out of their historical waters.

Enjoy them while you can. They're worth four sporks out of five.

July 2, 2014

What's a pretzel without salt?

An adjective, as you may know if you remember grade school English class, is a type of word that tells you something about a noun. It's the color added to a sentence. The spice sprinkled on a dish.

It's also where a lot of food companies get themselves into trouble.

I bring this up today after trying out Snyder's of Hanover Sweet and Salty Pretzel Pieces. The packaging plays up two major adjectives: sweet and salty. And you can probably guess that I'm taking issue with that collective description.
Did anyone try these before naming them sweet and salty?
Before we get into that, let's take a moment to describe the snack I sampled. Snyder's Sweet and Salty line comes in two varieties. There's cinnamon sugar, which I tried. Then there's salted caramel, which wasn't available at the rather limited vending machine I accessed (the life of a food critic is a glamorous one).

Either way, the basic formula is chunks of sourdough pretzels blanketed in flavor. In my case, the tastes on tap were cinnamon and sugar, both present in abundance. Both sweet.

But neither of them lived up to the latter part of the "sweet and salty" labeling. In fact, not one thing on my sourdough hunks provided anything approaching a salty kick to the taste buds. Despite a significant 290 milligrams of sodium listed on the nutritional information — 12 percent of your daily value — there was nary a hint of NaCl to be found.

It's a shame, too, because the pretzel is a blank canvas that can successfully hold a wide variety of flavors. They classically include chocolate coating, hot sauce and honey mustard. They also include cinnamon and sugar.

These Snyder's of Hanover pretzels are darned tasty. They just aren't darned salty. So bring your table shakers or go find a salt lick if you want sweet and salty cinnamon sugar pretzels from this package.

I'm holding out hope that the salted caramel variety better lives up to the branding. In the mean time, I'm left with a good munch that was completely mislabeled. While it's tempting to be more harsh, a highly palatable snack leaves me willing to sprinkle three sporks out of five in this case.

June 27, 2014

When a corn chip isn't a corn chip

Sweet corn potato chips. We live in strange, exciting times.
For the first time in my life, I ate a corn chip that was made out of potatoes. And it was incredible.

I speak of Herr's Fire Roasted Sweet Corn Potato Chips, a limited-time offering from the Nottingham, Pennsylvania snack company that I just happened to spot in a gas station during a road trip. Open the bag and you'll find seemingly standard crinkle-cut potato chips. Take a whiff and you'll smell something reminiscent of ears of corn roasting on the grill — perhaps eerily so.

Bite in and that eeriness continues. The texture is just what you'd expect from a potato chip. It's crunchy, and then a bite of salt kicks in. After that, though, the corn flavor overpowers everything else. If not for the difference in medium, you'd think you were on the back porch enjoying corn on the cob on a warm summer evening.

Speaking of warmth, these chips finish with a nice current of heat. I guess it's the fire-roasted aspect taking hold. In truth it tastes a lot like red pepper, and it makes you want to dive back in for the salty-sweet start a new bite holds.

These chips are very, very good. But they're strange, and they bring up all sorts of existential questions. We need to delve into that for a minute.

I'm no opponent of strange potato chip flavors. If anything, I support them, as evidenced by my feelings on Lay's Chicken and Waffle chips. These sweet corn chips, however, cross a starch line few would have ever thought to traverse before.

Surely, if you set out to design a sweet corn chip, you would have made it out of corn. It seems like the easier route, not to mention the traditional, less confusing one. These chips from Herr's shuck that path, instead taking potatoes and dressing them up in a way never seen before. As the consumer, they leave us in a maze of foodstuffs, unsure of what we're eating. The only thing that can be said for certain is that we like it.

I'm not suggesting these are for everyone. The traditionalists with their meat-and-potato sensibilities will want to stay away. Most people in the country won't have a choice but to avoid the chips anyway. Herr's is only distributed in 19 states.

Still, if you're in one of the states with Herr's, or if you're willing to special order them, I recommend you dig up a bag. It's a four-and--a-half-spork experience.

June 12, 2014

Drink tracking with Vessyl might be my cup of tea

Finally: A cup that tells you what you're drinking.
The cup's a pretty useful tool for delivering beverages to parched tongues everywhere. But let's face it, in today's world of ubiquitous technology, it has a pretty major shortcoming. It needs a battery, because no idea's so good that it can't be improved by some lithium-ion.

It turns out a San Francisco startup's been hard at work solving that problem.

A company known as Mark One unwrapped a pre-sale promotion today for a new powered cup it's calling the Vessyl. The thing's more than just a drinking device that uses electricity, of course. It can identify what you drink, track it and send the data to your smartphone.

Mark One seems to be branding it largely for dieters and the health-conscious right now. Many of us don't notice the calories we consume in beverages, it argues. The Vessyl will help us do that.

The device will actually be pretty interesting if it lives up to its billing. Supposedly it can break down the calories you're drinking by type, identifying sugar, fat, protein and the like. It can also measure things like caffeine, and its sensors are claimed to be picky enough to tell the difference between beverage brands like Coke and Pepsi.

Beyond that, the cup can estimate how hydrated you are, according to Mark One. It can connect to your Android or iPhone via Bluetooth to track your consumption and give you feedback on health goals.

Oh, and the cup body has its own "discreet screen." Other features include a spill-proof lid and non-stick interior.

Charging doesn't even require fumbling with a Micro USB connection. You just have to set the cup down on its "charging coaster" for 60 minutes, then the battery lasts an estimated five to seven days.

I'm no health nut. How could I be, blogging about fast food and over-the-counter snacks? Yet the Vessyl is strangely attractive to me. Maybe it's the idea of drinking out of an electrified container, adding a pinch of excitement to life. Maybe I'm more interested in tracking daily activities than I realized. I do use a run-tracking app.

Or maybe something like this would make life easier for food reviews. No more being embarrassed by failing in blind beverage taste tests! No more looking up nutritional information on the side of the bottle!

Right now the Vessyl is up for pre-order for $99, a hundred bucks cheaper than its retail price. The cup's makers are trying to pre-sell $50,000 worth of Vessyls  before starting production and shipping early in 2015. Colors listed include "Shadow," "Snow" and "Steam."

The 13 oz. cup comes in "Shadow," "Snow" and "Steam" colors. I'm holding out for a 20 oz. version in "Eggshell."

I might be willing to throw my money in for an early copy, except I'm a little worried about the Vessyl's size. It's listed as holding 13 oz., which would be 7 oz. smaller than the current metal water bottle I refill during the day. A 13 oz. cup would be fine for coffee, but the idea here is you use the Vessyl for all drinking. How about a larger option?

No matter its size, this cup holds my attention in a big way. What can we stick a battery in next?

June 10, 2014

LeBron James' Sprite 6Mix is too sweet to be good

The middle of the NBA Finals is the perfect time to break out the latest shameless promotional tie-in of the food world, Sprite 6Mix by LeBron James. At least, it's as good a time as any.

Sprite 6Mix is about six times too sweet.
In case you don't watch sports, skip advertisements or haven't been in a convenience store lately, 6Mix is, according to Sprite's promotional language, "the lemon-lime Sprite taste you already know with a twist of cherry and orange flavors." It's a soft drink riff supposedly inspired by James' "favorite way to mix Sprite."

Let's forget about the flavors for a moment and pause to evaluate that last statement. Not only does the best player in the NBA mix Sprite — I'm picturing him in a lab pouring between test tubes instead of at the corner soda fountain passing his drink under various nozzles — he supposedly has a favorite way. And that favorite way is more specific than adding a single fruit, a la Cherry Coke.

It's a wonder he had time to build a good jump shot and excellent post game in these last few years. But he has, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. LeBron James is not only an incredible basketball player, he's an alchemist in the test kitchen.

Except his alchemy could use a little bit of temperance. I cracked open a 20 oz. can of 6Mix only to find my tongue could detect little more than added sweetness. If there's orange, cherry or even lemon-lime in there, they've all melded into a taste best described as sucrose.

6Mix does have a distinct scent from its run-of-the-mill Sprite base. Unfortunately that scent isn't orange or cherry so much as it's Boo Berry. The whole drinking experience seems targeted at the under-10 crowd.

Which, now that I think of it, must be the inspiration for 6Mix's name. It's not derived from James' jersey number. It's the demographic most likely to enjoy 6Mix: 6-year-olds. LeBron's favorite way to mix Sprite isn't for himself. It's for his kids.

Look, LeBron James is an incredible basketball player, one who probably has a few more MVP and NBA Championship trophies to win in his career. But his beverage work's not getting many sporks from this blog. Two out of five.

March 27, 2014

The Waffle Taco

Let's get this out of the way. The Waffle Taco is not the most innovative breakfast food the world has ever seen. It is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It is not the most incredible innovation since frozen waffles.

It is, however, excellent in its own right. More so, the Waffle Taco is a surprisingly strong offering for Taco Bell's first foray into the breakfast world.

Now we can back up and go through the story of my Waffle Taco experience. I hit up a local Taco Bell just before 9 a.m. on an overcast Thursday morning with the goal of picking up both a bacon and sausage Waffle Taco for comparison purposes. Before I saw the restaurant, I was a little worried about food shortages as the hungry hoards beat down Taco Bell's door on its first day of offering breakfast. But I didn't need to worry.

From the look of things, Taco Bell is going to have to hang in there to attract a breakfast crowd. Other than the staff, there were four people and me in the restaurant where I stopped. Two were reading the paper, one was waiting for food and the other appeared to be filling out an employment application. Things were a little slow.

Slow or not, my food arrived as ordered in my requested to-go bag. I picked up a cup of coffee in addition to the Waffle Tacos. Oddly enough, there were no advertised size choices for that coffee. I guess it's one-size-fits-all, for now at least.

The coffee led me to an interesting first impression of Taco Bell's breakfast: It's served in hefty containers. My coffee cup had a very solid paper feel, one that was much higher quality than competing fast food restaurants or gas stations. The rectangular boxes around the Waffle Taco were of similar durability, although they degraded a little upon sucking up some grease from their contents.

Speaking of those contents, I broke out the Waffle Tacos and compared them. The formula is simple. For the bacon variety, wrapped inside a curved waffle sit, in order, scrambled egg, bacon bits and melted cheese. My sausage Waffle Taco was much the same thing, only the order went waffle, sausage patty, eggs, cheese.

These are not Eggo waffles. They're not light or fluffy, and frankly, I don't think they're trying to be. They have a heft that I have no choice but to salute, it's so uncompromisingly fast food.

Taco Bell didn't screw up the egg. It didn't screw up the cheese. And it didn't screw up the sausage patty, although I've had better. Where the bell really shined, though, was the bacon bits. They had just a hint of spiciness that made the bacon Waffle Taco stand out from anything else that's widely available for breakfast at national chains.

Condiments were another standout point. I had two to choose from, syrup and picante sauce. Interestingly enough, I was handed the bag complete with syrup packets, but I had to pick up the picante sauce myself.

I tried the Waffle Tacos with syrup, with picante sauce and with both. All three combinations were better than expected. The best option, though was slathering on both syrup and sauce. Be audacious when eating a Waffle Taco. It just seems right, and it works.

Speaking of audacity, I'd be remiss not to mention Taco Bell's marketing campaign for its new breakfast menu. The restaurant found a bunch of people who were named Ronald McDonald and had them stump for bell breakfast in front of the camera. Even better, Taco Bell sent the following special message to me after I leaked a few preliminary thoughts about the Waffle Taco on Twitter.

It's almost time to wrap up and rate this thing, but I need to share a few more thoughts first. The Waffle Taco is an incredible concept, one that captured the attention of more than a few people. In general, throwing breakfast foods together into a single meal is a good idea. See poutine, biscuits and gravy with eggs, and quiche for examples.

The Waffle Taco is not, however, a completely unique taste in fast food. I've had the combination of syrup, eggs, cheese and breakfast before in a McDonald's McGriddle.

And I do love the McGriddle. Yet it's not as good as the Waffle Taco. McGriddles are wrapped in paper, which smushes them together. The Waffle Taco is in a box that lets its ingredients breathe. Further, it's a fresh take that's served with separate syrup, rather than having the syrup baked in.

Waffle Tacos are also dirt cheap: $1.99. I bought two along with a cup of coffee and only paid $5.85 after taxes. Further, the meal didn't even upset my stomach too much. Sure, I felt like I'd had fast food for breakfast. I didn't feel like I'd had particularly low quality fast food, though.

Four sporks out of five. I'm not waffling on this one.

March 22, 2014

Maple Bacon chips

Good news: I'm back after an extended gastromalaise that kept me from reviewing anything for the better part of nine months.

Better news: Maple Bacon Kettle Brand Chips snapped me out of said extended malaise.

The best news: The kettle chips are just a warm-up for the new Mount Everest of cheap food reviewing, which comes out later this week. That would be Taco Bell's upcoming Waffle Taco, which I'm anticipating as eagerly as anything in my storied fast-food-reviewing history.

Taco Bell is scheduled to bring the Waffle Taco out Thursday, and I'll have something on it as soon as possible. In the meantime, let's talk about these Maple Bacon Kettle Brand Chips, which I decided to pick up last week when I learned March 14 was National Potato Chip Day.

This photo had to be cropped aggressively because my messy fingers found their way into the picture.

Kettle Brand chips have been on my radar for a while now. Not only did they seemingly manage to co-opt the copyright for the best name in potato chips, they're using it to roll out fascinating flavor after fascinating flavor. There's Spicy Thai, Sweet and Salty, and even Cheddar Beer.

Kettle's website says the company works to pioneer "bold, unique flavors that people really seem to love." It also says the company started selling chips out of a van, which really gets my motor going.

It was tough to decide whether to try Maple Bacon or Cheddar Beer, but one bite told me I'd made the right choice. Maple Bacon starts out with this sugary punch that never devolves into too much syrupy sweetness. Then the bacon undertones start to creep in. They grow stronger and stronger as you eat on, but that maple is just powerful enough to make sure the meat doesn't hog the scene.

This is a dangerous combination. There's no other way to put it. You could finish the entire bag in one sitting. I managed to stretch it to three, but only after exhausing far too much willpower.

Required willpower is one of the few drawbacks to these chips. Another is that they get your fingers messy. Good luck doing anything other than eat them while you're eating them.

Those aren't terrible drawbacks for potato chips, though. So I have some great news for Kettle Brand chips. Their Maple Bacon variety gets five out of five sporks.

And I'm ready for the Waffle Taco.