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.