Monday, September 19, 2016

Starbucks Sandwiches

Update Review: September 2016

Starbucks likes to give away breakfast sandwiches.  I really don't understand it.  I'm a Starbucks member, and besides a random $1 off, or extra bonus star earnings, I don't ever get freebies.  Except breakfast sandwiches.  I don't like eggs, I don't really like sandwiches, so these are the worst targeted item for me.  Why not pastries?  Why not frappucinos?  Wah!

Anyway, I'm also not one to not take advantage of a freebie.  So, even though I'd never normally get a breakfast sandwich, it was time to try yet another Starbucks breakfast sandwich.  I've had mixed success with past versions, like the disappointing Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss on a croissant or the shockingly decent Sausage & Cheddar or Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon on english muffin, so, I figured it was worth a try.  Plus, free!

My visit was actually not at breakfast time, given that I had only one day to use the free sandwich, and I wasn't able to go at breakfast.  I went at lunch, and thus selected the one that seemed most lunch appropriate.  I was glad they still had all the breakfast sandwiches in stock at 1pm, the last time I had tried to get a (free) breakfast sandwich, they seemed to run out by mid-morning.
Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. $3.75.
"We bring together cage-free egg whites, spinach, feta cheese and tomatoes inside a whole wheat wrap, then toast it to perfection. Vegetarian and protein-rich, this low calorie wrap is a tasty start to any morning."

So, um, yeah, I picked the veggie wrap.  Even though it contained a bunch of things I don't really like.  Like the wrap itself (although, besides a croissant, its not like I like the other bread choices much more).  And egg whites (although, I don't like any of the egg options in the breakfast sandwiches).  And feta (not that I hate feta, but I certainly don't like it, particularly compared with the other cheeses like gouda, swiss, and cheddar used in the other sandwiches).

So, why would I get this?  Like I said, it was lunch time, and it seemed the most lunch appropriate.  Plus, for some reason, spinach and tomatoes actually sounded tasty to me.

Like all the sandwiches, it was heated up in the crazy magic oven, and handed over to me in just a minute or two, literally.  It was piping hot, too hot actually, I had to wait for it to cool down before I could really eat it comfortably. 

The wrap was crispy on one side, but kinda moist and mushy on the other.  Not the magic heating job I was hoping for, but, it had potential, since one side was good.  It had a fairly hearty wheat flavor to it and was well wrapped.

The overall size was decent, maybe a bit small for a lunch item, but, for breakfast it would have been more than enough.  The price is usually $3.75.
Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap: Inside.
Inside the wrap was the veggies, cheese, and egg.

The most dominant part of the filling, at least volume wise, was the egg white.  It seemed to be a folded up egg white omelet that was surprisingly not offensive.  Not rubbery, not scary looking.  It really did look like an omelet.  Inoffensive is likely the highest praise I'll ever have for egg whites.  I removed a chunk of it since I really didn't want it, but, it wasn't bad.

The flavor all came from the other fillings: spinach, crumbled feta, bits of roasted tomato, and ... sundried tomato cream cheese?  I wasn't expecting that, as it is not part of the description, but, slathered all over the inside was a layer of flavorful sundried tomato cream cheese.  It added a nice creaminess and more strong flavor.  Also a surprise is the fact that the feta seemed melted.  I didn't realize feta melts.  Maybe it takes their magic oven to melt feta, or, maybe I just haven't encountered it before?

Anyway, the spinach/tomato/cream cheese/cheese was all very flavorful and savory.  The entire thing had an aroma almost like pizza.  It was enjoyable enough.

Would I get another?  Probably not, unless I was really craving something like this, due simply to the fact that Mediterranean flavors and egg whites just aren't really what I like.

Update Review: September 2015

If you didn't read my original Starbucks sandwiches post, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review: November 2014" below.

A few days ago, an e-mail popped up from Starbucks titled "Let us take care of breakfast".  Slightly intrigued, I clicked on the link, expecting to see something like a free baked good with purchase of an expensive handcrafted beverage.  Nope.  Starbucks just wanted to offer a free breakfast sandwich.  No strings attached, save the fact that I had only 2 days to redeem it.

Well, hmm.  I was used to Starbucks randomly throwing on freebies when I was a Gold member, but I lost my status long ago.  A measly Green card member, getting a freebie?  How could I not?
Breakfast Sandwich Lineup.
Starbucks must be struggling with sales of breakfast sandwiches.  Clearly there is a reason they gave me one for free (and it isn't the first time, the first one I had back in November was also a free offer).

But also, the lineup keeps changing.  At one point, I think there were at least 10 different sandwiches, and now they have reduced it down to only 7.  They kept the basic egg and cheddar (with or without sausage) on an English muffin, the very first Starbuck's breakfast sandwich I ever tried, that I thought was decent.  They also retained the healthier reduced-fat turkey bacon and egg white on whole wheat English muffin, that I liked even more, plus one on a "artisan roll" and a single vegetarian option, the boring spinach, feta, and egg white wrap.  But they also added two more decadent options, served on croissant rolls, one with bacon and cheddar, the other with ham and swiss.

I think one reason the breakfast sandwiches suffer is the presentation in the display case.  Honestly, they always look awful.  Of course, these aren't the actual sandwiches you are purchasing, but they are ones that someone made earlier in the morning, and set out on display.  They've been sitting for hours.  The cheese is always congealed, the bacon ridiculous flabby.  They simply don't look appetizing in any way.
Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich. $4.45.
I surveyed the lineup, a bit unsure of what to pick.  I knew I liked the turkey bacon one well enough, but, I didn't want to be boring.  I should try something new.  Gouda sounded great, but the "artisan roll" didn't seem likely to be interesting, and the bacon looked gross.

So, I decided to risk it, and go for one of the newest selections.  I didn't expect to like the egg anyway, this really was about bread and cheese (and maybe some decent meat), and obviously a croissant is much better than an English muffin.

I had two options: "double-smoked bacon" and yellow cheddar or ham and swiss.  Reviews I read in advance told me that people weren't happy with the bacon one, in particular, the cheddar didn't melt well and was never sufficient.  Since I was in it for the cheese, this mattered.  Thus, ham and swiss it was.

I ordered my sandwich, and stepped back to await my fate.  A few minutes later, the oven chimed, and my very hot creation was handed over.

Spoiler: even though it looked ok as I pulled it out of the bag, it turned out to be the most disappointing of the three sandwiches I've now tried.
Inside: swiss cheese, prosciutto cotto.
"Take slow-roasted Italian-style ham, 'prosciutto cotto' and nutty melty Swiss cheese layered on a flaky, buttery croissant, and you've got the perfect wake up call."

I eagerly opened it up to see what awaited me.

The construction was about what I expected: swiss cheese on top, ham (err, "prosciutto cotto") in the middle, egg patty on the bottom.

You may recall that the aspect of the previous sandwiches that I thought was remarkable was how melty the cheese was.  Here, it was melty, but ... where was it?  Yes, this was all the cheese.  Just a single, obviously small, slice of swiss.  I was hoping for a generous amount of cheese.  I was in it for the cheese!  

The cheese was good, it was melty, but ... I could barely taste it.

While there was only one slice of cheese, there were three slices of prosciutto cotto.  The ham was pretty soft and flabby.  The flavor wasn't awful, it had a bit of smokiness to it almost, but it certainly wasn't as fancy as its name would imply.
Inside: prosciutto cotto, fried egg patty.
Under the ham was the "fried egg patty".  This was my first time having this style of egg.  The sausage, egg, and cheese used the "puffed scrambled egg patty" (rather rubbery, but sorta like an omelet I guess?), and the turkey bacon used an egg white patty that I never expected to be decent.  I would have never called this a "fried egg".  There was no clear egg to be found.  The top half was mostly white, and the bottom yellow.  It was really weird, rubbery, and totally unseasoned.

I went to the condiment station to look for salt and pepper, but alas, not part of the offerings.  I could add mocha, nutmeg, sweeteners, etc, but some simple seasoning?  Nope.  Again, perhaps another reason these things aren't taking off?  It seems like basic salt and pepper make a big difference on breakfast sandwiches, but I could also imagine people wanting it for the savory lunch items too.

As for the final component, the croissant roll itself, it too failed to deliver.

In the English muffin sandwiches, I loved how crispy and perfectly toasted the English muffin got.  It seemed like the oven worked magic on those muffins.  It didn't work the same magic on the croissant roll.  The croissant was warm, but it just got moist, rather than getting a slightly crispy exterior.  It wasn't flaky.  It wasn't buttery.  It did have a slight sweetness to it that I thought was pleasant, but, besides that, there wasn't much going for it.

So overall, I had a moist and not buttery croissant, far too little cheese, flabby unremarkable ham, and a totally unseasoned rubbery egg patty.  I obviously don't endorse this one.  At $4.45, it was also the most expensive.  Keep trying, Starbucks.

Original Review: November 2014

Blah, blah, blah, Starbucks.  You obviously know Starbucks.  Perhaps all your extra spending money these days goes to getting your fix of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, (sorry, PSLs), before they vanish.  Or perhaps you avoid Starbucks like the plaque.  Either way, you know Starbucks.

And I've reviewed it many times before, from drinks, to seasonal beverages, to frappuccinos, and more recently, to the baked goods.  But have you ever dared try a sandwich there?

Starbucks has been expanding the menu to encompass more and more food, starting with introducing the La Boulange baked goods, but now by offering sandwiches of both the breakfast and regular variety.  They really want to tap into the food market.

Hot Breakfast Sandwiches

Breakfast sandwiches are available all day, although I was told that they do run out, so if you want a specific one, you should get it earlier in the day.  This is a still a nicer model than most fast food places with set breakfast hours.  It seem that you can have brunch any day!
Breakfast Sandwiches on Display.
Unlike most of the pastries, Starbucks does not have all of the breakfast sandwich varieties out on display.  Instead, only two are shown(in this case, the bacon and gouda and the sausage and cheddar), but the rest are listed on the placard behind, along with images of a few others.

Th breakfast sandwich line-up is actually pretty impressive, with 8 options, all quite different.  Each features a different type of bread, ranging from basic toast and english muffins, to a wrap or even multigrain ciabatta.  Eggs come in several forms as well, like a fried egg patty, a cheesy frittata, scrambled eggs, or egg whites only.  All the classic breakfast meats show up: sausage, ham, bacon, and turkey bacon.  And a slew of cheeses: feta, gouda, cheddar (white or yellow), fontiago, swiss.  But you cannot customize, nor can you mix and match.  The variety is there, but, you have to like the way in which they are combined.

Picking just one to try was hard.

The most basic option is the Egg & Cheddar, made with a fried egg and mild cheddar on multigrain toast for $2.95.  This sounded boring to me, so I easily moved on.

A step up is the Ham & Cheddar, except that it isn't just the same thing just with ham added.  Rather than toast, it is served on a white artisan roll.  Rather than a fried egg, it has a parmesan and monterey jack frittata.  Yet somehow, it is 350 calories, and the simple egg and cheddar is 400.  I can't say I understand that, given the ham and cheesy frittata.

If you are a ham lover, there is a much more appealing option: the Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich.  This one brings back the fried egg patty, switches in swiss for the cheddar, and upgrades to a croissant for the serving vessel.  And it isn't just ham, it is "prosciutto cotto".  This fancy meat also makes it the most expensive option, at $4.45, and the croissant pushes it up to 490 calories.  But, I don't like ham, so, moving on.

Sticking with the pork products comes the Bacon & Gouda, which again has the Parmesan frittata for the egg, plus the expected bacon and aged Gouda, and the same artisan roll as the Ham & Cheddar.  This was my 4th choice, but I was worried about soggy bacon, so I skipped it.  I'm a crispy bacon girl all the way.

Speaking of bacon, the healthiest option is the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich, which gains its more modest nutrition stats by using an egg white patty, reduced fat white cheddar cheese, and turkey bacon, on a whole wheat english muffin, only 230 calories and 6 grams of fat, which seems fairly impressive given that it still has cheese and some form of bacon.  This was my third choice, but Ojan wasn't excited about turkey bacon, and we were splitting it.

Which leads us to the least healthy option: the Sausage & Cheddar.  This one is a classic, served on a regular white english muffin, with a "puffed scrambled egg patty", aged yellow cheddar, and of course, a sausage patty.  And it clocks in at 500 calories, and 28 grams of fat.

Vegetarians have not only one, but two choices, either a healthy sounding Spinach & Feta Wrap, a wheat wrap filled with cage-free egg white, spinach, feta cheese and tomatoes, only 290 calories, or the more indulgent Vegetable & Fontiago Breakfast Sandwich, a fried egg topped with spinach, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and Fontiago cheese on a multigrain ciabatta bun, a more heafty 470 calories.  Since I don't like wraps or feta, I easily eliminated the wrap from consideration but the other vegetarian one did appeal; it sounded like a flavor powerhouse, with the spinach, sundried tomatoes, and caramelized onions.  However, I was splitting a sandwich with Ojan and he ruled it out immediately.

The two sandwiches on display in the case looked pretty gross, which you'd somewhat expect, as they likely had been sitting there all day.  At this particular Starbucks the cheese was melted and they looked like what you would receive if you ordered one, but at another Starbucks I visited the cheese was unmelted, and looked even less appealing.  Still, we forged on.
Sausage & Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich. $3.25.
Which did we get?  Of course, the gut busting Sausage & Cheddar!  It was warmed up rapidly, only about 2 minutes elapsed between placing my order and the magic warming oven dinging.  A hot bag was handed over moments later.  That oven is amazing.
Inside the Sausage & Cheddar.
Let's just say I had very low expectations for this.  A pre-assembled creation, thrown fully made into a warmer?  Yeah right.  There was a reason I brought Ojan with me to try it.

I was a bit shocked by the results.  First, it was piping hot.  I could have easily taken it a few blocks home/to an office/etc and it would have remained warm.  Seriously, those ovens are something special.

Second, the english muffin was actually crispy on the outside.  I really didn't expect that given that it was placed in the oven fully assembled, rather than toasting the muffin separately.  The english muffin was otherwise unremarkable, just a standard white english muffin, but, the fact that it felt as crispy on the outside as if it came out of a toaster, and wasn't soggy or mushy on the inside, seemed like magic.

Next, the cheese.  As you can see, it was absolutely perfectly melted.  Not a single shred was unmelted.  Again, impressive given that it was stuck in whole, and, the sandwiches use a variety of cheese types, which must have totally different melting points.  The cheese wasn't particularly flavorful, but, the gooey consistency was just right.

The sausage patty was also better than I expected, really nicely seasoned.  My only complaint is that it was smaller than the english muffin, so, near the end, I ran out of sausage patty.

Finally, the egg.  This was the weakest component.  Unlike the sausage, it didn't seem at all seasoned.  And, it was clearly a reheated scrambled egg patty.  It wasn't super rubbery or as gross as I expected, but I don't really like scrambled eggs/omelets, so I wished this wasn't there.  In fact, both Ojan and I ended up removing the egg, and just enjoying the toasty english muffin, the melty cheese, and the sausage.

So overall, this was much better than I ever imagined it would be.  The components all seemed decent quality, they have nailed the heating, and, sans the slightly-too-small sausage patty, the ratios were all right, no single element dominated, and you could taste each component.  I certainly wouldn't get another, since I don't actually like egg sandwiches and will always go for a baked good instead, but, if you like egg based breakfast sandwiches, you might be pleasantly surprised.


Another part of the initiative to change up their offerings, Starbucks now offers sandwiches, paninis, and salads.  Most are pre-boxed and available along with bottled drinks, but the paninis are warmed up in the same magical machine as the baked goods, to order.  In the mornings, egg and cheese sandwiches are warmed the same way.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich.
“Reduced-fat turkey bacon and reduced-fat white cheddar cheese on an organic wheat English muffin.”

On my next visit, I was alone, and decided to go for a more modest offering, the slightly scary named “Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich”.

From the outside, it looked similar, except the “original english muffin” from the sausage & cheddar sandwich was replaced with a wheat english muffin.  As with my previous sandwich, I was very impressed with how well the english muffin came out, slightly toasty on the outside.  I liked the muffin, it had a bit of heartiness to it, a bit of subtle sweetness.  I did wish it was buttered, but I guess that would somewhat defeat the whole reduced-fat nature of this sandwich.  Still, a good start.
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich: Inside.
Inside was an "egg white patty" instead of the "puffed scrambled egg patty".  This thing was pretty awful, a brick of egg white substance, not seasoned.  I desperately went back to the condiment station hoping to find salt and pepper, but alas, only a variety of sweeteners, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cocoa were available.  This was Starbucks after all.  After a few bites of this rubbery, flavorless thing, I just discarded it.  Did not like.

A single strip of turkey bacon replaced the sausage patty, and was the reason I selected this sandwich.  For some reason, turkey bacon just sounded good to me.  It was honestly pretty scary looking.  It had strange little holes in it.  It was floppy and not crisp.  But the flavor was actually pretty nice, smoky.

Reduced fat white cheddar cheese replaced the yellow cheddar from my previous sandwich.  Just like the cheddar, it was perfectly melted.  The flavor was mild, but the melty consistency added a lot to the sandwich.

Nutritionally, it doesn’t look so bad (if you can look past the fact that it has a lot of seemingly unnecessary ingredients, presumably preservatives): 230 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 12g protein, although I obviously lost a little protein by throwing out the egg, I think the whole wheat muffin, cheese, and turkey bacon probably made up the majority of it anyway.  The only shocking part to me was 560mg of sodium, since, in particular, the egg seemed so under seasoned.  I guess this was from the turkey bacon?

So overall, it wasn’t bad, as long as you didn’t care about not actually having egg, which, I didn’t.  A toasty decent english muffin, melty cheese, flavorful turkey bacon … fairly comforting and satisfying.  And again, I was pretty impressed with how this managed to be crispy on the outside and so well melted inside.  Magic.

Next time, I’m going to just try the classic egg and cheese, I’m curious about how the “fried egg patty” compares to these other mystery patties ...

Sandwiches and Paninis

Starbucks also rolled out a number of sandwiches besides the pre-made ones alongside the "Bistro Boxes" in grab-n-go in the cooler.  Sure, you can still grab a basic egg salad or turkey and cheese on sliced bread if you want, or, you can order one of the slightly more upscale versions from the case.  Like the breakfast sandwiches and pastries, they also get warmed up in the oven, and come on a wide variety of breads, but most feature chicken or turkey.
Assorted Sandwich Display.

I stopped in one Starbucks location that was trialing some new sandwiches.  They had several varieties, all La Boulange branded, served toasted.  Since they were trying to get people excited about them, they were walking around with samples.  Even though I don't even like sandwiches in general, I obviously HAD to try.

I tried the Smoked Turkey & Provolone on Toasted Wheat Baguette, normally $5.95.

It was far better than I expected.  The baguette was multi-seed, nicely toasted, and reminded me of a bagel.  It was crispy on the outside, had nice texture from all the seeds, a good crunch when you bit into it.  So far, so good.

Inside was sliced smoked turkey, standard deli meat.  And provolone cheese, really nicely melted.  There was just the right amount of cheese, not too much that it felt super unhealthy, but plenty enough to taste.  And consistently melty.  Have I mentioned the magic oven?

The real surprise was the veggies inside.  Smoked, caramelized onions, super flavorful.  And even some kale, wilted since the sandwich was toasted, so not fresh and crisp, but quite good.

All in all, this was ... good.  It could have come from any neighborhood cafe.  A nice combination of flavorful ingredients, and it even seemed a bit upscale due to the kale instead of lettuce and the caramelized onions instead of raw.  And, it really was toasted quite well.  Not sure they'll be able to do that consistently, but having a crispy exterior and perfectly melted cheese is pretty impressive.

Each sandwich also comes with your choice of "house made" condiment packets: bbq, mayo, pesto, sundried tomato, ketchup, or dijon mustard.  For the sample, she had dijon mustard to spread on top.  It was ... dijon mustard.  The sandwich had plenty of flavor already, so this wasn't needed at all.

Sadly, this sandwich didn't make it onto the real menu, although the Turkey Rustico Panini seems to be the version that did made it.  The provolone was swapped for smoked swiss, which actually sounds better to me.  The caramelized onions were swapped for a sweet onion marmalade, which seems reasonable, easier to do at scale.  The baby kale remains.  The choice of condiments is gone, and it always comes with Dijon mustard already on it.  And, the multi-seed baquette turned into whole grain focaccia.  Seems pretty close, and maybe, just maybe, I'd bother giving it a try, if I ever wanted a sandwich.
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