Friday, August 25, 2017

SUPERPRETZEL

Soft pretzels.  Not a staple of my life, but, I do have a few fond memories of buttery food court pretzels from Auntie Anne's.  But the "industry standard" for soft pretzels is SUPERPRETZEL.

I'm sure you have had them before.

But let me back up.  When I set out to write blog posts, I often do research into the product and company I'm reviewing.  I find fascinating things.  Like, the story behind SUPERPRETZEL.
Iconic Signage.
SUPERPRETZEL was started by a guy who bought a failing soft pretzel company from a bankruptcy auction in the 1970s. He named it SUPERPRETZEL because he liked Superman. And then he built J & J Snack Foods around this product line, which now includes basically all the snack foods you get at amusement parks, stadiums, and more, including Tio Pepe's Churros (which I've review), both Slush Puppie and Icee, another churro company (California Churro, an acquisition), funnel cakes, and more, 25 brands in total, mostly targeted at the food service industry, although SUPERPRETZEL is also sold in grocery stores (and Target, Amazon, etc). These are everywhere, I'm sure you recognize the sign above.
Branded Pretzel Warmer.
J & J Snack Foods takes an interesting approach to merchandizing, by providing the displays for all their sellers, including servicing and calibrating all the Slush Puppie machines, the churro warmers, etc.  They own the patent on the proprietary pretzel displays that have heaters built-in, allowing vendors to heat the pretzels from frozen without an oven.  Its interesting, right?  You'll see their signs everywhere, if you start looking.

Anyway.  SUPERPRETZEL.
"SUPERPRETZEL Soft Pretzel products are available for both foodservice and retail outlets in a variety of flavors, shapes and sizes. Delicious, nutritious and fun to eat, SUPERPRETZEL Soft Pretzels are great at home, school, sporting events, and theme parks. You can enjoy Americas Favorite Soft Pretzel just about anywhere!"
The most familiar of the products is a large, doughy, twisted, soft pretzel, served warm.  These come in regular, multigrain, and sweet cinnamon.  They also make bite sized, cheese filled, and pretzel dogs.  All are distributed frozen.
Soft Pretzels.
"SUPERPRETZEL Soft Pretzels are the classic baked snacks that fit any occasion. Whether it’s your birthday, Monday, or both, there’s no better way to celebrate snack time."

The pretzels are fine.  They aren't fresh made Auntie Annie's mall pretzels, so they aren't as soft, they aren't as doughy, and they certainly aren't coated in delicious butter.  They are about on par with standard table pretzels I had in Munich.

Standard shape, standard crust, decently soft.  No more, no less.
Soft Pretzel Bite
"Our twist on our classic SUPERPRETZEL Soft Pretzel was to untwist and shrink them down to bite-size. They’re the simple, dippable, dunkable snack sure to please any crowd."

I also tried the little bite sized pretzels.

I like the texture of crust, the pretzel had a nice chew to it, yet was still very soft inside.  I loved the giant salt crystals.  The form factor was better for dunking into dips, which, I'll be honest, is really the part of soft pretzels that I like.  They went great with fancy mustards and cheese dips.
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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream

Update Review, 2017

Another year, a few more flavors tried ...
Icing on the Cake, Regular (4 ounce). (July) $3.25.
"Have your cake and lick it too! Cake flavored ice cream with cake pieces, frosting bits, and a candy confetti ribbon."

I loved the sound of this one.  I don't like cake exactly, so the cake pieces aren't what drew me in, but I adore frosting, and, "candy confetti ribbon" sounded awesome.  Plus, I could see sprinkles!

The base was sweet, but didn't actually taste like cake, just like the when I had it in the America's Birthday Cake flavor.  Just sweet, not very high end ice cream, not very creamy.  But I wasn't here for the base.

The cake pieces, also unremarkable, also just like in America's Birthday Cake.  Texture, sure, and not stale, but, not special.

So what about the good stuff?  The "frosting bits", for example?  Well ... I'm not quite sure where those were.  I didn't find them really, and the ingredient listing never has a component for frosting bits, but instead has "cookie pieces" listed, in addition to the "cake pieces".  Uh ... what?  Not that I found cookie pieces either.  I find this puzzling.

But that ribbon.  I was there for the ribbon.  "Candy confetti ribbon", according to the description, or, "Confetti Swirl Ribbon", per the ingredients.  Whatever you call it, it was pretty great.  Sweet, full of texture from the sprinkles and sugar bits.

So, overall, not bad.  The ice cream quality still isn't high, but this had lots of mix-ins that worked together well to provide textures I enjoyed.  I still wonder if my local Baskin-Robbins just has low turn-around (because, really, San Francisco isn't known for ice cream weather, and, when people want ice cream, we have too many artisan ice cream shops to ever actually pick Baskin ...), or if they just don't keep their freezers well calibrated or something, because the ice cream is always so icy, and I just don't see how that could be normal.
No Sugar Added Peanut Buttery Bar Blast Ice Cream. Kid's Size (2.5 ounce). (August) $2.79.
"Go nuts for no sugar added peanut, caramel, and nougat flavored ice cream, chocolate chips, and a buttery peanut butter ribbon running throughout!"

This sounded great.  I like peanuts and caramel.  A crunchy peanut butter ribbon sounded awesome.  Chocolate chips would add some texture.  Sure!

I tried a sample of if, and I was drawn in by the crunch ribbon.  It didn't actually taste like peanut butter, it was basically like crunched up Butterfinger, but, I liked it.  So, I got a scoop.

It wasn't until I had the full scoop in front of me that I realized I had selected a No Sugar Added flavor.  "Hmm, well, if I didn't notice, great!", I thought.  And then I had a few bites.  Doh.  It tasted like sweetener.  I wasn't ever able to stop tasting it after that, and it left a particularly bad aftertaste.  Note to self: do not get the No Sugar Added flavors.

The ice cream base was described as "peanut, caramel, and nougat flavored ice cream", and, well, it just tasted like sweet (fake sweet, that is).  I did not taste peanuts, nor caramel, nor I guess nougat.  It also just wasn't creamy.  At least this time it wasn't icy like most of my Baskin Robbins visits, but, creamy it was not.  Not as it melted either.  I think their ice cream just isn't very good.

I did still like the crunch ribbon, although I didn't get much of it.  The "chocolate chips" were very confusing.  I had no chips.  But, there were bits of chocolate.  When I read the ingredients later, I found the reason why.  The ingredient listing said "No Sugar Added Chocolate Liquid Chip".  Aha.  Not real chocolate chips.  Still, they added flecks of chocolate and some texture, which is why I wanted them.

The ingredients also listed pretzel pieces, which weren't in the flavor description, and I don't think I ever really found either.  Odd.

Overall, just not very high quality ice cream, and I'm really not a fan of the No Sugar Added base.  Whoops.

Others
Wild ‘N Reckless Sherbet
"A green apple, blue raspberry, and fruit punch flavored sherbet party. Fruit has never had so much fun."

The colors in this were quite vibrant, and although I'm totally not a sherbet person, I did like Baskin Robbins Splish Splash Sherbet, so I gave this one a chance.

Woah, sweet.  Soooo sweet.  I did like the tartness of one of the flavors, but wow.

Peach of Cake
"Peach and butter cake flavored ice creams combine with blonde brownie pieces and a caramel ribbon for a flavor that is far more than just peachy!"

This was actually quite good.  The peach flavor was vibrant.  It was quite refreshing.  I only tried a sample, so I didn't get any of the blond brownie pieces, but, I almost ordered it.  Next time ...

Update Review, August 2016

Yadda, yadda,  start with my original review, then the update, and then come back here, if you want more context for Baskin-Robbins.

For my birthday, I of course went to Baskin-Robbins to get my free birthday scoop.  I had a hard time picking a flavor, since, I don't actually think their ice cream is all that good.  I sampled a couple, and in the end, decided to just go for the special Flavor of the Month, OREO® Milk 'n Cereal Ice Cream, since it was, well, special.  This was an interesting choice for me given that I don't really care for OREO (sorry, Dad).  I was drawn in by the promise of the crunchy frosted corn flake ribbon.  Ben & Jerry's always does such a great job with ribbons, and my pick last year had an insanely good cookie dough batter flavored ribbon, so, I knew Baskin-Robbins could pull off the ribbon.
OREO® Milk 'n Cereal Ice Cream, Child Size.
"It's breakfast with Baskin! Cereal milk flavored ice cream swimming with OREO® cookie pieces, frosted corn flake cereal pieces, and a crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon."

This was actually pretty good.  And I admit, I was pretty skeptical about this flavor, as it sounded rather confused.  Cereal and OREO?  How do those go together?

The base ice cream was apparently cereal milk flavored, which, to be honest, I didn't really taste.  I assumed it was a vanilla base until I copied the description from the website here.  It was loaded up with goodes though, so the base didn't really matter.  Chunks of OREO cookie were as expected, assorted sizes, and, well, they were OREO.  Since I'm not an OREO lover, these were what they were, and were not particularly interesting.  But, everything else was.

I didn't necessarily find distinct "frosted corn flake cereal pieces" and "crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon", but, there was plenty of light brown stuff in there that had a slight crunch to it.  The texture was pretty strange, sorta like what you'd expect peanut butter to be like if it were made of corn flakes.  It wasn't bad though.  If you got a bite of it, it was also sorta like cookie dough with a bit of crispy crunch to it.  Pretty fascinating actually, and there was plenty of this too.

So, overall, a decent flavor.  The base ice cream wasn't flavorful nor particularly creamy quality ice cream, and the OREO cookie pieces I could do without, but the corn flake components were interesting enough that I enjoyed my scoop.   I'd likely try something new next time though.

Update Review, August 2015

If you didn't read my original Baskin-Robbins reviews, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review: August 2014" below.

This year's visit was inspired by, you guess it, a birthday freebie.  I can't resist free treats!  My birthday rolled around, and, just like clockwork, Baskin-Robbins sent me an e-mail offering up a free scoop.  I eagerly headed there to pick a new flavor.  Spoiler: I found a winner.
Mom’s Makin’ Cookies™, Child Size.
"Mom’s secret recipe of brown sugar flavored ice cream filled with chocolate chip cookie pieces, chocolate flavored chips, and a delicious cookie dough batter flavored ribbon."

Ok, this was just downright delicious.  It was like everything you always want chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to be.  All the flavors and textures, just amped up another notch.

So, stepping back.  The base was a sweet base, apparently brown sugar.  I'm not quite sure I'd identify it as brown sugar, but it was clearly more interesting than vanilla and not cloying sweet like cake batter.  It was creamy, and it melted perfectly on the hot day.

But the mix ins are where the magic was. First, the cookie dough batter ribbon.  This was really interesting, it wasn't thick like cookie dough gobs, or the flavored ribbons you find in Ben & Jerry's ice cream; it was more like a caramel, albeit a cookie dough flavored one.  Yup, it tasted like cookie dough, buttery and sweet.  Kinda awesome.

Next came the chocolate chip cookie pieces.  This is where I was a bit skeptical.  I didn't want chunks of cookie in my ice cream, I wanted cookie dough!  Except, these were soft, just like gobs of cookie dough, perhaps just a bit grittier?  Big, sizable chunks, perfect for some texture.

And finally, little chocolate chips, which added more crunch.

This was definitely awesome.  It was sweet, creamy, had a fun cookie dough batter swirl to keep discovering, and chunks to dig for.  It reminded me of Ben & Jerry's Milk & Cookies, just with the chocolate cookie swirl replaced with the cookie dough one, and a more interesting base swapped in.  Similar concept, but I think Baskin-Robbins had a slight edge here.

I'd definitely get this again.

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June Flavor of the Month, Dunkin’ Donuts® Coffee ‘N Donut

"Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and donut-flavored ice creams dunked with donut pieces and a chocolate flavored icing ribbon."  

Before settling on the Mom's Makin' Cookies, I also tried another tempting sounding option, inspired by their partnership with Dunkin' Donuts.  You know my fondness for Dunkin' Donuts, as I am originally from the east coast ...

I'm glad I tried it.  Because, well, wow, it was exactly as advertised.  It tasted like donuts.  Like greasy, sorta stale, cake donuts.  I didn't taste any coffee, but wow, donuts.  I can't imagine eating a scoop of this, unless maybe used in an affogado?  It was fun to try, and I'm glad I asked to sample before committing to a full scoop.

Original Review, August 2014

I grew up without a Baskin-Robbins nearby, and we always got our ice cream at home from Schwans delivery, so I somehow made it to my 30s without ever having Baskin-Robbins.  But, I love ice cream, and I'm always interested in trying out new places, so I finally checked it out.

My first visit was when I had a very sore throat, and I was on a quest to eat soft, cold things, using my GoPago credits as inspiration on where to go (yes, this was a few years ago, since GoPago is no longer active in San Francisco).  I'd just spent a couple weeks on the east coast, eating tons of soft serve ice cream, so even though it was still freezing out and totally not ice cream weather, I headed for the one place on GoPago that had soft serve: Baskin-Robbins.  (Yes, soft serve.  No it is not normal for them, they clearly specialize in hard ice cream)/

My second visit was prompted by joining their e-club, which gave me a certificate for a free scoop of ice cream for my birthday, so I went to cash in on it.  I looked up all of the flavors online beforehand so I wouldn't be too slow to decide, and had picked out a slew of flavors that I wanted.  I thought choosing one would be impossible!  Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be quite easy, as they didn't have ANY of the flavors I wanted to try!  Out of my list of 8 flavors, they didn't have a single one I wanted!  Not quite sure how that was possible.  They also didn't have the monthly special flavor.

My third visit was due to my realization that Togos was on LevelUp, with a $2 credit.  Sure, I could use my free credits to get some chips or a drink, but Baskin-Robbins is attached to Togos, and they use the same checkout.  Thus, I could use my credits to get a mini sundae!  Way better than chips or drinks :)

My next visit came from Togos running another LevelUp promotion, with a whopping $10 credit.  I think the idea was that you could get a full meal at Togos, but again, I didn't really want Togos, and that could get me quite a bit of ice cream.  And ... since Ojan wasn't going to use his credit either, I could fetch some for him too!

So, over the course of the past few years, I've tried a lot of their ice cream.  And for the most part, I'm highly unimpressed.  Maybe I'd go back for another freebee, but I certainly wouldn't pay for this ice cream.

The service at the SF location was varied.  As I mentioned, it is adjacent to a Togos, with the same staff running both places, running back and forth between them.  They are attached, but not exactly right next to each other, so this seems a little crazy.  It means you can stand there for a very long time with no one paying any attention, since they are all on the Togos side.  One staff member was also completely unfriendly, never smiling, never seeming remotely interested in her job, and generally annoyed that I was there getting ice cream.  I'll call her Ms. Surly for the rest of this review.  Another staff member was less friendly on my first visit, but was more informative and personable on subsequent visits, even striking up random conversation with me the last time I was there.  The third, I think a manager, gave decent standard service.

Soft Serve

The menu was advertising a new item: mini soft serve parfaits.  They had several varieties, each with a sauce in the bottom, then the soft serve, and then a candy topping.  Since I wanted soft serve, and a sundae is far more fun than just a cone or cup, I eagerly tried a few.

The soft serve just wasn't very good, and the form factor of these mini parfaits was far from ideal, making it impossible to get to the sauce until the end.  Why was the sauce on the bottom?
Reese's Mini Soft Serve Parfait.  $2.
I have a thing for peanut butter, so the Reese's one immediately called out to me.  Peanut butter sauce in the bottom, vanilla soft serve, peanut butter cup crumbles on top.

It was ... basically exactly as advertised.  The soft serve is a newer item for Baskin Robbins, and they only have vanilla flavor.  It wasn't very good.  It had a strange sourness to it, not tart like frozen yogurt, just ... sour.  It was creamy and a decent consistency.  It also wasn't really vanilla flavored.  Very, very mediocre soft serve.  The peanut sauce in the bottom was basically just generic creamy peanut butter.  It was hard to get to, since it was only in the bottom, and thus even though I wanted some to mix into my initial bites, I couldn't really without spilling the whole thing.  And at the end, I wound up with just a ton of peanut butter left over.  The pb sauce also got really hard from having the cold ice cream on top, making it difficult to scoop up.  The peanut butter cup crumbles were exactly what you'd expect.

I wanted this to come together better, being more than a sum of its parts, but it really wasn't.  Mediocre soft serve, pb cups, and hard to get to low end peanut butter.  Meh.

But for $2, it really did seem like a bargain, particularly compared to anything else on the menu.  I don't really understand why it was so cheap (as in, cheaper than just a bowl or cone of soft serve, even though it was bigger and had toppings ...).
Hot Fudge and Almonds Mini Parfait.  $2.
On my next visit, I tried a parfait again, since it is the only ice cream item that tell within my LevelUp budget.  I wasn't a fan of the peanut butter last time, so I went for one with hot fudge.  Even mediocre hot fudge is usually pretty good, right?

This parfait suffered from exactly the same issues as the first, namely, that you couldn't get to the sauce in the bottom, until the end, when you are left with only sauce.  Unlike the first one however, I didn't have the problem of spilling the parfait as I tried to dig for the sauce, as this one was tiny.  I thought it seemed like it had much less ice cream than the first one, and looking at the photos afterwards confirmed it.  This one barely extended above the top of the rim, whereas my first one had a nice swirl on top.  I'm not sure which one was correct, I'm guessing the first, as this looked pretty sad.  This one was made by Ms. Surly.

Anyway, the ice cream was the same mediocre soft serve, decently creamy, but not very vanilla, and with a slight sourness.  The nuts were just generic little bits of almond.  The fudge wasn't actually hot, and it wasn't particularly chocolatey.

This would have been a very boring parfait, but being the pro I am, I brought along a banana and a peanut butter cup, and turned it into a real sundae.  My final product was pretty good, but that wasn't exactly what they were offering.

I certainly would not order this plain parfait again, as it offered nothing flavor-wise.
Build-your-own Mini Parfait, hot fudge and cookie dough.  $2.
My third and final attempt at a parfait.  I kept trying, because $2 for a parfait really does sound like a great deal, if I could come up with a combo I liked.  And Ojan didn't want his $2 credit, so I might as well try again if it was free ...

On my last visit, I saw that they had the standard parfaits listed (chocolate with M&Ms, Oreos, or nuts, caramel with Snickers, peanut butter with Reece's, or strawberry with nuts).  But then it also said "or, build your own".  When I asked about it, Ms. Surly  told me that was only for the 31 Below Mix Ins, not the soft serve parfaits.  I was skeptical, since it was listed under the parfait section, but she was so grumpy and clearly unwilling to entertain this idea, that I gave up on it and picked the simple hot fudge and nuts, since I had my extra toppings with me anyway.

On this visit, I had the nicer employee, and I asked him about it.  He told me you can pick any sauce and any dry topping.  The dry toppings available were the standard candy toppings (M&Ms, Oreo, Snickers, Butterfinger, Reece's, gummy bears, sprinkles, nuts) or ... cookie dough!  This seemed like the clear winner, as it was more likely to be good than a generic candy topping.  Plus, cookie dough can be so good!  For sauces, there was the peanut butter, hot fudge, caramel, or chocolate sauce.  I didn't care for the peanut butter the first time, and thought the hot fudge was pretty mediocre, but it was the only one that seemed to go with the cookie dough, so I selected it again.  I guess the chocolate sauce would have as well, but why pick chocolate sauce when there is hot fudge?

As you can see, the nicer employee again made a much bigger parfait.  He even layered it a little, so there was the hot fudge in the bottom, then the soft serve, then some cookie dough, then he added even more soft serve, and more cookie dough!  Surly employee certainly did not do that.  Then, he asked if I wanted chocolate sauce on top too.  Such a difference!

The chocolate sauce on top was standard chocolate sauce, indistinguishable from Hershey's.  It didn't have a lot of flavor, but I appreciated that there was something on top, since, like every time, the hot fudge was trapped in the bottom.  The fudge was the same as last time, except that it was luke warm this time.  But like always, I had a very hard time getting any until  the end.

The ice cream was actually better this time, it still didn't have any vanilla flavor to it, but it didn't have the strange sourness.

But ... the cookie dough.  It was, quite literally, the worst cookie dough I have ever tasted in my life.  It was dried out beyond belief.  It tasted stale.  It just tasted ... awful.  I don't know how to describe it really, just beyond horrible.  I tried a couple pieces, and then picked them all out.  Or so I thought, forgetting that they nice employee had layered it throughout, so I accidentally got more later on.  Ugh.  It was truly foul!

Would never, ever, ever get this again.  Luckily, in my bag of tricks, I had a banana and other assorted toppings, and turned it into a proper sundae, which I enjoyed.

Hard Ice Cream/Sherbet/Frozen Yogurt

I've tried quite a few flavors of the regular ice cream, and several frozen yogurts.  Most were pretty standard, a few were kinda bad, and a few I really liked.
Mint Chocolate Chip, sugar cone.  $2.19.
For your birthday, you get a free kids size cup or cone.  I went with the mint chocolate chip, without sampling it first, because Ms. Surly looked like she wanted to kill me when I asked to sample one.  Rookie mistake.  It really wasn't very good.  Not creamy, no real mint flavor, even the chocolate bits weren't flavorful.  Really, really mediocre.

The sugar cone was also pretty generic.  Not much to say here.

The ice cream was just plopped on top of the cone.  It would have fallen off with my first lick if I hadn't secured it more properly.

Would not get again, and would have been very sad if I'd paid for this.
America's Birthday Cake, single scoop.  $2.19.
"Strawberries, cake-flavored ice cream, confetti topped cake pieces and blue whipped cream".

Another year, another birthday. I started this post over a year ago, which is crazy!  I returned this year to get my birthday scoop, and this time, went for America's Birthday Cake.  I'd probably never normally get such a silly flavor, but hey, it was free, and it seemed like the most fitting choice, given the circumstance.

Cake and ice cream, very festive, and quite colorful.

Like most of their ice cream, it wasn't creamy, was a bit icy, and kinda tasted stale.  I still don't know if that is just Baskin-Robbins in general, or if it is just this location.  Really just not good ice cream at all.

The "cake" flavored ice cream I actually thought was just plain vanilla, it wasn't until I looked up the description online that I saw it was supposed to taste like cake.  Very unremarkable.  The "strawberries" seemed to just be strawberry ice cream, fake tasting strawberry at that.

There were a few small chunks of vanilla cake mixed in.  I didn't see any promised confetti topping.  The cake wasn't stale tasting, or too hard, but was pretty unremarkable.

The "blue whipped cream" was my favorite component, and the real reason I picked this flavor.  It was sweet, fluffier than the ice cream base, which improved the overall texture.  It reminded me of the whipped cream style icing on Carvel ice cream cakes, which I always had growing up, and still have a weakness for.
Premium Churned Light Orange 'N Crème Ice Cream. $2.19.
"Soak up the sun with this orange light ice cream with a whipped cream flavored ribbon for a new twist on a frozen favorite!"

I didn't actually realize this was a Light version, but the flavor sounded somewhat interesting, at least, compared to my other options.  Baskin Robbins does have some really interesting flavors, but for some reason, my local shop never seems to carry them.  I hoped this would be somewhat like a creamsicle.

It was ridiculously sweet.  I'm not sure if they try to make up for the Light version by adding artificial sweetener or something?  Just way too sweet.  There was very little of the whipped cream ribbon, which is too bad, as I actually liked that, and it helped combat the sweetness of the orange ice cream.

The ice cream itself was fairly fluffy and light, but it was loaded with ice chunks.  Not just ice crystals, but actual chunks.  Sad for a scoop shop to not properly store their ice cream, as the result was just not appealing.

I ordered a single scoop, and got a very large multi scoop serving, which would have been quite nice, if I liked it.
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  • Apple Cinnamon Crisp Ice Cream: "Cinnamon flavored ice cream topped with a sticky brown betty ribbon and packed with tasty apple and oat chunks."  Tasting notes: This was decently creamy, seemed fresh, and had a ton of cinnamon flavor.  There was even little chunks of mushy apple in it. Not bad, but not great. [ This is really quite good.  Its like apple pie and ice cream, all in one!  Great cinnamon flavor, ridiculously sweet brown betty ribbon, but quite good. ] [ Loving this!  Yes, it is very sweet, but it is apple pie in ice cream form!  Kinda amazing.  Love the cinnamon flavor and the brown betty ribbon, oat chunks give some good texture. ] [ So sweet.  Love the gooey caramel swirl. ] [ My favorite of their flavors, by far.  Would gladly get again. ]
  • Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream: "A little bit blue, a lotta bit delicious. Creamy cheesecake flavored ice cream packed with cheesecake bits and swirled around with a blueberry ribbon."  Tasting notes: I didn't taste cheesecake at all, the base seemed pretty plain vanilla.  I also didn't find any cheesecake bits.  The "blueberry ribbon" however was quite generous, which was not a good thing, as it was just sweet and didn't really taste like blueberry.  I really didn't care for this.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream: "Vanilla flavored ice cream with cookie dough and chocolate flavored chips".  Tasting notes: Standard vanilla ice cream, with chunks of cookie dough.  This cookie dough was much, much better than the inedible stuff from the parfait.  It had a decent buttery flavor and wasn't all dried out.  Pretty standard cookie dough ice cream. [ Something tastes a little stale about this. ] [ Just not interesting.  Vanilla ice cream doesn't have much flavor, it isn't creamy.  There are little chocolate chips and some stale tasting dough.  I don't like this much at all. ]  [ Not creamy, base ice cream very generic, cookie dough bits not that great.  Would not get again. ] [ Just really not very good.  I've had a lot of different cookie dough ice creams, and this one just offers nothing.  The ice cream itself isn't very good, the cookie dough are just tiny chunks and not flavorful.  Meh. ]
  • Nutty Ice Creams
    • Nutty Coconut Ice Cream: "Coconut ice cream mixed with almonds, pecans, and walnuts." Tasting notes: Good coconut flavor, fair amount of nuts.
    • Old Fashioned Butter Pecan Ice Cream: "Butter pecan flavored ice cream with, yep, butter-roasted pecans.".  Tasting notes: Somewhat generic tasting base ice cream, with plentiful whole pecans.  Not particularly remarkable.  Decently creamy.  [ Ok creaminess  I like the whole pecans, ok buttery flavor, not really standout though. Could be any old butter pecan ice cream. ]
    • Pralines 'N Cream Ice Cream: "Praline-coated pecan pieces and caramel in vanilla flavored ice cream."  Tasting notes: Nice sweetness, thick swirl of caramel, pretty good.  Better than Butter Pecan.
    • Black Walnut Ice Cream: "Walnut flavored ice cream with a black walnut explosion." Tasting notes: Decent walnut flavor, but not particularly interesting.
  • Chocolate Ice Creams
    • World Class Chocolate Ice Cream: "Rich white chocolate flavored mousse ice cream swirled with even richer milk chocolate flavored mousse ice cream."  Tasting notes:  Not really sure I get the whole mousse part here.  Nor the white chocolate, mostly just seemed like generic chocolate ice cream and some white ice cream.
    • German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream: "Swiss chocolate ice cream with coconut, walnut pieces, and milk chocolate brownie. Oh and let's not forget the caramel swirl!" Tasting notes: the caramel swirl was nice, good sweetness.  Chocolate ice cream was pretty generic.  Liked the chunks of brownie. [ Big chunks of brownie, nice walnuts.  Yum! ] [ Love the nuts, love the texture from the coconut, great flavors. ] [ Nice coconut flavor, good rich chunks of brownie.  My second favorite of their ice creams. ]  [ Good creamy chocolate ice cream, nice flavor from coconut, plentiful brownie bites. ] [ I like this.  Fairly creamy, mellow chocolate ice cream, with good coconut flavor.  I love discovering the generous chunks of brownie and nuts throughout.  And the caramel swirl adds a little bit of gooeyness to it.  Second favorite flavor. ]
  • Splish Splash Sherbet: "Blue raspberry sherbet and a splash of blueberry sorbet".  Tasting notes: This was really quite good!  It was icy, but in the way that sorbet is.  Overly sweet, but fruity and refreshing.  I love, love, loved blue raspberry Slush Puppies when I was a kid, and it reminds me exactly of that. [ The blue colored one is way too sweet, so if you get some without the other swirl, it can be pretty cloying ] [ You need to be in the mood for sweet with this, but it is somehow refreshing at the same time.  Quite good. ]
  • Frozen Yogurt
    • Raspberry Cheese Louis: "Cheesecake flavored frozen yogurt is sprinkled with raspberry cheesecake pieces and graham crackers with a sweet raspberry ribbon.".  Tasting notes: I didn't taste cheesecake in any way.  Very icy.  Raspberry swirl just sweet.  Didn't like.
    • Sweet N' Salty Frozen Yogurt: "Super smooth salted caramel frozen yogurt and caramel pretzel balls tied up in a salted caramel ribbon bow."  Tasting notes: Just sweet, didn't really get any salt, my sample didn't have any pretzel in it either.

Novelties

Praline Caramel Ice Cream Cake Bite: Pralines 'n Cream ice cream over white cake, white coating, finished with caramel drizzle and crushed praline pecans.  $2.99.
This is one of their "novelty" items, small versions of their cakes, called cake bites.  Since I wasn't about to buy a whole cake for myself, this seemed like a good way to try out their ice cream cakes.  I grew up having Carvel ice cream cakes for every birthday, so ice cream cake has a special place in my heart.  Of course, Carvel cake is all about the crunchies and the frosting, of which this had neither.

The white cake was not good.  Kinda dry, and very flavorless, with a horrible aftertaste.  Cakes made from boxed cake mix come out better than this.  Not a good base layer.  The ice cream was just their standard Pralines 'n Cream ice cream, good enough I guess, but not really special.  It was covered in "white coating", which I give them credit for not even trying to call white chocolate.  It was kinda just sweet and there.  On top of that was a fairly tasty caramel drizzle and some bits of pecans.  The toppings were the best part.

Yes, this was cake and ice cream, which should be good together, but honestly, it didn't have much going for it.  Wouldn't get again.

Shakes

Very Berry Strawberry Shake, mini, $3.49.
I've went through a serious milkshake craze.  It had been years since I'd had one, and then I just got hooked.   I had just about every type of shake possible, ranging from ones made in real blenders (like the one at Roxy Cafe that started the trend), to those from shake dispensers at fast food joints (like my free birthday shake from Del Taco), to something in-between (like my shake from Bistro Burger).  But the best was from Holy Grill, made with Mitchel's vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.  Even though that one didn't have whipped cream, which I consider to be an important element, it was still the best one I've had flavor-wise.  Quality ice cream and fresh fruit really just makes a big difference!   Every time I've seen strawberry shakes since, I've gotten it, even though I never would normally pick strawberry, hoping to replicate my experience from Holy Grill.  The last one I had was the least successful shake ever, from McDonald's (yes, I should have known better).  That was horrendous.

This one wasn't nearly as bad as the McDonald's shake, but really wasn't very good.  There was no offer of whipped cream, even though I know they have it for making sundaes.  I wish I'd gone out of my way to ask for it, because once I left with it and tried it, it was obvious that it would have really helped out.

It was made in some sort of blender/mixer combo device.  Not quite a classic blender, nor a classic milkshake maker.  The result was not a good consistency.  Mostly, it was just milk, with a few bits that were too thick to suck up.  And then a ton of froth.  The high powered mixer thing just really destroyed the ice cream.  The small amount that stayed frozen melted far too fast.  It wasn't exactly hot out, as I was in San Francisco after all, and I had basically no ice cream or iciness remaining after about 2 minutes.  Very poor execution.  I was really surprised, since I think they sell a lot of shakes, and the machine seemed custom.

Flavor-wise there wasn't much going on.  Slight strawberry flavor, not even in the same ballpark as the one from Holy Grill, but not fake and horrible like the one from McDonald's.  It was at least made with real ice cream, with some bits of strawberry in it, but the addition of all the milk just watered it down.

On the plus side, I had the nicer employee this time.  I also ordered a hand packed pint, which he thoughtfully stashed in a freezer while he made the shake and rang me up.  I really appreciated that extra effort, as it helped my pint not melt as fast for my trip home.

I got the mini size, which was "only" 12 ounces.  $3.49 was actually kinda pricy for this size, more than the 12 ounce mini I got from Bistro Burger for $2.99 and just slightly less than the $3.99 large sizes I got many other places.  Certainly not worth the price, would no get again.
Baskin Robbins Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Halloumi

Yup, another installment of waffling leftovers.

This time featuring an item commonly grilled: halloumi!  Except, well, leftover of course.
Waffled Leftover Halloumi Transformation.
This was a slam dunk, as are many items that are frequently grilled.  A waffle iron really does work just like a grill, in many ways.

Leftover Halloumi: Will it Waffle?  YES!
The Original: Seared Halloumi.
The original was slices of pan seared halloumi.

Crispy exterior, slightly squeaky, salty, melty cheese, delicious.  Standard, good, halloumi.
Waffling!
I threw it into the waffle iron, 350 degrees.

It looked great as it cooked, and didn't take long at all.

It extracted easily, no problems.
Waffled Halloumi.
This came out great.

Crispy bits from where the waffle iron made contact, slightly melty, hot and fresh.

It was better than the original actually, and no degradation of quality from being a couple days old, and previously cooked.

Waffling halloumi success!
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Air New Zealand, AKL-SFO, Business

Another day, another flight, right? This time, Air New Zealand, NZ 8, from Auckland to San Francisco, completing the journey that I started earlier that day aboard the exact same aircraft from Sydney to Auckland.

After a stint in the lounge in Auckland, it was time to fly, again.

The Experience

The aircraft was the same as on my previous flight, on both this trip and others, so I don't have much to say about that.  Service was friendly and attentive, the staff to passenger ratio was excellent, and the staff worked well together.  They really created a welcoming and warm environment, and made the flight as enjoyable as possible.
Seat 4k.
The seat was ok as an upright seat, comfortable but not amazingly so.  I again appreciated the slot to easily stash my laptop, and the ability to stow things under my ottoman even during takekoff and landing.

As a bed however, this remains one of the best I've experienced.  It does not slide down like most, and instead flips over.  The FAs convert the beds when you are ready to sleep, since they do involve so much setup.  A mattress pad is added, and the base really is incredibly stable, firm, and comfortable.  The seat is fairly narrow, but it wasn't a problem for me, and I was able to side sleep in both directions without problem.  A single blanket is provided, fairly thin and scratchy, so, that aspect of the bedding isn't great.  Pillows however are great, two large, fluffy pillows, and I was able to steal an extra from one of the vacant seats in our cabin, so it all really worked out wonderfully.

I'm glad I opted to take this route, rather than flying direct back from Sydney.  While I did have trouble sleeping at what felt like barely 9pm, that was clearly better than trying to do it 5 hours earlier like the direct flights from Sydney.  I absolutely can't fault the bed for my sleeping problems, nor my cabin-mates.  Everyone was shockingly quiet, and everyone went to bed immediately after dinner.  I've never seen a cabin turn around so quickly, and everyone stayed in bed quietly until breakfast.  Such great behavior.

The flight was bumpy however.  The seatbelt sign remained on nearly all night, and the bumps did make it difficult to sleep.  On the plus side, the cabin itself was quite stable, unlike the ridiculously bouncy upper deck on British Airways.

So, even though it adds a layover, I'll likely opt to do this route for future journeys back from Sydney (unless of course I have the opportunity to use the Qantas First lounge in Sydney, as it trumps all else!)

Food & Drink

Standard pre-takeoff sparking wine, juice, and still water were offered, and I asked for sparkling (not on the tray that my FA came through with), but she brought one no question.  Before we took off, we were also asked what we'd like for our post-takeoff drinks, so they could have those ready to go quickly once we were airborne.
Seasoned Cashews, Riesling, Sparkling Water.
For my post-takeoff drink I selected the "low alcohol riesling", and asked for a small pour.  I didn't like it, so I'm glad I only asked for a little.

It came with a little bowl of spiced cashews, much like my previous flight with spiced almonds.  These however I didn't really like, the cashews were bitter, and the spicing just not a blend I like, and they were stone cold.

I was offered the full bottle of sparkling water along with the pre-poured glass, which I really appreciated, since I knew I'd easily drink it all, and it was better to not need to ask for constant refills.

Dinner

Dinner Menu.
Dinner was a three course menu, with two choices for starter, 4 choices for main, and 3 desserts.  The menu was waiting at our seats when we boarded.  It was as follows:

To begin:
  • Smoked snapper brandade with poached prawns, preserved citron salsa verde, and pinenuts
  • Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes, and blue cheese
From the bakery:
Oatmeal honey rolls, garlic bread, spelt seeded and traditional bread

Mains:
  • Pulled barbecue beef brisket burger with Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato chipotle sauce, red cabbage poppy seed slaw, and crispy wedges.
  • Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa, and broccolini.
  • Blackened salmon with citrus labneh, saffron mash, edamame, and steamed spinach.
  • Butternut squash, roasted corn, and chili soup with toasted pumpkin seed pesto and warm paratha.
To finish:
  • Coconut cream tart with mango jelly and passionfruit cream
  • Gourmet dessert of gingernut ice cream with dark chocolate sauce and ginger wafer
  • A selection of New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection
Mid-flight snacks:
  • Ask your flight attendant for a warmed panini with bacon, caramelised onions and barbecue sauce
  • Help yourself from our range of snacks available throughout the flight.
Neither starter sounded great to me, but I was excited by the mains, remembering Ojan's actually delicious burger on a previous Air New Zealand flight.  I was tempted by the squash and corn soup with paratha, because I like all those things, but, really, there was no question.  It had to be the burger.

Our main dinner orders were taken soon after takeoff.  I was surprised by how much variety there was in the orders around me.  I didn't hear anyone ask for the soup, but the distribution of burgers, chicken, and salmon seemed uniform.

The starters were both chilled, and offered from the trolley, along with additional drinks, and a bread basket.
Starter: Prawns.
"Smoked snapper brandade with poached prawns, preserved citron salsa verde, and pinenuts."

I did not like like this.

The prawns were rubbery.  The brandade was fishy.

On the plus side, the citron salsa verde was really flavorful and fresh, and it was beautifully plated with pine nuts and herbs on top.  But tasty it was not.
Bakery: Garlic Bread.
The bread basket didn't really look exciting, but the garlic bread smelt so good that I decided to try it.

The bread I think was sourdough (boo) and it was strangely spongy.   Not good.  But the butter and garlic were tasty and it was served warm.

The bread basket made several more passes throughout dinner service, but I didn't try any more.  The other breads were served with little bottles of olive oil or butter on the side.

The gluten-free passenger near me was provided a sealed package of crackers instead of bread.
Wine: Pinot Noir.
Since I didn't like the riesling, I moved on to red wine, because I knew it would go better with my burger as well.

This was a big improvement, and really a nice wine.  Not tanic, no bite to it, just really nice.
Perrier Water.
Interestingly, the sparkling water provided at meal service was different from the post-takeoff water.  That was "kiwi blue" in plastic bottles, and this was Perrier, in a can.  And again, I was offered the entire can, a nice touch.
Entree: Burger.
"Pulled barbecue beef brisket burger with Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato chipotle sauce, red cabbage poppy seed slaw, and crispy wedges."

The lag between our starters and mains seemed excessive (and for me was a full 40 minutes), but the staff was clearly busy preparing all the dishes, and delivering them one by one to diners.

When it finally arrived, my heart sank.  This was clearly nothing like the amazing burger Ojan had before.

The wedges were far from "crispy" as advertised.  They were soggy.  Mushy and soggy.  The seasoning was good, and I ate them, but, they really weren't good, no better than any random grocery store oven fries that someone cooked in a microwave.

The other side dish was slaw.  Now that I had hope for, as I love slaw.  It was ... meh.  The cabbage was crisp, so that was actually surprising, it clearly hadn't been mixed up hours before.  The poppy seed was very strong.  It was very dressed, but, not overdressed.  But ... there just wasn't much flavor to it.

The bun was excessive.  There was sooo much bun compared to fillings.  Sure, the filling was meager, but the bun itself was ridiculously thick.  It was toasted on the inside, and warm, but, it tasted stale, and it was kinda hard.  Bread on airplanes, sigh.  The black and white sesame seeds coating it were good though?
The Burger: Inside.
The slice of swiss cheese inside was entirely unmelted.  Boo.  There were 2 pickles, both fine.

Also inside was pulled beef.  It was chewy and not tasty, so I didn't mind the fact that there wasn't nearly enough for the large bun, but as you can see here, there really was not much filling in this thing.  The beef wasn't bbq itself, but bbq sauce was served on the side.  It had some strange spicing to it, but wasn't bad.

So, not a very good dish.  I didn't want the bun or beef at all.  I made a lettuce wrap with the slaw, pickles, unmelted cheese, and some bbq sauce, but it wasn't that great.  And the wedges, meh.

Meh, meh, meh.
Dessert: Coconut Cream Tart.
"Coconut cream tart with mango jelly and passionfruit cream."

For dessert, I selected the tart rather than the ice cream on this flight, since I wasn't really into the ice cream on the previous flight.

It wasn't quite what I was expecting in a tart, but, since I don't generally like tart shells, I welcomed this.  It looked like cheesecake.

The crust was a compressed crumb, slightly sweet, fine.  The majority of the tart I guess was coconut cream?  It didn't taste very strongly of coconut, and was a firm consistency, not a pudding or cream as expected.  It wasn't bad exactly, but, it wasn't at all what I'd describe as coconut cream.

On top was a thin layer of "mango jelly", sweet mango gel.  It was fine.

On the side was the passionfruit cream, sweet whipped cream with flavors of passionfruit, sprinkled with coconut.

Overall, no element of this was particularly good nor bad, but they did combined fairly well.  Coconut, passion fruit, mango, cream ... still, I did wish it was actually creamier.

My gluten-free neighbor had a special dessert as well, some kind of cake.
Decaf Coffee, Chocolate.
With my dessert I opted for decaf coffee, served in a sturdy mug, not bad, but not great.  It came with a chocolate on the side.   These same chocolates were available throughout the rest of the flight in the galley to help yourself to, along with chips, granola bars, and fruit.

Breakfast

Air New Zealand does not allow you to fill out a breakfast card and streamline the breakfast experience, which is one mark against them.  While sometimes perhaps I'd like to change my mind, I much prefer not having to get up a little earlier for breakfast service, particularly in this direction.

Thus, breakfast service began with our orders being taken.
Breakfast Menu.
The menu read:

Sleep in breakfast:
Before going to sleep, please advise your flight attendant you wish to sleep-in and we will wake you as late as possible and offer fruit, yoghurt, cereal, bakery, and a beverage of your choice.

Wake-up drinks:
Get yourself started with a beetroot, pear, and blackcurrant energizer juice.

From the pantry:
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Plain Greek yoghurt or fruit yoghurt
  • Berry cereal
  • Toasted meusli
From the bakery:
  • Crossants and danish
  • Vogel's or fruit toast with your choice of marmalade, strawberry jam, Vegemite, Marmite
From the stove:
  • Omelette filled with sundried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato, and piccata ham.
  • Scrambled eggs with skillet fried hash potatoes, soft onions, and pastrami with toasted muffin.
  • Banana, maple, and linseed waffles, with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt served with vanilla syrup.
  • Warm panini with bacon, caramelized onions, green tomato, and jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce.
2 hours before landing, the cabin sprung to life, our beds were converted back into seats, and warm towels were offered.  A few minutes later, orange juice and the "wake-up" drink were offered, and our hot breakfast orders were taken.

The entree was the hardest part of this meal for me.  I always go for the "sweet breakfast carb" item, waffles, french toast, pancakes.  But I knew on my previous Air New Zealand breakfast flights, that these just didn't work out (like the thin flavorless cinnamon hotcakes and the lukewarm soggy french toast.  And I knew that Ojan's warm bacon roll on a previous flight turned out to be great, but it had cheese, and this did not.

In the end, I asked for advice between the two.  My FA said the panini was small, so she'd recommend the waffles.  I asked if the waffles were crispy, and she no, they were soft.  Hmm.  I wanted crispy.  And I also wasn't excited by the idea of "vanilla bean yoghurt" rather than something like whipped cream.  A I would prefer my waffles without banana and linseed, thank you very much.  But I was worried the panini would be more spongy stale bread with flabby bacon.

My FA came to my rescue, "Why don't you have both?  We have plenty of the panini," she said. I told her I knew I couldn't finish both, but she reassured me that it would go to waste, and I should just get both.  So, I did.
From the Pantry: Mango Yoghurt.
The "pantry" items were offered from the trolly, with fruit salad (contained melons so I skipped), mango or plain yogurt, and two types of cereal (lightly toasted muesli or Light 'N Toasty with Berries), plus tea and coffee.  Interestingly, no other drinks, including water, were offered.

Since I had ordered two hot entrees, I planed to skip this selection, but I asked if the yoghurt was creamy or runny, and if it was tart, and I was told that it was very creamy, lovely, and highly recommended.  Plus, the fruit flavor of the day was mango.  So I asked for a very small scoop.

It was ... ok.  Just yoghurt.  Not like the creamy amazing yoghurt in the Air New Zealand lounge in the Syndey airport.  Not like the super rich, full fat yoghurts I remembered from the grocery stores in Sydney.  Just yoghurt.  Slightly sweet, not runny, and with a decent swirl of mango, but, really, just yoghurt.

I also opted for regular coffee.  It wasn't very good, fairly lukewarm, and watery.  Speaking of water, I wanted water!
Danish.
After the first round, the "bakery" was offered, a bread basket with croissants, danishes, raisin toast,  and "vogel's".  Jam, marmite, and vegemite were on the side.

While I don't normally go for the baked goods on flights, I remembered quite enjoying the danish on a previous flight, so, I went for it, even though I had no idea what kind it was.

It was ... good, in a non-traditional sort of way.  It was clearly not a fresh baked good.  It was crispy on top and a bit soggy inside, from the heating method (it was served warm).  It was flaky and layered, but greasy.  The filling was I think perhaps rhubarb and cream cheese?  I'm still not entirely sure.  But it was fruity, a bit sweet, a bit tart, and also a bit creamy.

I know this doesn't sound great, and it wasn't amazing, but, it was satisfying in its own way, and actually my favorite thing from the entire meal.

My gluten-free neighbor had an entire custom tray, with an individually wrapped blueberry muffin, an individually wrapped loaf of some sort, and a package of gluten-free cereal.
From the Stove: Waffles.
"Banana, maple, and linseed waffles, with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt served with vanilla syrup."

The waffles came first.  3 triangles of waffle, topped with blueberry compote and vanilla bean yoghurt, with a little pot of vanilla syrup on the side.  The presentation was lovely.

But ... the waffles?  Yeah, as I feared, not tasty.  They were soggy and mushy.  I didn't taste banana, linseed, or maple.

The blueberry compote was fascinating.  It did have a couple berries, but was mostly little cubes (!) of blue gel.  I expected more of a sauce, and, um, not strange little cubes.  Interesting, but not particularly tasty.

The vanilla bean yoghurt was thin runny style.  Good for a sauce, but not particularly good.

The only aspect of this dish that was good was the vanilla syrup, and not just because it was served in a cute little pot on the side.  It was sweet, sticky, and very flavorful.  If only I had something to put it on.
From the Stove: Breakfast Panini.
"Warm panini with bacon, caramelized onions, green tomato, and jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce."

My very attentive FA came over after a bit to ask if I'd like my panini at that point.  I was honestly stuffed already.  Yoghurt, a full danish, and about half the waffles were all I needed, particularly as my confused body thought it was way early for breakfast anyway.  But ... curiosity won out.

And I'm glad it did.  The panini, although not what I was originally wanting (aka, no melty cheese), was actually quite good, in a fast-food kind of way.

The bun had grill marks, but was actually soft, and reminded me of asian steamed buns, just, mega sized.  It was slightly sweet I think, or perhaps my palette was still just sweet from spoonfuls of vanilla syrup.  Good, in a really strange way, not a good fresh bun obviously, but, good.

The bacon was a big jumble of chewy, flabby bacon that I could care less about, and removed pretty quickly from the sandwich.

The onions were soft, sweet, and caramelized, and quite tasty.

But what made this sandwich fantastic was the spreads.  The jalapeno relish was actually quite flavorful.  Not spicy exactly, but really flavorful.

And the barbecue sauce, not the same as I had with my pulled beef burger.  It was actually served in a package fast-food style, which was striking given how well plated everything else was throughout.  But maybe this is a famous New Zealand barbecue sauce?  If not, it should be.  I loved it.  It was sweet and tangy, and I instantly wanted some McDonald's fries to dunk in it (I always dunk my fries at McDonald's in both bbq and sweet and sour sauce, and this was a perfect blend of those flavors in one!)

Once I removed the bacon, and just loaded my bun up with tons and tons of jalapeno relish and barbecue sauce, this was really, really satisfying.  Savory, a bit spicy, and very comforting.  I shocked myself by finishing it, particularly given that it was the last thing I had.

Next time, I'd totally order this as my main in the evening, as I think it was the same item available as a "midnight snack".
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Monday, August 21, 2017

Ike's Place

Ike's is a small-ish chain of sandwich shops, that started in San Francisco (yes, by Ike), in 2007.  To say it has been successful is an understatement.  In only 10 years, they have expanded to 36 locations throughout the state (and I think Arizona?).

The original SF location was on 16th Street, but it had to shut down after 5 years when the lease expired, and a renewal was not offered (which created LOTS of angry San Franciscans).  Ike's moved to a temporary home in the Castro, literally, inside a bakery, and then got into trouble because it is a chain now, and that was breaking some kind of rules.  Finally, they have a new place on Polk Street, which is where I visited.

Now, you might realize that I've probably never (?) reviewed a sandwich before.  I don't generally really like sandwiches.  But ... Ike's has such acclaim, and such an interesting menu, that I finally had to try it.

Oh, and they have a birthday club, where you get a free sandwich on your birthday.  You know I can't resist a birthday freebie.

Setting

Entire Shop.
The shop is fairly narrow, with not much seating.

You order at a register at the entrance, sandwiches are prepped in the small kitchen in the middle, there is a soda fountain on the side, and several high top tables for two.  There is one single lower table with 3 chairs.  I imagine when it gets busy, finding a seat is hard, or I suspect most people take their sandwiches to go, although, the neighborhood isn't really one where you want to just go eat outside.

There is no bathroom.  But they do have a hand sanitizer pump to clean your hands somewhat.
Menu.
The menu is ... daunting to say the least.  More than 50 sandwiches (even when they first opened, they had 46!).  And, they mostly all sound amazing.

Sandwiches are named after celebrities, places, and concepts, so you have to read all the details to know what is in your sandwich.  No option to order just "a turkey sandwich", although I'm sure you could do that.  The closest you can get to a normal named sandwich is the Paul Reubens, which is a play on a reuben with pastrami, purple slaw, french dressing, and swiss (yeah, I said closest, if you were expecting corned beef not pastrami, sauerkraut instead of slaw, and Russian instead of French, you'd be sad).  Many involve fried items, including onion rings, jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks, and even mac and cheese.  All have some kind of sauces.  These are not light sandwiches.

Each location also has location specific specials, and each day also has two specials (on a separate menu).  And of course, you can modify your sandwich in a slew of ways.

Meat options include halal chicken or fried chicken, deli sliced turkey, roast beef, pastrami, ham, and salami, bacon, meatballs, and thin sliced rib-eye.  However, vegetarians, and vegans, have nearly as many options to pick from, and they aren't just hummus and sprouts.  The fried chicken is replaced with vegan breaded chicken.  There is vegan steak, turkey, and even bacon and meatball equivalents.  You can also opt for breaded fried eggplant, or yes, hummus, if you don't go for the fake proteins.  There is vegan cheese and vegan aioli offered.  Sandwiches that aren't vegan by design, but can be made vegan, have a marking on the menu.

Dutch crunch is the standard bread offering ("World Famous", they say, and about 70% of people opt for it), but you can also select from french, sourdough, whole wheat, or gluten free bread.  All the breads are huge grinder rolls, not sliced bread, and only in one, very large, size.

All sandwiches come with lettuce, tomato, and Dirty Sauce by default.  The "Dirty Sauce" is Ike's secret ingredient, a garlic aioli (normally mayo based, but they also make an egg-free vegan version), that they toast right into the bread, on both sides, under your cheese and meat choices.  And then they add another layer after toasting.  Um, yeah, these aren't light sandwiches.

You can also add red onion, pickles, banana peppers, and jalapeños for free.

On top of that, there are lots of other add-ons, like spinach or cucumbers (for $1), avocado or bacon ($2.50), cheese ($1.50), mushrooms ($2), any of the sauces ($1-2, depending on the sauce), double meat ($2), halal chicken (instead of fried, $1), or, for the really crazy, beer battered onion rings or beer battered zucchini ($3), stuffed jalapeño poppers or mozzarella sticks ($3.50).

I was fatigued just reading the menu.  But when I realized that I'd be happy with any of at least 10 different choices, that actually made it easier.  It seemed hard to go wrong.  Interestingly, everything I wanted was vegetarian.  I think mostly because I was excited by the fake chicken and turkey, since I don't like the real stuff.

In the end, I narrowed down to a handful: 1) The "Danny Glover" with BBQ Sauce, Cheddar, and Vegan Breaded Chicken, 2) The "Handsome Owl" with Swiss, Teriyaki, Vegan Breaded Chicken, and Wasabi Mayo, 3) The "Chased & Confused (SF Exclusive)" with Bacon, Flaming Hot Cheetos, Ranch, Red Pesto, Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers, 4) The "Pee Wee" with French Dressing, Home Made Poppy Seed Coleslaw, Swiss, Vegan Turkey, or either of the weekend specials, "The Love Shaq" or "The Turner", both featuring, uh, mac and cheese (the former with american/bacon/dirty sauce, the later with bbq/honey mustard/honey).

I ruled out the mac and cheese options, and the Chased & Confused (although, really, Flaming Hot Cheetos and stuffed jalapeño poppers inside a sandwich did seem ... tempting).  And from there, I kinda made my own sandwich, using the Danny Glover as the base because I really wanted bbq and the vegan breaded chicken, subbing in a few things from the Handsome Owl, and adding in something from Pee Wee.  When you can't decide, just, make it your own?
Assembly Area.
Sandwiches are all made to order, and, they take time.  At least 10 minutes.  Because, well, there is a lot going on in each.

Each sandwich runs through the toaster, open faced, to crunch up the bread, bake in the Dirty Sauce, melt the cheese, and warm the meat.  Then there are many toppings and sauces to add.  When your order is ready, "Order Up!" is called, and you walk up to get it.  I was a bit surprised by the lack of system, no number given, no name, and everyone sorta just had to figure out when it was their turn.  Maybe they get more formal about the process when busier?

Food

Besides sandwiches, Ike's offers bagged chips (Zapp's chips, with all their innovative flavors I've reviewed before) and a couple bars/cookies.  That's it.  No other sides, not even the slaw they make for the sandwiches, nor the onion rings, poppers, or mozzarella sticks as an appetizer.  They are all about the sandwiches.
Wrapped Up ... with Lollipops!
When my order was ready, I was asked if I wanted caramel apple or blue razz lollipops.  I had no idea it came with lollipops, but, that was awesome.

It came wrapped up in two layers of paper wrap, one which actually held the sandwich and was sliced in half, and a full size extra wrapper, even though I indicated that I'd be eating there.  There isn't really a dine-in option for how it is served (e.g. no plate, no basket, etc), but if you eat there, they don't give you a paper bag to put it in.

I was surprised by how massive it was.  Length-wise, I think it was probably 10", but it was the girth that was dramatic.  Like a San Francisco super burrito, this thing isn't really meant to be eaten by one normal human.  Particularly one that plans to go out to dessert on the way home.  You can easily split one with someone, particularly if you have a bag of chips alongside, and go out for dessert after.  Or, if you don't need all that junk food in your life, a half is still a pretty serious undertaking.  I saw many people leaving with their extra half wrapped up in the paper wrapper, which, makes that seem a lot more convenient even for dine-in customers, now that I think about it.
Danny Glover on Dutch Crunch (Modified). $11.11 + $1.50.
"BBQ Sauce, Cheddar, Vegan Breaded Chicken" - Cheddar + Swiss + Tomato/Red Onion/Pickles/Dirty Sauce.
It came sliced in half, which was necessary to pick it up.  Just a half really was a full sandwich.  Check out the girth!

My order was the Danny Glover, but I made a few substitutions.  I ordered this because I wanted BBQ sauce, but, I like swiss more than cheddar, so, subbed out my cheese.  I accepted the standard tomatoes and dirty sauce, added the optional free pickles and red onions, and asked to have their well known purple slaw in place of the standard lettuce ($1.50 extra, which I was informed of at the time).  The bread choice was obviously dutch crunch, toasted.

I was surprised to open up my sandwich and find ... lettuce, the item I had subbed out for the slaw.  I had the slaw too, but, I also had lettuce, tons of it.  Very generic shredded iceberg, not particularly fresh.  My fellow dining companion noted that it took away from his sandwich experience having that much lettuce.  I removed most of it from my half.  Also generic?  The tomatoes.  Not particularly ripe, not particularly good.  I removed those too.  I think the red onion might have been left out, I never found it.

What I did find was BBQ sauce.  Tons of BBQ sauce.  It was seeping out one whole side.  It overwhelmed all other flavors.  And it wasn't possible to really remove it.  I like BBQ, which is why I ordered it, but, I actually didn't end up liking the flavor of it, even if it wasn't saturated in it, it was too sweet for my taste.

But now for the good parts.

The vegan breaded chicken was actually good.  A nice texture.  The breading was a bit soggy amongst all the other sandwich elements, but, besides that, I liked it.  Far more than regular chicken.  I'd gladly get it again.  There was a lot of it, full size thick "chicken" strips, well distributed throughout.  Most bites had a full bite of the chicken.

The swiss was nicely melted on, and again, covered the whole thing.  I loved the pickles.  Just classic dill chips, but, I really liked the crunch and flavor they added.  The slaw added a bit more crunch too, more than the lettuce, and I'm glad I added it (and, wished I had it instead, as I asked).  It was creamy slaw though, so that, plus the dirty sauce, was a fair amount of mayo-y sauces.  I did love the dirty sauce though, and, who am I kidding, I'm a mayo girl.

The dutch crunch was pretty standard dutch crunch, crunchy on top, fresh enough, nicely toasted.

Overall, this was a mixed bag.  The poor assembly that over BBQ'ed it definitely ruined it though.  I could just remove the lettuce and tomato, but, the BBQ overruled everything else.  That said, the other components were good, so I'd gladly give Ike's another chance, with another person assembling my sandwich.  I just wouldn't get BBQ, lettuce, or tomato.
Ike's Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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