Friday, May 24, 2019

Arway Confections

Arways is a snack food and confection maker based in the US.  Their claim to fame came from their "The Chocolate Pecan Caramel Patties", which they distributed via Sears Roebuck & Co, the largest retailer in the US ... way back in 1950.  Since then, things have changed quite a bit, but they are still dedicated to making snacks and confections of high quality.

Their full lineup includes every sort of snack, like popcorn, coated pretzels, trail mix, candy, chocolates, roasted nuts, etc, and perhaps you have enjoyed them, but just not known it.  As Arway doesn't distribute directly to consumers via their own brand, but rather is a wholesale manufacturer.  They fill the bulk bins in supermarkets everywhere, and many corner convenience stores, movie theaters, etc use their products.

I've tried an assortment, and generally found them to be good.
Yogurt Covered Malted Milk Balls.
"Covered in a deliciously thick layer of sweet, creamy yogurt coating, these malty-sweet malt balls make a tasty and unexpected addition to your candy repertoire."

Arway makes a decent variety of malted milk balls, including classic chocolate, dark chocolate, and even carob coated, along with different colors of chocolate coating, but I tried the yogurt coated ones.  Which sounded the least interesting, but I actually really liked.

The coating was thick, creamy, and more like white chocolate the yogurt really.  It was quite sweet, and complimented the malted interior well.  They were huge, and really quite enjoyable.  I liked in particular how the malted inside melted in my mouth.

Winners, and I'd gladly eat more of these.
Chocolate Drizzled Caramelcorn.
"Take popcorn to the next level with this sweet, salty, tender-crisp concoction! A fan favorite for movies and game nights alike, it's got all your flavor bases covered."

"Sweet and salty popcorn coated in a decadent caramel and a rich chocolate drizzle."


Oh, by still my heart.  Coated caramelcorn!  You know how much I love popcorn, and in particular sweet popcorn, so, this looked like a winner.

I didn't care for it though.  The caramel was a buttery style that somehow just didn't connect with me.  I tried it room temp and frozen of course (my favorite way).

It was unfortunate that I didn't like the caramel, because it was otherwise well made, nicely coated and drizzled.

Update: I forgot that I hadn't liked these much before, and got very excited when I encountered them again.  I think I might have liked it slightly more than the first time, but again, this just wasn't the ideal caramel drizzle corn for me.  I strongly prefer Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP! (review coming soon).
Dark Chocolate Fall Nonpareils.
"Smooth and luscious, these dark chocolate drops come dotted with beautiful Autumnal colors! Rich and elegant with a surprisingly delightful crunch, you’re sure to Fall in love!"

"Fall in love with these dark chocolate disks dotted with a pretty array of autumnal sprinkles!"

I liked these.

The chocolate was a dark, smooth, sweet style, a bit like Hershey Special Dark.  Sweeter than I normally would want for a dark chocolate, but it wasn't sweet in a bad way.

I loved the crunch on the outside.  These were good, but I did grow sick of them after a while.
Dark Chocolate Holiday Nonpareils.
"Add festive elegance to your holiday with these melt-in-your-mouth chocolate morsels.  Red, white, and green sprinkles coat rich dark chocoalte for an extra space of crunch and style."

A few months later, we got the festive "holiday" version, with red, green, and white balls on them this time.

I had forgotten the details of my previous review, but knew that I kinda had liked the others, so I tried these again.

The chocolate was again fine, but a sweeter dark chocolate, again, much like Hershey Special Dark than the kind of dark chocolate I generally go for.

The crunch from the little balls on the outside was nice though.
Chocolate Toffee Peanuts.
"The perfect addition to any occasion, aromatic peanuts get tossed in crisp, sweet toffee, then dunked in luscious milk chocolate to make these ultra-rich, decadent bites."

These were really delicious.  Crunchy peanuts, smooth creamy milk chocolate, and sweet toffee?  Yes.
Dark Chocolate Sticklets.
"Deck your tongue with these sweet and crunchy sticklet snacks straight out of the bucket or shared among friends for a holiday treat."

"Crisp, salty pretzel sticks in a generous coating of smooth dark chocolate."

These were fine.  I do like sweet and salty combinations, and crunch, and dark chocolate, so the product itself was appealing.  Everything about the was fine - dark chocolate was smooth, a bit sweet but still a darker style, the pretzels were crunchy and not stale ... but there wasn't anything particularly special about these.
Snowflake Pretzels.
"Bundle up and dig in - these yogurt-covered, snowflake-shaped pretzels are sure to cause flurries of excitement!"

These were great!  The coating was sweet, more like white chocolate than yogurt really, the pretzels weren't too stale, and the little sprinkles on top added some crunch.

Very solid, enjoyable coated pretzels.
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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lawler's Pies & Cakes

Lawler's is a wholesale manufacturer of desserts, specializing in cheesecakes, cakes, and pies.  They primarily sell to restaurants, and I take great glee at discovering their products served at high end restaurants around town, because, I know their secrets!  They also provide for very well known establishments like ... Outback Steakhouse.  Yup.
"Family-owned and operated for over thirty years, Lawler Foods' business has been built on the solid foundation of "home-made" taste and quality. Lawler’s follows recipes – not formulas – employing home-style methods along with food technology.  Lawler’s uses the finest natural ingredients - not artificial flavorings and chemical additives.  The result is creamy cheesecakes, moist layer cakes, and pies as delicious as those from your grandmother's kitchen."
Anyway, the reason a fancy steakhouse *can* get away with serving these frozen bulk produced desserts and charging $$$ by garnishing with a squirt of whipped cream is that they actually are quality desserts.  My first encounter was when the catering department at my office selected one of their items, and I was very pleasantly surprised, and have since ordered far more of their items.

But, a warning.  These are decadent items.  I'm ... honestly shocked whenever I view the nutrition facts for them, even given that they are massive "restaurant" sized slices, it can still be a bit shocking.  And, um, their minimum order size is 1,000 lbs.  Literally.  These are not for the home consumer, but, there is a good chance you've encountered them too, and just don't know it.

Pies

Lawler's makes only two pies, and I kinda laughed when I realized this, as it seems odd to make only two pies, and choose these two: Banana's Foster and Key Lime.  No fruit pies, just, these two cream pies.  A chocolate cream pie seems fitting for their lineup, but, nope.  Just these two.
Banana's Foster Pie.
"A graham cracker pie shell holds our banana rum sauce, a moist butter cake layer, and banana cream filling studded with banana cake cubes. Cinnamon-brown sugared whipped cream finishes this Louisiana favorite."

This was my very first Lawler's product.

The pie comes sliced and portioned with paper dividers between each slice, topped with whipped cream rosettes on each slice, and a decorative caramel drizzle.  It arrives frozen, and is simple to defrost and then serve chilled.

The pie is large, 12" rather than more standard 9", which created some "Parent Family Slices", too big for most others, but totally acceptable to me.   Don't even try to just take half a slice, you will want the whole thing, I promise!
Banana's Foster Pie: Side View.
This pie was really quite good.

The base is a graham cracker pie crust, which sounds standard, but it is incredibly buttery and caramelized, such that it wasn't really recognizable as any boring graham cracker pie shell I've ever had.  It was hard, but easy to crack through, not annoying.  I really liked this component, and the thick back crust provided lots of it.

Above the crust is thick layer of banana rum sauce, not particularly rum-y necessarily, but sweet and a nice thickness, almost like caramel.  It added to the sweetness of the crust.

Then cake.  Yes, #random.  I'm not a big cake person, but the cake was moist enough and very buttery.  I ate it in my first few slices, but, later on, I discarded it.  Not needed, and it actually detracted for me.

On top of that is a layer of banana cream pudding, with chunks of mushy banana cake in it.  This layer was a bit odd, I wasn't quite sure about the chunks of cake in there, but the pudding was a nice consistency and it was full of banana flavor.   I'd obviously prefer fresh slices of banana, but, this is a frozen product, so, they did the banana cake chunks instead, and it kinda worked.

Fluffy cinnamon-brown sugar whipped cream is on the very top, which tasted just like regular sweet whipped cream to me, but was still tasty.

And finally, decorative puffs of a sweet, thicker frosting that sorta seemed like buttercream.  Sweet, yum.

This came together really well.  I liked the crunch from the crust, the soft caramel-like rum sauce, the rich creamy pudding, and the fluffy whip.  I loved how sweet it all was.  I'd leave off the cake personally, and would want to see real banana slices in it, but, overall, really quite good.

Just, uh, not good for you.  The slices, while large, weren't insanely large, and clock in ~600 calories and 36 grams of fat each.

I had a lot of this pie, over the course of several days, and loved it every time.  I really wanted to leave the cake out though and just make it a creamy pudding with crunchy stuffs.

I also froze some, because I really just had too much.  I know re-freezing isn't recommended, but, actually, it was fine.  And, in my impatience later, I discovered that I didn't need to fully defrost it to enjoy it.  Frozen, it was just like ice cream cake.  And only slightly defrosted, I think I liked it the best.  This pie just keeps on giving.
Key Lime.
"Refreshingly tart custard resting in a classic graham crust and topped  with lime juice laced whipped cream."  -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"A TROPICAL DELIGHT IN EVERY BITE! REFRESHINGLY TART CUSTARD RESTING IN OUR CLASSIC GRAHAM CRUST TOPPED WITH LIME JUICE LACED WHIPPED CREAM." -- Lawler's

Although I don't tend to like lemon nor lime desserts (sorry!), I still wanted to try this, as I was impressed with other Lawler's products.  And, for the most part, I think that if I liked lime desserts, this was a good one!

The crust was the only part I didn't like.  It was very ... cardboard tasting (I know, I know, not that I've tasted cardboard ...).  But it was pretty gross.

The rest though was good, if you can tolerate lime.  The curd was indeed actually "refreshingly tart", great thick texture, not eggy, strong lime flavor.  Really good, for lime curd.  The topping was light and fluffy, with just enough lime to it to jazz it up.  Very good for sweetened whipped non-dairy topping.

Overall, yes, a nice key lime pie, minus that awful crust.  That is, if you like key lime pie ...

Cakes

Cakes are the majority of the Lawler's lineup, available in several product lines, such as "Colossal" or "Elite", the former being even larger than the others.

The cakes range from your fairly standard chocolate layer cakes, to carrot cakes, to ... um ... "eruption" cakes, which you'll just need to read on to understand.  Some of these are shocking, not only in concept, but also, they taste great!
Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake (cut in half).
"Three layers of ultra moist chocolate cake covered and separated by melt in your mouth chocolate frosting finished with a coat tiny chocolate chips." -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"Simply perfect chocolate cake. Three layers of ultra moist chocolate cake covered and separated by melt in your mouth chocolate frosting finished with a coat of tiny chocolate chips." -- Lawler's

Someone in our cafe staff decided that the true Lawler's pre-cut slices of this cake were also far too big, so, just like the carrot cake, they cut into different sizes, only 1.5 layers tall.  Of course I went for a piece that had lots of frosting.

This ... was just chocolate cake.  Decently moist I guess, but not "ultra moist" as described.  Chocolate frosting was fine but nothing special.

Overall, chocolate cake and chocolate frosting.  Better than most made from a box mix and can of frosting, but not anything special.
Colassal Carrot Cake.
"Moist carrot cake loaded with carrots, coconut, pineapple, and walnuts.  Rich cream cheese icing.  Surrounded with ground walnuts, and dusted with pistachios." -- GourmetXpress, Distribtuor

"Three layers of moist carrot cake loaded with carrots, coconut, pineapple, and walnuts drenched inside and out with our rich cream cheese icing. The sides are coated with finely ground walnuts and a dusting of ground pistachios on top adds a final touch of class." -- Lawler's

Ok, random info: they serve this at Outback Steakhouse, which I learned while researching the product.  So if you want to try it, just go there.

I missed out on this cake, the first time I ordered it, as I was out of town.  The verdict from my co-workers though? "Moist and Frostinglicious." And they asked for it again.

They all said they were massive slices, 3 layers high, and very intense.  The distributor even warns "Huge Servings! Big enough to share!".  And they are, uh, 1400 calories.  I'm not joking.  
Colossal Carrot Cake (cut in half).
When we had it again, it was ... broken down into "reasonable" slices.

Someone decided that we couldn't handle the colossal slices.  Which is probably a good thing.  So we had them cut down, which also was a bit unique in that it allowed people to pick if they wanted a top layer with more cream cheese icing, or a middle layer with more cake.  I clearly went for the icing.

This was a very good carrot cake.  The base was very moist, with bits of pineapple, always a plus for me in carrot cake.  I wasn't a huge fan of how much coconut there was, but it did add more texture to the base, along with the shredded carrots.  I liked the crunch from the walnut bits, again, always a good thing in carrot cake.  I appreciated that the didn't use raisins.  It was spiced, but only mildly, not offensive, but enough to be interesting.

I'm not so sure I agree that the pistachio and finely ground walnut on the back side added "a final touch of class", it kinda looked like sawdust to be honest, but, hey, they think it looked nice?  And pistachio is a premium ingredient right?  I liked the additional texture.

The cream cheese icing was also good, with a strong cream cheese flavor, creamy texture.  I liked my huge extra dollop of garnish on top.

So, overall, solid.  Not earth shattering, but good.

Update Review: I've since ordered it for my group a few times, and it is always a hit, with the masses, but also with me.  The frosting is key, so rich, so creamy, but rather addicting, and the carrot cake has enough going on that it stays interesting, even though we've had it many times now.  I'll keep this on on the rotation.
Red Velvet Cheesecake Fusion.
"Moist Red Velvet cake with chocolate chips, topped with a generous layer of New York style cheesecake. Decorated with white fondant icing and chocolate sauce ribbons.**Huge servings. Enough to share.**" -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"Creamy white chocolate cheesecake batter Baked on a red velvet cake layer with semi Sweet chocolate chips, topped with cream Cheese icing, a drizzle of chocolate ganache, And dusted with red velvet cake crumbs." -- Lawler's

So what did we have.

Yes, a layer of red velvet cake studded with chocolate chips, then a layer of cheesecake, then cream cheese (or white fondant, depending on which description you prefer) icing, then chocolate ganache (or sauce, again, depending) drizzle, and red velvet cake crumbs, just cuz.  Uh yeah.

Decadent doesn't even begin to describe this beast.  A 9" tall red velvet cake - cheesecake hybrid, pre-sliced into 12 portions. Of 730 calories EACH.  45 g of fat.  Each.  56g sugar. At least they have 10g of protein too?  Uh, yeah.  What *were* you expecting combining those things anyway?

It was fine.

I'm not a cake girl in general, and red velvet is *highly* overrated in my mind, but it was moist, and I appreciated the texture from the chocolate chips in it.  The cheesecake was decently creamy, although the "icing" layer was kinda mushy.  The chocolate drizzle and crumbs on top were really just visual treatment and didn't add much to the experience.

So yes, fine.  But not something I wanted another slice of, and certainly didn't want one this big in the first place.
Raspberry Eruption Cake.
"An eruption of color and flavor, this unique dessert has juicy whole raspberries folded  into a delicious cream cheese mixture with rivers of raspberry sauce cascading from its peak." -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"A vanilla cake shell holds juicy raspberries, raspberry sauce and raspberry swirled cheesecake cubes folded into delicious raspberry cream with rivers of raspberry sauce, white chocolate curls and cheesecake cubes cascading from its peak." -- Lawler's

Ok, if I was saying the previous items were decadent, and a bit, uh, high in the calorie department, this one was even more insane.  But how could I resist ordering it, with a description like that?

OMG.  That is all I have to say about this. Reading the description had me excited for this, but, wow, nothing prepared me for it.

Yes, calling it a "Raspberry Eruption" is rather fitting, as there are at least 3 different preparations of raspberry erupting from it: raspberry sauce, raspberry swirled cheesecake cubes, raspberry mousse.  I never found the "juicy whole raspberries" though, even though I had several slices.

It didn't matter.  This ... had enough going on.  There is cheesecake.  There is creamy mousse.  There is cake.  Sauces.  Garnish.  Oh boy.

The price? 880 calories.  Oh, man.  49 grams of fat (21 grams of that are saturated).  96 grams of carbs, 75 grams of which are sugars.  But hey, 12 grams of protein?  Nope, there is no justifying this one.
Raspberry Eruption Cake: Side View.
But back to the cake.

This was absolute insanity.  I think in a good way.

There were literally chunks of raspberry swirl cheesecake embedded in raspberry mousse in a vanilla cake crust, with raspberry sauce on top, and sweet white chocolate pieces as garnish.  What? Who even comes up with this?  I don’t know, but wow, that was kinda amazing.

The vanilla cake crust was the only throwaway element for me.  I guess it was fine, but, just plain vanilla cake, and entirely not necessary.

But everything else was great.

The "raspberry cream" was really a light, fluffy, fruity mousse.  Very sweet, and would have been too much on its own.  They could (actually, should!), tone the sweetness down on this component a bit.

The sweetness of the raspberry cream was balanced out by the chunks of cheesecake.  Because, yes, cheesecake chunks are what brought balance to this item.  Go with it.  They really were necessary.  Their not-as-sweet nature and firmer texture really did pair together amazingly with the mousse.  Why *don't* we embed cheesecake in our mousse more often?

And to top it off, even more sweetness from the raspberry sauce (ok, that probably wasn't necessary either) and delightful sweet white chocolate pieces.

Not mentioned in the description was a white glaze also, white chocolate based, on top of the raspberry sauce.  It was beautifully sweet, in a way that you'd only like if you like white chocolate, which, I do.

I really enjoyed this, intended to only have a third or half a slice and save the rest, knowing how horrible it was for me, but ... well, I couldn't resist the eruption.  Insane.
Raspberry Eruption Cake.
I've had this item several times since that first encounter, since I enjoyed it so much.

It always is a crowd pleaser in the "OMG what is that" sense, which then turns into an actual pleaser once they try it.  I've seen many people take a tiny slice, then return for more.  It is that good.

Fruity, sweet, creamy, rich ... its kinda everything.  In one cake-like item.
Chocolate Eruption.
"This pyramid of rich chocolate cream is studded with nuts, chocolate chips and turtle cheesecake and has chocolate curls and golden caramel eruptions from the center. " -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"A fantasy dessert! A chocolate cake shell holds a volcano of rich chocolate cream studded with nuts, chocolate chips, and turtle cheesecake cubes finished with chocolate curls, sliced almonds, and golden caramel erupting from the center." -- Lawler's

And then ... there is the chocolate version.  Even more insane.  And even better.

This one ups the ante, weighing in at ... 950 calories per slice (here, each slice was cut down into 1/3 slices).  57 grams of fat, 75 grams of sugar.  Just look away.  But what do you expect from cream cheese/cream/whipped cream/etc as a base?
Chocolate Eruption: Side View.
It was a similar form to the raspberry one, with the cake crust (chocolate this time instead of vanilla), cream filling (chocolate this time instead of raspberry), chunks of cheesecake studded throughout ("turtle" cheesecake instead of raspberry swirl cheesecake), sauces (both chocolate and caramel sauces rather than raspberry) exploding from within, and chocolate curl garnish (semi-sweet instead of white).  My slice also managed to actually have a cube of cheesecake perched on top as garnish.  Totally reasonable, right?

This one was even better than the raspberry.
Chocolate Eruption: Side View.
Seriously.  Look at this thing.

I again felt like the chocolate cake was not necessary, but that is just because I'm not a cake person in general.  It was moist, chocolate cake, and with the mousse as "frosting", perfectly satisfying if you like cake.  The cake is a thick layer on bottom and the back, not just a thin shell.  A slice of this thing literally has enough cake per slice that you could easily just extract the cake with a little mousse and eat that as a separate dessert.

The back piece was lightly frosted with chocolate mousse, and covered in a chocolate cookie crumb, almost Oreo-like, which I really liked together with the mousse.

The chocolate cream was wonderful, basically, rich fluffy chocolate mousse.  Super intense, perfectly creamy yet thick, just, wonderful.  I loved the tiny chopped nuts (pecans and almonds) integrated throughout for a bit of crunch too, and wished there were more.   The mini dark chocolate chips added more crunch and chocolatey-ness (as if more were needed), and the caramel more sweetness (*definitely* not needed).  The caramel really did make it too sweet for me if I didn't add whipped cream to balance it, but it feels insane to add whipped cream to this already decadent dessert.

The garnish on top, large slices of dark chocolate, additional sliced almonds, were nice components, adding a bit of texture to the mousse.

Again, just the mousse and toppings, with some whipped cream to balance, would make a fine dessert.
Chocolate Erupttion: Turtle Cheesecake.
And then there was turtle cheesecake of course.

Yes, these were generous sized cubes of cheesecake, each of which had a chocolate cookie crust, mini chocolate chips and bits of pecan, and caramel sauce on it.  They aren't messing around here.

Like every other component, it was good.  Great cream cheese flavor, creamy, rich.  And like every other component, you could just extract all the chunks of cheesecake from a slice and have a separate dessert.

Overall, yes, this thing was insane, over the top, and entirely unnecessary.  But ridiculously good.

My protip though: don't eat a full slice of this alone.  Share it, or honestly, break it down into three separate desserts.  They are all good enough to justify their own.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Proper Foods

"Proper Food is a fresh take on takeaway – offering delicious, wholesome grab-and-go fare. The made-from-scratch menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and Chef’s specials evolves with the seasons."
Proper Food is a chain targeting a very specific market, trying to offer healthier options in the fast convenience, takeout only space, to office workers.  Their locations are all grab-n-go, and, besides optionally heating up your items behind the counter, it is more of a convenience store model than take out restaurant even.  They are only open on weekdays, with breakfast and lunch options.
"We craft our fare by hand fresh every morning the only way we know how – with whole, seasonal ingredients sliced, chopped and seasoned with care. Nothing phony or factory-made. Just good, proper food that’s packed and ready to go."
But, the food is fairly fresh (packaged up that day), the menu changes seasonally, and the quality is higher than any US based convenience store.  Unsold items are donated to charity every night.

Proper Foods only has locations in San Francisco and New York, but they are expanding rapidly.  In SF alone, we have 9 locations, and I feel like I walk by a new one every few months.  The model seems to be working.

Layout

Spacious Interior.
Some locations are tiny, more like kiosks, but the location I visited was quite large and spacious.  They could have put in seating if they wanted, but, they didn't.  Just a huge open space with coolers along the walls, and a register at front.

The register is where you could order hot coffee (drip only), tea, and pastries only, everything else is grab-n-go.
Breakfast Sandwiches.
Most breakfast sandwiches are in the cooler, but two different croissant ones were also available at the register, presumably as they are the most popular in the morning, and usually people want them warmed up.  The croissants looked pretty good.
Muffins.
The only baked good, besides croissant sandwiches, is a single type of muffin, also available at teh counter.  No, you can't get just a plain croissant, which I found a bit odd.
Beverages, Snacks.
The beverage cooler contains a mix of higher end bottled drinks (Maine Roots, Boylan's, Gus's, etc) and their own housemade drinks (juices, lemonade, lassi, cold brew, ice tea).

In the morning, this section also includes chilled breakfast small snacks, like fruit cups, yogurt parfaits, overnight oats, and hardboiled eggs.
Entrees.
The larger section is entrees, breakfast sandwiches/egg bowls/frittatas at breakfast, sandwiches/burritos/salads at lunch, all packaged in clear packaging for easy viewing and selection, but, there is no menu posted so you do need to examine them to see what is available.

Food

Proper Energy Bar. $3.95.
"Goji berry, rolled oats, flax seed, coconut peanut butter, dark chocolate, dried cranberries."

This was an interesting bar.  Not a granola bar, not a breakfast bar, not a dessert, not a snack.  I don't know how to classify it really.  I guess, an "Energy Bar" is right, for post-workouts?  It is a firm but soft and mushy texture, and requires refrigeration.  If that helps give any context.  Its a rather high maintenance item.  And if it matters to you, also gluten-free.

There were things I loved about it.  It was very, very peanut butter forward.  So many bars promise peanut butter and don't deliver.  This one was undoubtedly peanut butter, and I loved that.  The oats were a good base, and the somewhat odd texture actually worked for me.  There was very minimal chocolate, just a few chunks here or there, and I of course would love more.

There was a fruitiness to it, from the cranberries and goji berries, that I didn't quite like though.  Peanut butter and fruit is a good thing (obs, pb & j).  But, this was just slightly not right to my taste buds.

Overall though, I think I liked it.  Good textures, particularly with the mix-ins, and nice peanut butter.

I had one for breakfast, and it kinda worked, but was clearly a bit of an odd choice.  I made one into dessert, topping it with whipped cream and crumble, which also kinda worked, but not quite as well.  And then I just had one as a post-workout bar, and that made more sense.   Finally, I had one kinda warmed up, I know these are a refrigerated item, but, I did let it get warm (oops), and I liked it more than way.  Particularly when paired with additional chocolate.
Proper Bran Muffin. $2.50.
"Peace, Love, & Bran."

Yes, it really is called a "Proper Bran Muffin", not just a "Bran Muffin".  And yes, the description really did read only "peace, love, & bran", no actual mention of what was in it.

I really wanted a baked good, and the bran muffin was the only option, so, I went for it.  It was freshly baked and looked decent, although certainly didn't really look like a bran muffin ... it looked too blonde on top.  I also asked if it had any mix-ins (e.g. raisin, nuts) as bran muffins often do, and the staff didn't really know, but said they didn't think so (it didn't).

They offer to warm it up, which I accepted.  A nice touch.  It was handed over quasi-warm, certainly above room temperature, but only the very top seemed to have really gotten warm.

I don't have much very positive to say about the muffin though.  It looked far, far better than it was.  Perhaps this is why the staff didn't know anything about it, they don't bother eat it?

The muffin was a crispy top style, not too hard, although a bit dry.
Proper Bran Muffin: Inside.
As you can see, it really wasn't anything like a standard bran muffin inside either ... e.g. darker in color, hearty, grainy.

Inside it was kinda fluffy, not moist exactly, but fluffy, cake-like.  But not sweet like cake.  And not sweetened like most bran muffins, no molasses detected.  The base flavor actually sorta almost tasted like banana, although I didn't see any banana, I do think it might have been used for sweetness?

There were some slightly darker brown swirls, that I think were bran batter.  It had a hint of some kind of grain flavor.

Overall, this was just a shockingly boring muffin. No real flavor, and ... just not what I think of as a bran muffin.  Warming it up more, adding butter and jam, nothing really made it stand out.
Nutella Cookie. $1.95.
"Extra Dark Chocolate / Crunchy Hazelnuts"

I'm not really a cookie person, but I heard good things about Proper Food's cookies, they looked decently soft, and I wanted some form of dessert, so I also grabbed a cookie.  Cookies are made fresh daily, and come in 4 varieties: chocolate chip (regular or gluten-free), oatmeal walnut, and Nutella.  I selected the later as it sounded most interesting.
Calling this a "Nutella" cookie is a bit ... odd. I'm pretty sure it didn't have any Nutella in it, and, I imagine "Nutella" is trademarked?  Anyway, it was Nutella inspired at least, a chocolate base with whole toasted hazelnuts inside.

The cookie was decent, pretty intense chocolate flavor, reasonably soft, crispy around the edges but not burnt.  The base didn't seem to have any hazelnut flavor, just, deep chocolate, almost brownie-like in taste, but not in texture as it wasn't fudgey.  The hazelnuts added nice crunch and texture, but didn't give the "Nutella" feel really, since many bites came without a nut.

Overall, a fine cookie, perhaps even above average, but if you were expecting it to taste more like the integration of chocolate and hazelnut, e.g. Nutella, or to have any gooey components, it certainly did not.  I think a touch of sea salt on top would also go a long way in giving the flavor a bit more pop.
Proper Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Green Beans Coffee Company, SFO

Green Beans Coffee Company is an international coffee shop, with a sole location in California, at SFO, where it recently replaced a Starbucks.

I often arrive at SFO from international trips, craving exactly two things: good coffee (sorry, coffee onboard is soooo bad!) and a light meal (I often eat so heavily during trips that I come home wanting nothing but salads), so I was excited to see this new option.  Previously, I always got coffee at Starbucks, and salads or spring rolls at Koi Palace Express, around the corner.

That said, I didn't have high hopes, as, well, airport dining isn't known for being great.
Register, Hot Sandwiches.
This location is entirely grab n go, and looked pretty generic.  Everything ordered from a counter.
Breakfast Sandwiches / Cups.
Pre-made hot breakfast sandwiches were under heat lamps, along with larger than normal coffee cups on display at the register where you order.
Salads, Sandwiches, Drinks, Snacks.
A cooler contained sparkling and still water, packaged salads from Epicurian Solutions, and some pre-made sandwiches and wraps.

Nothing is made to order.
Baked Goods.
The baked goods lineup was large, but looked pretty bad.  Sure, they had muffins with icing drizzles, crumb toppings, and cheesecake filling, but they really just didn't look appealing at all.  The croissants looked marginally better.  I skipped these.
Decaf Americano, Medium.
I just wanted a decaf coffee to perk me up a tiny bit, since I already had two cups of regular sludge on the flight, but a quick glance told me that there was little chance the decaf coffee was fresh, as it was nearly noon.

I got an Americano instead, opting for a medium, before remembering how super-sized the cups were.

It was worse than the instant coffee from the flight.  Watery.  Strange funk to it.  I took a few sips, and threw the whole thing out.  Which is saying a lot for me, I have high tolerance for bad decaf, usually made more bearable with copious sugar.

This was truly awful, and I will never get it again.
Roasted Pear Salad. $11.25.
"Spring mix, dried cranberries, bleu cheese, candied walnuts, raspberry vinaigrette."

I grabbed a pre-made salad, somewhat on impulse, but also really just craving something fresher and lighter than everything I had consumed in the prior ... two weeks?  Oooph.

Other options were a Cobb, or generic looking Caesar, but I was drawn in by the candied walnuts on this one, even though I find spring mix boring, dislike dried cranberries/raisins/etc, usually don't like bleu cheese or pears, particularly roasted ones, and never want vinaigrette as my dressing.  I blame jetlag for making this salad jump out at me.

But ... I liked it!  Well, parts of it.
Roasted Pear Salad: Inside.
The raspberry vinaigrette was packaged separately, a good thing, since I didn't care for it, predictably.  Sweet, tangy, vinaigrette-y.  No fear, I had my own dressing at home to use instead anyway.  I also didn't like the dried cranberries, as I just don't like them in general (I appreciate chew and texture but ... I dunno, not my thing), but if you like cranberries, the portion was generous.

But everything else was a success.  Sure, the spring mix wasn't exciting, but it was fresh, and there was a lot of crispy juicy romaine hearts in the mix that really hit the spot for me.  The green onions were also really welcome, quite flavorful, and brought everything together in a way that more standard, harsher, red onion sometimes fail to do.

I adored the candied walnuts.  Like, really loved them.  Great crunch, nice sugar level, not bitter (which does sometimes happen even with candied walnuts).  They went really well with the bleu cheese, and as there wasn't much of that, it didn't bother me.  Sure, I'd prefer something like a triple cream, but the bleu worked. 

The roasted pears were a big surprise.  I pretty much assumed I'd toss those, but I liked them.  Soft but not mushy, flavorful, clearly seasoned.  Nicely roasted.  Three large chunks.  They combined beautifully with the walnuts and blue cheese.  These three components made me want a glass of wine and a full cheese platter (one of which I may have quickly gotten up to procure).

Overall I was very pleased, although I removed the cranberries, and added my own dressing to mostly just the greens, and choose to eat the nuts/pears/cheese on the side with my glass of wine.

I'd certainly get this again if needing a salad to bring home after a long day(s) of travel.
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Monday, May 20, 2019

Chatime, Syndey

Update Reviews, 2018 & 2019 Visits, Multiple Locations

Yes, I've gotten a bit obsessed with bubble tea, particularly since the introduction of "crema" or "cheese" toppings, which I adore.  Most of my Sydney bubble tea focus recently has been on fancier locations, like, zomg, Bubble Nini Tea, or off the beaten path classics like Original Royaltea, but in a pinch, I go for a chain like Chatime.  If you aren't familiar with Chatime, I suggest you start with my original review of Chatime.

Sydney Airport Location, 2019 Visits

Yes, I stepped off an airplane at the Sydney airport, fresh off an overnight flight from San Francisco, and literally ordered a bubble tea upon landing.  Let's just say, my body was confused, I didn't like my onboard breakfast, and I wanted "something to make me happy."  When I remembered that Chatime had a location in the airport, landside, I made a beeline for it once I got my bags and cleared customs.  I have no explanation besides that long flights can lead to crazy decisions.
Menu.
The menu was the full Chatime menu, milk tea, fruity tea, hot or cold, with standard mix-ins and customizations.
Mix-Ins.
I appreciate that the mix-ins are all visible, so I can impulse decide I want something in particular because it looks good.
Matcha Latte Milky Iced Tea with Pearls. $7.95.
Because it was early morning, and I knew I'd have a long day of jetlag ahead of me, I wanted something to give me a bit of zing, but I already had coffee (lots of it) on my flight, so matcha seemed like a good compromise, caffeine, but not as much as a coffee.  I was too worn out to make decisions about mix-ins though, and went super boring, just boba.

This had nice matcha flavor.  I really liked the matcha milk aspect of it.  But really, it was just matcha milk.  Not really that exciting.

The tapioca pearls were large size, and kinda hard.  Not stuck together, but I didn't care for the texture.  Not worth the $1 extra.

But decent for matcha milk.
Taro Milk Tea, 30% Sugar, Coconut Jelly, Rainbow Jelly, Mousse Original. Regular.  $6.25 (base) + $1.30 (jellies) + $1.20 (mousse).
A few months later, I did it again, but went the other direction: not simple, at all.  Yes, I crafted this at 7am.

I was met with so much indecision.  Wait, what did I want, anyway?  I wanted coffee!  Oooh, look someone has a yummy looking egg sandwich.  Oh man, did you see those pastries?  Yeah, I was all over the place, but stuck to my plan, and ordered a taro milk tea from Chatime.  

I wanted mix-ins, and remembered not really liking the boba, so I opted for coconut jellies, thinking coconut and taro would be a nice combination.  And then ... I saw the rainbow jellies, and asked for those too.  Really, had I been thinking, I would have realize the rainbow jellies have coconut anyway, and I would have remembered that I liked the pudding at Chatime, and like it with taro milk tea in general, but ... yeah, I wasn't thinking.

And then I saw a sign that said I could top it off with mousse!  Regular or matcha.  I asked about that, and the server told me it was like a foam on top.  That sounded great too.  So I asked for that.  She asked which kind, and I picked matcha, but then she told me that probably wouldn't be good.  I trusted her, and went for original.

The only real smart thing I did was opt for 30% sweet, remembering that I always find these drinks way too sweet.

It actually took a fair amount of time for my drink to be prepared, by the single staff member.  She wasn't helping anyone else though, it just had a lot of steps.

I was surprised when it was handed over in a different cup that I am accustomed to from Chatime, but, that was because I got the mousse, which is added at the end, so it can't be sealed like normal. The mousse was perched on top, not what I’d ever consider “mousse” but it was fluffy and rather interesting, almost cheesy in nature.  I think salty too?  Slightly savory.  I think I liked it.

Since I picked two kinds of jellies, coconut and rainbow, it was just way too much. My drink was like half jellies.  I liked both, but, note to self, only one type of jellies. Next time, rainbow jellies, and if I want something else pudding.  Ooops.

30% sweet was still plenty sweet.  I definitely wouldn't get sweeter, and even would wish for lesser, but I believe that was the lowest option.

As for the taro, there was not much taro flavor really, because, well, it is taro powder in black tea with tons of sugar, jellies, and “mousse”. What was I expecting?  To taste real taro?

I didn’t dislike this, but, I wouldn’t get it again in this form.

Delivery, 2018, Sydney CBD Location

The next set of Chatime drinks I had weren't actually ordered, nor created, by me.  They were from an event at my office, that had ordered something like 200 random drinks, to celebrate a launch.  And they had tons of extra.  I was excited to try more drinks, and used it as an excuse to try things I'd never normally order - a great way to find new things I do indeed like!
Chocolate Milky Iced Tea, With Custard, Half Sweet. $7.95.


This was, well, chocolate milk.  Intensely chocolately.  Very enjoyable, but not as amazing as the insanely good chocolate milk from Bourke Street Bakery!

The custards you can't see here, but they were hiding in the bottom, a couple large chunks of slippery, soft, plain custard.  They actually went well with the chocolate milk and were a fun addition.

Totally different, not what I'd ever order, and kinda like a dessert
Honeydew Milky Ice Tea, with Lychee Jelly. $7.95.
Well, oops.

I'm allergic to melon, so I'd never order this honeydew milk tea.  Luckily for me, my honeydew allergy is mild, unlike my watermelon allergy.

I took one sip, and realized I what I had.  This was very clearly honeydew!  Doh.

Unfortunately, I had already walked away when I broke into it, and didn't bother going back.

The honeydew flavor was fascinating to me in a black milk tea, very unlike anything I've had before.  Fruity, but bitter black tea, but milky.  Really different.

I did love the lychee jellies, sweet, flavorful.  I had to give it to a co-worker though, since I didn't want to risk my mild allergy.

2019 Visit, CBD Location

Ok, this one is just crazy.  I went to Chatime and got ... not a bubble tea.  I'm glad the staff at the CBD location were willing to humor me.
Strawberry Popping Boba / Custard Pudding / Mousse.  $2.50.
Yeah, this one needs some explaining.  Yes, I went to a milk tea shop, and just ordered a cup of toppings.  I wasn't quite expecting what I got, but, um, it was kinda awesome.

I was walking down George Street at night, after dinner, and after already having had a dessert (or, uh, two).  But I wasn't satisfied.  I wanted just a little something more to top off my night.  So I swung by the sole DIY froyo shop, thinking I could make just a tiny froyo, but, the only flavor I really wanted (taro) was really icy and tart.  I almost made a cup of toppings, lychee, boba, jellies, mochi, and more, but then I saw flies floating in the popping boba, and a kid stick his hand into the lychee, and I left, disgusted.

But I really wanted a cup of asian dessert at that point.  And I was passing by a ChaTime.  So ... I stopped.  The signage showed the toppings I kinda wanted.  And I had memories of that delicious mousse.  So I asked if I could be crazy, and just order mix-ins, just some popping boba (I picked strawberry) and the custard pudding.  The person taking orders smiled and said that she shouldn't really do that, but, for me, she would.  She said it would cost what mix-ins normally cost, plus $0.50 for the cup.  I said that was fine.  And then I asked if I could top it with some mousse.  She laughed at this point and said sure, she'd do whatever I wanted, this was fun.  She charged me for a regular portion of mousse, not a large.

Since ChaTime has only the regular and large cups, no small cups, I knew my order would come in one of those.  I expected just a normal size scoop of boba, a normal size scoop of pudding, and a little dollop of mousse on top.  I didn't expect the cup to be FULL, nor for it to be sealed on top.  And handed over with a bubble tea straw and not a spoon.

Heh, ok.  This was a bit difficult.  I actually just wanted to eat the pudding with a spoon, like, well, custard pudding, with some boba, fresh fruit and taro cubes I had in my bag, and, a little mousse to seal the deal.  Even once I acquired a spoon, and ripped through the top, there was really no way to do that.

But I still enjoyed this very much.  The strawberry popping boba were standard, generic, popping boba, but they were sweet, fruity, and burst perfectly with fruity goodness.  Exactly what I expected.  The custard was thick and rich, and totally what I wanted.  Sometimes you just want some pudding!  

And then the mousse.  Um, ALL the mousse.  I can't believe she filled the cup with mousse like this, even though she charged me for just the regular, not even large, portion.  I guess normally the mousse is the last thing added, and, well, they fill it up?

I still have no idea what that mousse is made of.  I probably am better off not knowing.  Because its pretty delicious.  It is fluffy, it is sweet, it is savory, it is slightly salty, it is kinda everything, all at once.  Its way way too rich to eat much by the spoonful, or to sip it, but when combined with other things (like, you know, popping boba), or, as I did later, taro dumplings (!), it was glorious.



Honestly, I'm tempted to go sometime and just do a big cup of more mix-ins.  Although, I feel like I'd need some kind of rice, red bean, mochi, taro, something like that to round out just all the sweet things, at which point, um, why am I not just going to Meet Fresh?

Original Review, March 2015, Westfield Mall Location

It wasn't something I was exposed to until the past few years, but I've grown quite fond of bubble tea.  I haven't found any in San Francisco that I've loved, and I hate to admit it, but the mega-chain Quickly has been my favorite so far.

I was excited to discover that bubble tea was such a hit in Sydney, when I visited recently.  Like froyo shops in the US, bubble tea seemed to be everywhere, dominated by chains, like Chatime.

Chatime is a worldwide franchise, based in Taiwan, with over 1000 locations throughout the world, including 60 in Australia, and a slew in Sydney.

I selected Chatime as the bubble tea shop I'd visit, after reading a bit about it, mostly because they use real dairy in their milk tea.  My stomach often doesn't love non-dairy creamer, which is what most bubble teas shops use, so this is a big selling point for me.  They also use real ingredients to flavor the teas rather than powders.  The menu is focused around tea, hot or iced, including a variety of milk teas, flavored teas, and fruity fresh teas.  They also make blended frozen chillers, smothies, and tea lattes.  The standard add-ins of pearls, flavored jellys, red bean, puddings, etc are also all available.  They make a big deal out of the fact that you can customize the drinks extensively, not just the size or flavor or mix-ins, including the amount of ice and sugar.
Small Storefront.
The location I visited was inside the Westfield mall food court.  Large carafes of different teas were visible in front, but the drinks were prepared behind the small wall.  One staff member worked out front taking orders and delivering teas, and the other was hidden behind the window.  Service was friendly and efficient.
 Taro milk tea, 80% sweet, regular ice, plus coconut jelly.  $5.80.
I knew I wanted a taro milk tea, since I love taro, but I struggled a bit to decide what to add in.  I didn't just want regular tapioca.  I had a slew of other choices: aloe vera, red bean, malt, egg custard, and a slew of jellies (rainbow, lychee, coffee, and coconut).  I decided on coconut jelly, since I thought taro and coconut would go together well.

I thought that was all the decisions I had to make, but then I was asked how sweet I wanted it.  I had no idea how to calibrate my answer, so I said "not too sweet"?  My receipt read 80% sweet.  When I looked online, I saw the acceptable answers were "none - 0%", "quarter - 25%", "half - 50%", "less - 80%", "standard - 100%", "extra - 150%" or "double - 200%".  And then I was asked how much ice.  I said "uh ... regular?".  This time, the acceptable range was "none", "quarter", "half", "standard", or "extra".  I'm assuming I got "standard".

Anyway, I waited just a minute or two, and my order was handed over.

It should have been delicious, as it was clearly not fake powder, there were tiny bits of taro in it.  But the result was very chalky and I somehow didn’t actually really taste taro.

Even though I asked for less sweet, it was still way, way too sweet for me.  Even 50% sweet seems like it would have been way too much.  And I like sweets!  Next time, quarter sweet, for sure.

The coconut jellies were nice for texture, and my favorite part, but they didn’t taste anything like coconut.

A standard drink is $5.20, and the addition of the jellies was another $0.60.  Clearly higher than places like Quickly, but since they do use real milk and real taro, this isn't totally crazy.
Chatime Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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