Friday, June 14, 2019

Skinny Pop Popcorn

Update Review 2019

As I mentioned in my review of the chocolate variety, Skinny Pop is really not my style of popcorn, as, uh, its too healthy.  But I had a chance to try a few more flavors, so I gave it another chance.

Conclusion?  Yup, still bo-ring.
Original.
First up, the "Original", just salted popcorn.  This was as basic as popcorn gets, but, nicely popped, good salt level?  Not sure why anyone would feel the need to actually purchase this though.
White Cheddar.
"Guilt-free snacking with a dairy-free white cheddar flavor."

Next I tried to get some flavor by opting for a cheesy variety.

Skinny Pop makes two different cheddar popcorn flavors.  One is "Aged White Cheddar", with a "Real Cheese" label prominently displayed on the bag.  The other is "White Cheddar".  It ... is dairy free.  Dairy free cheese?

A quick glance at the ingredients doesn't help that much ... "non-dairy cheddar flavor" and rice flour are added, along with the expected oil and salt, but, what is that, exactly?

It turns out to be, well, vaguely very mild cheddar flavored something.  The salt flavor was stronger than the cheddar, and I'm pretty sure that if you didn't tell me the popcorn was supposed to be cheddar, I likely would have not suspected it.

It was fine, light popcorn, but I go for cheesier varieties.

Original Review, March 2017

Healthy snacks?  Yup, something I'm always in the market for, given how much I like to snack.  And popcorn?  My favorite.  So I basically try any new popcorn I discover.

Skinny Pop is another line of healthy popcorn, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, preservative free, no artificial flavors, etc, etc.  They use sunflower oil.  They produce 6 flavors of popcorn, savory original, sea salt & pepper, white cheddar, and jalapeño, and sweet "naturally sweet" and dusted dark chocolate.
Dusted Dark Chocolate.
"Guilt-free snacking with just the right amount of dark chocolate flavor."

I went for the dark chocolate flavor, and was pretty disappointed when I opened the bag.  It was ... well, dusted with cocoa powder, not covered in chocolate.  Which, to be fair, is exactly what they said it would be.  But I wanted dessert popcorn, not healthy snack popcorn.

Once I got over my initial visual disappointment, I tried a bite.  It was a bit strange, really.  Just a touch of cocoa flavor on otherwise buttery popcorn.  Salty, but not sweet.  And chocolately?  It was ok, but, the flavors just were not very intense.  Meh.  I threw it in the freezer.

The freezer did manage to crisp it up a bit, but, the flavor still never intensified.  If you want a very light, very subtle, chocolate experience, then perhaps this is for you, but for me, it just wasn't enough.
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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Anita - La Mamma del Gelato, Sydney

La Mamma del Gelato.  Anita.  Gelato by Mama Anita.  I'm not entirely sure what the locals actually call this place.  I just know that in Sydney, there is plenty of competition for quality gelato, and Anita is among the top.
La Mamma?
The story behind Anita is all about family, a lady who liked to make frozen treats for friends and family, using her own housemade jams that were "famous" in their own right.  Her son started selling it, first at a local market, and then at a parlour, and now, a chain.

Gelato is the focus, with 150 kinds offered on rotation, including some dairy free sorbets, lower fat and lower sugar options too.  All use very premium mix-ins.  They also make frozen yogurt, soft serve, with an incredible array of toppings, mostly homemade as well.

As an ice cream fan, it didn't take me long to seek out Anita, although, to be honest, it was only about halfway down my list, since Sydney has so many amazing soft serve places, and that is more my style.

I visited on a hot day in Sydney.  Quick summary?  I'll be back!  Many, many times. (And, already did return!)
Froyo Victory #1. February 2019.
My first visit was in February.  I ... was overwhelmed by the experience.

Because, OMG, the toppings.

That is what I have to say about the experience.  The toppings, wowzer.  Incredible.  More on this soon.

I also tried several flavors of gelato, and agree, it is among the best in Sydney.
Froyo #2: March 2019.
When I returned to Sydney the very next month, in March, Anita was near the top of my list of places to return to.  I didn't make it early in my trip, but my last Sunday, after a rainy Saturday spent inside working, the sun came out, the temperature rose to 80°, and I made my way to Anita.

I thought I might get gelato, to try something different, and I did try a couple flavors and they were great, but, again, those toppings.  I had no choice.  I had to go for froyo.

Setting

I visited the location in Sydney in Chippendale, although they also have a location near Bondi beach.
Gelato Counter.
The setup is fairly standard, long counter with gelato, long line of folks waiting to order, served one by one.  I found out later that if you want yogurt, you can actually just go to the other side.

There is seating both inside and out on the sidewalk, although I always choose to go sit in the park in the sun.  The park is literally right across the street, a single lane low traffic street, so fairly ideal for me, I get my sun, *and* I can dash back inside for my unlimited topping refills.  Yeah, more on that soon.

Gelato

Anita is mostly known for the gelato, for both the quality, and the flavor variety.  Gelato takes up the majority of the shop space, with stunning displays.

Of course they allow samples, which nearly every person entering indulged in.  I was impressed with all the flavors I tried, the texture and consistency was just perfect, so very creamy.
Salted Cashew / White Chocolate & Hazelnut / Chocolate Cheesecake / Mascarpone, Ricotta, & Strawberry (back row)
Pistachio / Belgian waffle & Dulce de Leche / Pavlova & Mix Berry / Cookieman (front row).
The gelato lineup is very visually appealing.  I like how the front row is stacked higher, garnished with drizzles, more elaborate.  The back row is cleaner lines, but no less appealing flavors.

The first section had the best sounding flavors.  I wanted to try them all.  The most popular flavor is "Cookieman", with chocolate, hazelnuts, biscuits and swirls of meringue, but I heard people ordering just about every flavor.  And of course, you could sample.

From this section, I managed to narrow my choices down to only 2 to try:
  • Belgian waffle & Dulce de Leche: The first one I tried.  I was impressed with the creamy texture, but I didn't really know what was "waffle" about it, no chunks of waffle, no flavor of waffle.  It was very sweet from the dulce de leche well integrated throughout.  Too sweet for me.
  • Cookieman: This was good.  It had a lot going on inside, obviously.  I loved all the crunch, the chocolate, the nuts, etc.  But really, it is what inspired me that while the gelato was good, I really do adore mix-ins, and thus, I should get something with toppings.
My second visit, this section had a bunch of new flavors (and, some repeats of course):
  • Panna Cotta & Lotus Cream: I really liked this flavor.  The lotus was a fascinating flavor, subtle, slightly floral almost.  I was fascinated by the flavor, and I really enjoyed it.  I would be happy getting a cone of this.
White Chocolate & Pistachio Cream / Kinder Bueno / Ferror Rocher / Chestnut & Hazelnut Cream.  (back row).
Vanilla Madagaskar / Chocolate with Almonds & Caramel / Oreo Cookies / Chocolate (front row).
I tried only one from here, since I had decided against gelato, but I was curious about the chestnut and hazelnut cream too ...
  • White Chocolate & Pistachio Cream: I sometimes adore pistachio gelato, and I picked this over the simple pistachio as it had a great layer of pistachio cream on top.  I was again impressed with the texture, and the flavors were strong.  It was good.
Rafello / (unsure) / (unsure)  (back row)
Dark Chocolate (dairy free) / Coconut / Lemon & Fresh Mint / Watermelon & Fresh Mint (front row).
The next section of flavors was far more boring to me, which I was glad, as there were too many choices as it was.

The lemon & fresh mint was very popular, people seemed to appreciate a refreshing option.
Peanut Butter & Cheesecake / Black Forest / Salted caramel XX / Sugar Free Hazelnut / Coffee Sugar Free (back row)
Strawberry & banana / Raspberry (front row).
In this section, I was interested in the peanut butter cheesecake flavor, but again, I had decided on froyo, so I didn't want to be greedy.  Black Forest looked particularly good too.

On my second visit, the peanut butter option was chocolate peanut butter, and I tried it. It was pretty fantastic, with thick chocolate ganache on top, creamy peanut butter, and just tons of flavor.  Soooo rich.  Very, very good.

It was nice that they had sugar free options as well.

Frozen Yogurt & Toppings

While the majority of the space is filled with gelato, and 90% of people were getting gelato, I knew, from my research, that Anita offered something else too.

Frozen yogurt.  Froyo.  Plain, soft serve frozen yogurt.  Now, why would I get frozen yogurt, when I'm saying the gelato was so good?  And particularly, why only when they make one base flavor of frozen yogurt?

Because, toppings.  Oh the toppings.

The model at Anita is not something I've seen before.  Unlimited toppings (and bottommsings).  With refills.

It is not self-serve, but they explain that they'll put toppings on bottom, then the soft serve, then more toppings. And, as long as you are there and have more yogurt, you can come back for more.  More of whatever, it doesn't need to be the same thing you had previously.

Um, ok, awesome.

And the toppings.  OMG.  The best topping lineup I've ever seen anywhere in my life.  Mostly all housemade.  Seriously high quality.

I'm not sure if you could, or would want to, add these toppings to gelato.  The pricing is such that for gelato you pick a # of scoops, and for frozen yogurt, you pick a size.  No topping price listed, and its clearly intended for the yogurt.

I adored the toppings.

Side note: On my first visit, they also had soft serve acai sorbet, which follows the frozen yogurt model as well, but they didn't have it on my second visit, much to the dismay of the group behind me.
Toppings, Part 1: Syrups / Sauces / Nuts / Fruit / Chocolate.
I won't enumerate all the toppings.  There were too many.

The first section contained squirt bottles of syrups, ranging from sour cherry to peanut butter, with a slew of other fruity or sweet options along the way, 8 total options.

Normally I'd be into the syrups, but there was something better next: sauces.  9 choices here, including Cookieman sauce (milk chocolate with hazelnuts, meringue, etc), plus several each with white, milk, or dark chocolate bases, some with nuts, others with coconut, biscuits, etc.  And a cookie butter option of course.

Then we get into nuts!  But not just boring sliced nuts.  Nope, candied nuts (almonds or cashews), even whole macadamias.  These are not cheap boring nuts.  The candied ones are candied in house.

The fruits looked incredibly vibrant and fresh, including strawberries, mango, kiwi, pineapple, watermelon, etc.

Then, chocolate based things, white or dark chocolate candies, and even chunks of both milk chocolate and white chocolate Tim Tams.

But this was just the first section.
More Toppings! Dried Fruit / Candy / Nuts / Crunch.
Next up was more standard toppings, including white chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate chips, all kinds of candy including gummy candy, chewy candy, chocolate candies, jelly beans.

Dried fruit, granola, and non-candied nuts for the healthy types.  Cereal, crunchy things, crumbles of different varieties.  Fruity coulis and jams.

Something for everyone here.
Small Frozen Yogurt with
Cookieman Sauce White Chocolate, Coconut and Peanuts Sauce /
Fresh Mango / Candied Walnuts / Candied Almonds / 100s & 1000s (top)
Fresh Mango / Fresh Kiwi / Candied Walnuts / Candied Almonds / White Chocolate Freckles (bottom).
$8. (February).
Um.  Yeah.  This was a small.  A SMALL.  The smallest size.  Oh, wow.

I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store.  Sure, at Pinkberry they say "as many toppings as fit", but they only really give you ~3 things, and they look annoyed as they ask what you'd like.  Here, my server said, "Ok, what do you want on bottom?  I'll put toppings on top too, but let's start with the bottom."  I asked for mango and kiwi, and she was like "and what else?  Pick as much as you want!".  So I added both types of candied nuts to add, uh, protein, and crunch.  And some white chocolate freckles, cuz they looked fun.

Then she went and filled it up with frozen yogurt.  My eyes went wide, I'm sure.  I have no idea what the medium or large would be like!

"Now what would you like? Pick as much as you want!"  I started with sauces, asking for Cookieman on one side, since every review I read raved about it, and also selecting the white chocolate coconut because I wanted something sweet and creamy to balance the tart frozen yogurt.  The mango looked so good, I asked for more of that too.  And more of the candied nuts, saying, "pick your favorite of the candied nuts", and she said they were both good, so she added both kinds.  I also opted for 100s & 1000s, because, come on, it needed to look a bit more ridiculous, right?

She offered again, "and what else?"  I declined more at this point, as it looked pretty full and indulgent.  "Its you first time right?", she asked.  When I responded affirmatively, she eagerly told me that I could keep coming back up for more toppings as I ran out.

Mind blown, I handed over my $8, and went outside to devour.

The yogurt base was good, but it is frozen yogurt, so not as creamy and rich as soft serve ice cream, and a bit tart.  But, good enough frozen yogurt.

And yes, I *could* taste it under all the toppings.  I loved most of my toppings, but I'd clearly change some things next time.

I was not as in love with the Cookieman as the masses seem to be.  It was good, don't get me wrong, but the meringue crunch just wasn't really for me.  And I'm less excited about chocolate-hazelnut that most it seems (sorry, Nutella).  I still finished all the sauce, but, I'd pick something else next time.

The white chocolate coconut sauce was sweet, creamy, and served its purpose, but was fairly easily lost among everything else on there.  I'd consider getting it again, but likely would try something else.

The fresh fruit was incredible.  The mango and kiwi were soooo ripe, so juicy, so fresh.  Clearly high quality fruit.  I adored the fruit.  Next time, more fruit.

The candied almonds I did like quite a bit, the crunch factor was awesome, and they were heavily candied, which got to be a bit much with all my other toppings, but that isn't their fault.  I'd get these again.

The candied cashews however weren't as successful.  I think this is just me and my random disliking of cashews that seems to happen from time to time.  I never knew when it will strike.

The white chocolate freckles were totally unnecessary, just sweet lower end confection, hiding in the base.  I'd skip those in the future.  Of course I loved the 100s & 1000s.
#ooph.
I'd like to say that I had restraint and didn't finish that monster.  Particularly given that I might have had another ice cream earlier in the afternoon (shh!).  But.  I finished every. last. bite.  At least I didn't go back for more toppings?

I'd definitely get the frozen yogurt again, but, I have some modifications to make.

I'd still get 1-2 sauces (or maybe syrups), but I'd pick different ones.  Absolutely I'd get tons of fresh fruit on bottom and top.  Kiwi, mango, strawberry for sure.  And I'd go back for refills of those.

I like having crunch, so the candied almonds were nice, but I think I'd go for macadamias next time, not candied.  With the sauces, no need for the extra sugar toppings.  I might add white chocolate chips or some of the other crunchy toppings though, for more texture.

Or maybe I'd get gelato?
Small Frozen Yogurt with:
 Snickers Sauce / White Chocolate, Pecans and Walnuts Sauce / Sour Cherry Syrup /
Fresh Mango / Fresh Kiwi / Whole Macadamias / Pecan Crunch /  100s & 1000s (top)
Fresh Mango / Fresh Kiwi / Whole Macadamias / Hazelnut Crumbles (bottom).
$8. (March).
My next visit, I read my notes, and went prepared to make better decisions.

I still opted for two sauces, different ones this time, one on each side, one chocolate based, one white based, and, at last minute, added a syrup drizzle too.

I still opted for fresh fruit on top and bottom, as that was clearly a highlight, and 100s & 1000s because I can't resist.  I swapped over to macadamias instead of candied nuts, and added a couple random crunchy toppings (hazelnut crunch on bottom, pecan crunch on top) ... whatever those were.

This creation was just as epic and ridiculous and overwhelming as my previous.  And, yes, more successful.

The white chocolate pecan sauce I could taste this time, unlike the white chocolate coconut from last time, but I found myself not caring for it that much - it was very sweet, and the sweetness didn't compliment the tart style of yogurt very well.  I wouldn't get it again.

The Snickers sauce was great though, crazy rich, thick, chocolately sauce.  When I later added strawberries, it went great with them, and the macadamias too.  I'd get this again, or try more chocolate based sauces ...

The sour cherry syrup was fine, but a touch too sweet, I think mostly due to the white chocolate sauce.  I might get it again, but likely would try another drizzle ... perhaps the mango coulis? Or peanut butter?

The kiwi and mango were again fabulous, on both top and bottom, so fresh, so ripe, so very good.  They were the exact right match for the tart style yogurt.

The macadamias were a major improvement over the candied nuts.  I was impressed by how many nuts they gave, both on the bottom and then perched all around the outside.  Macadamias are premium nuts, and they certainly did not skimp.  And of course, I could add more if I ran out.   They provided more than just a slight crunch, since whole nuts, and were a great flavor combo with both the mango and kiwi.  I'd definitely keep these again.

And finally, the pecan crunch on top and the hazelnut crunch on bottom.  I wasn't really sure what these were, they looked a bit like cereal, but crushed, so I didn't even pay attention to them on my first visit, but this time I asked, and was told they were the nut crunches.  But it clearly wasn't just crushed nuts.  I'm still confused as to what exactly these were, and I didn't taste them much given everything else in here.  Probably not worth getting, although  maybe they provided a bit of texture?
Refill! Fresh Strawberry & Kiwi.
This time, I went back for a refill.  Of fruit only.  

The kiwi was so fabulous that I got more, and I decided to try the strawberries too.  Both were ripe, fruity, fabulous.  Seriously such good fruit.

At this point my creation was fairly melty, and the fresh fruit, crunchy macadamias, thick chocolate Snicker's sauce, and melty froyo was fairly glorious.  I couldn't stop eating it.
Yeah, Oops?
Clearly.

I did actually go with a different plan.  I brought a travel freezer mug.  My plan was to get a froyo, eat one batch of toppings and froyo, get refills, eat just a little more, get refills, and *save the rest for later*.  But ... I couldn't stop!  I was actually really, really full, but I loved it so much.

So, next time.  What would I do differently?

I might consider not getting fruit in the bottom to start.  If I can keep adding it on top as long as I want, not really worth using up the space in the cup early on?  Then I can get more yogurt?  Maybe?  But if I did get fruit in the bottom, I'd get a sauce down there too I think.  Or maybe add sauce with refills?  The sauce and fruit are just so good together.

But I'd certainly get kiwi, mango, and strawberry.  No hesitation.  Same with the macadamias.  No question.  I'd get sauces, again trying two more, probably chocolate based this time?  Maybe some crushed non-candied nuts?  Maybe the sour cherries, as everyone else ordering froyo around me was getting them (including the lady before me, who got only the cherries, nothing else!).  Maybe some chips for crunch? 

Or maybe ... gelato?  I must just keep returning ...

La Mamma del Gelato Anita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

QualiTea

I've been going through a bubble tea phase. 

Ok, not even bubble tea exactly, as I often don't have pearls, or even tea in the base.  But you know what I mean.  I blame my time in Sydney, where I experienced some really phenomenal drinks (hello Bubble Nini Tea!) - they've taken this space to a very different level than the Bay Area, likely due to the warmer climate and closer proximity to Asian (influences, ingredients, etc).

Anyway, I still keep exploring options in San Francisco, and recently attended an event with drinks from QualiTea.  I eagerly grabbed one.

So, caveats.  I haven't been to QualiTea myself (it is located in the Castro though, if you want to seek it out).  And I didn't order my drink, so I couldn't customize it as I'd like.  That said, I enjoyed it, recognized the quality, and would love to visit sometime.  They offer all your standard fresh fruit teas, milk teas, smoothies, etc, with mix-ins.
Taro Kisses + Boba. $4.95 +$0.50.
"Taro fresh milk tea with taro chunks."

I had this at an event where I didn't order it, so it was 100% sweet (I'd certainly opt for less sweet), it had regular black boba (I'd go for aloe jelly, egg pudding, or something like that instead), it used non-dairy cream (I'd go for the soy option), and it had no cheese mousse cream on top.  So, not quite what I'd pick.  But still, I love taro, so, I wasn't going to pass it over.

That said, it was great!

The taro milk tea was sweeter than I'd prefer, but, very creamy and it had a nice taro flavor.  I think the base is made with a powder, but it didn't seem chalky in any way.  It did use black tea, but I didn't taste much tea.  Good classic taro milk tea base.

They also make a taro smoothie that I'd love to try.
Fresh Taro!
What made the drink though was the plentiful mashed fresh taro at the base.  It was soft, and tasted, well, like taro?  I really liked the fresh taro, and gleefully extracted it by the spoonful.  It was nice to have it in this form, rather than cubes, as well.

The regular tapioca balls were actually pretty good, soft but not mushy, decent quantity but not overwhelming.

Overall, a lovely taro milk tea, with quality mix-ins.  I'll certainly seek it out again.
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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Air France Lounge, Boston Logan Airport

The Air France lounge in Boston Logan airport located in Terminal E, right near gate 4.  This is the international terminal, but it is accessible airside from Terminal C, and is a Priority Pass lounge.  Protip: if you are flying out of Terminal C, depending on your gate, it may be the closest Priority Pass lounge (rather than The Lounge, in Terminal C across from Gate 19).

I only cruised through quickly as my JetBlue flight at a nearby gate was delayed, but I'll return another time intentionally, as it was generally better than The Lounge (although, The Lounge certainly had better snacks and shockingly good clam chowder).

This is only the second Air France lounge I've ever visited, the first was in SFO.  The Boston location is considerably better than the San Francisco version, in nearly every aspect: size, seating options, and cuisine.

Setting

The lounge felt quite spacious.  Perhaps because it was 3pm, and there were no international flights taking off around that time, so it was nearly empty, but also, it really just was a decently large lounge.

I didn't get photos of all sections, but there was a wide variety of seating styles.  No showers or kids areas that I saw.
Seating.
Each arm chair had a side table, which is convenient, but these didn't look particularly comfortable.
More Seating.
The other seating area was far more appealing, with wider, more plush looking chairs, power outlets, and a section with a high counter and stools, which is where I set up, so I could stand - I'd be sitting for long enough soon!

Food & Drinks

The food lineup was fairly standard for an International lounge of this caliber - a few snacks, generic salad, sandwiches, soup, and one hot item.  I didn't try much since I was just there to scope it out, since I had a little extra time due to a flight delay in Terminal C.  
Drinks.
Everything is self-serve, including the bar.  It is a small bar with the basics, along with a couple wines, beer, soft drinks, and fruit juices in the coolers below.  The San Francisco lounge had a much more elaborate setup, at least with the mixers.

I tried a red wine (Côtes du Rhône), and it was fine, but not memorable.

This area also had cheese cubes and snack mixes.
Bread and Snacks.
The snack jars were certainly different from any other lounge I've visited, a bit clunky to use, with serving spoons on top, and real lids.  They were unlabeled, but seemed to be salted peanuts, Chex mix, and dates.

I tried the Chex mix, since I love snack mixes, but it was just standard brand name Chex mix, never as flavorful or good as my mother's version.  Peanuts seem like an odd choice if you are going to offer only one nut, just due to the severity of allergies, and dates were entirely random ...

On another visit, there was an asian snack mix, filled with rice crackers and wasabi peas, that was standard, but nice to munch on.

Next to the snacks were baguettes (so French!), along with little packets of butter and Smucker's jam.   This mostly made me sad, because, I saw that they were appealing to French desires, but, um, I'm certain this bread was nothing like that in France, and the butter certainly was not ...
Soup Station.
The lounge is large enough that things are really spread out.  On a busy day, I'm sure this helps ease congestion.

This station, all on its own on the side of the lounge, had two kinds of soup: miso and chicken noodle on my first visit, minestrone and potato cream on my next, along with toppings.  Next to it was also a hot water dispenser with Cup of Noodles cartons lined up.  The few kids in the lounge seemed quite pleased with that option.

The soups were literally boiling, um, a bit too ot.
Salad Bar.
The salad bar had a small assortment of fresh veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes), a base of mixed greens, some cut fruit, olives, cooked baby beets, little cornichons, seaweed salad, cole slaw, and some white unlabeled dip (or maybe dressing?)

I tried the seaweed salad - it was fine, standard, just like in SF, great to pair with the miso soup if you are going for Asian cuisine I guess?  I also got a big scoop of the slaw, excited to see slaw, but I didn't like it at all, it was very overdressed, and the flavor wasn't anything special.
Sandwiches.
Sandwich options were turkey or ham and swiss (with butter, on baguette of course!).
Hot Entree.
The hot dish wasn't labelled, but it seemed to be a beef stir fry, with steamed white rice on the side.  It actually didn't look that bad.

My next visit it was pasta and red sauce.
Croissants / Waffles.
Next to the hot entree, even though it was 3pm, was ... croissants and waffles.  Cold waffles.  At least they had syrup on the side?

I did not try these.  This seemed to be the only baked goods, no actual desserts were offered.
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