Friday, July 19, 2019

Rocky Mountain Popcorn

Snacks. Popcorn.  Trying regional items when I travel.  These are some of my favorite things.  So when I visited our Boulder, CO office, I was of course eager to try out the local products, like, Rocky Mountain Popcorn.
Popcorn Bag.
"Rocky Mountain Popcorn® is wholesome kernels as FLUFFY as high-country clouds. A crunch as LIGHT as the mountain air. Now that’s taking your snack to new heights! Taste HUGE.™ "
Uh, ok?  Fluffy, light, and huge.  Got it.

The popcorn is available in 6 fairly standard flavors: "naked", butter, white cheddar, kettle, caramel, and jalapeno.  Nothing particularly novel here.  They do make a product size intended to fit in cup holders, for snacking on the road, which I thought was kinda cute (except, really, is that a problem? A popcorn bag fits quite nicely in my lap thank you very much!)

The parent company, Open Road Snacks, also has a healthier line, called "Sinfully Thin" of lighter popcorn flavors.  "No longer will you be trapped in popcorn purgatory when you unleash the naughty nibbler within," they say.

I tried the simple Rocky Mountain line, as it was all that was available.

I started with the "Naked".  The most basic flavor of all, just popcorn and canola oil.  I tried it just to understand the foundation of their goods, not because plain popcorn is remotely interesting to me.  It was ... popcorn.  No unique aspects, there just isn't much to say.
"Crunchy and salty, exploding with buttery flavor. Just like you're at the movies. Need we say more."

I moved on to the butter popcorn.

Movie theater popcorn.  That is how I'd sum this up.  It looked exactly like movie theater popcorn, with an extreme, unnatural looking, orange hue.  Except, from a sealed bag, and not actually dripping in warm melted butter.  Not nearly as fun as real movie theater popcorn.

The kernels were indeed large, all well popped, and evenly coated in "butter flavor" (and, corn oil).  A nicely made product.  But it was also boring.  The butter flavor wasn't the decadence you get from real, fresh butter.

It also was not a light popcorn.  I was amazed that the single serving bag was 260 calories.

Meh, not worth it.
Cheddar Bacon.
"Light and airy popcorn kernels with the taste of cheddar and bacon."

I was pretty weary of this one.  I've seen the bacon fad come (and, thankfully, mostly go by now), where "bacon makes everything better" is the mantra, and, although I like bacon, I find it often really isn't the answer I'm looking for.  And I'm fairly particular about my savory cheesy popcorn.

One bite in though, my fears dissipated.  I loved it.

Did it taste like actual bacon?  Not at all.  But the taste was unmistakable.  It tasted like bacon bits.  The fake, shaker bottle kind.  That I adore.  That I never had in my house growing up, but my friends did, and I remember, in particular, loving shaking them all over the english muffin pizzas my best friend's mom made (seriously, so good.  She oiled and toasted the english muffins in advance, and what a world of difference it makes!). I was transplanted back immediately.  Fakin' bacon.  Yes.

And the cheese?  Also fake, in the great way.  I expected orange fingers from fake cheese, and I didn't care.

This was a winner, nostalgia, and such familiar tastes, just in a different form.  The popcorn too was high quality, huge nicely popped pieces.

I'd get this again.
"Dressed in the perfect amount of spice that anyone can appreciate, this popcorn is packed with the authentic, bold, zest of jalapeño flavor. Try it (we dare you), and join the fan club."

Another good popcorn from Rocky Mountain.  The signature large, airy kernels were like all the other varieties I tried.  Perfectly popped.

I was confused when I tasted it at first though.  I expected ... heat.  And likely salt.  But I tasted ... cheese?  It turns out, the third ingredient, after popcorn and canola oil is ... "cheese blend".  No wonder I tasted cheese!  These really should be called "cheesy jalapeño" ...  I liked the cheese powder, don't get me wrong, just, wasn't what I was expecting.

And then, as I was pondering the cheese, the jalapeño hit.  Ah, yes.  There was the hit.  It took a moment for it to come on, but once it did, very obvious.  Nice kick to it.

This was a good flavor, not necessarily one I would normally go for, but I enjoyed trying it, and it was different to mix up my regular savory popcorn lineup.  The spice made it a bit harder to pair with my meals though!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Big Gay Ice Cream, NYC

Ice cream.  Soft serve ice cream.  It is kinda my obsession in the summer.  I love it, and, San Francisco just doesn't have much of it, which, kinda makes sense, given that we don't really have what I consider appropriate "ice cream weather".

But for a few months of the year, New York certainly does.  And when I'm there, I take full advantage of this.

I finally made it to Big Gay Ice Cream, a New York staple in the soft serve scene.  It started as an ice cream truck, expanded into a brick and mortar, and now has several locations around town.  It gets a fair amount of hype, partially for the name, partially for the Instagram-worthy creations, partially for the crazy flavors offered from time to time (e.g. Cheetos).

But, it turns out, the soft serve is great.


Big Gay Ice Cream has several locations in New York, but I visited the West Village location.
Signature Storefront.
It is hard to miss the shop, with its giant unicorn decals, and rainbows everywhere.  Perfect backdrop for your Instagram shots.
There isn't much seating inside, but I've never seen people seem to mind, as the sidewalk outside is always filled with people eating amazing looking cones.  I think the crowds help to draw in more customers, as, even if you are unfamiliar with Big Gay Ice Cream, one look at these cones makes you do a double take.


Big Gay Ice Cream serves ice cream, and a few other related items, only.  No savory food.
Menu Board.
The menu is all based around ice cream, mostly soft serve, although they have pre-packaged pints available too (which you can also buy in grocery stores in the area).

Soft serve is available as a standard cup, cone (or upgrade to waffle cone), sundae, or in a shake or float.  Or, as a Speciality Cone, more on this soon.

Flavors are simple: vanilla and chocolate (or twist) are always available, and each week-ish 1-2 additional flavors are offered, which always sound fascinating.

And then, the Speciality Cones.  These are the things of Instagram dreams.  There is the "Salty Pimp", with dulce de leche injected in vanilla soft serve, sea salt, and chocolate dip.  The Rocky Roadhouse, chocolate soft serve base, with all the standard rocky road inspired toppings (marshmallow, almonds, chocolate chips), and of course, chocolate dip holding it all together.  And many more.
Toppings are definitely the stars of the show, ranging from $1 each for things like Nilla Wafers, Peanuts, Pie Crumble, Dark Chocolate Pretzels, or Whipped Cream.  Sprinkles are always free.
More Toppings.
Premium toppings like their slew of sauces and dips, are $2.  The sauce lineup includes several fruity options (strawberry, key lime), several sweet options (dulce de leche, bourbon butterscotch), multiple forms of chocolate (chocolate dip, hot fudge, "awesome sauce"), and more.

You can also opt to put fillings into your cone itself, like peanut butter, biscoff, or nutella.
Cheetos with Cheetos Crumble.
My first visit, Cheetos was the special flavor of the week.

I asked to sample the Cheetos, expecting just to get a little dollop of the soft serve, but was presented with this instead!  "You need to try the whole thing!", the server cheerfully proclaimed.  Yes, Cheetos soft serve with Cheetos crumble toppping.

This was my first taste of Big Gay ice cream, and I was impressed with the texture of the ice cream.  So creamy.

The Cheetos flavor was fascinating, yes, truly tasted like Cheetos, but I couldn't imagine eating an entire cup of this.  I was glad to try, but also glad to move on.

[ No photos ]

Cherry Kool-Aid:  My second visit, the special flavor was Cherry Kool-Aid. This flavor was very mild in comparison to the Cheetos.  Vaguely cherry flavored, but, barely.  Not much going on here at all, although texture was good.

Chocolate: Again, perfectly creamy soft serve, texture just perfect.  The chocolate was a mild milk chocolate, a nice flavor and intensity.  Really perfect for a soft serve cone, and, if I was in the mood for chocolate base, I'd gladly get this.
Vanilla Soft Serve / Pie Crumbles / Chocolate Dip.
For my creation, I was met with total indecision.

Big Gay ice cream is known for the chocolate dip, and I was fairly sure I wanted to at least have chocolate dip.

I kinda wanted to try the Salty Pimp, injected with dulce de leche under the chocolate shell.  I loved the sound of the American Globs, with vanilla soft serve, coated in dark pretzels and sea salt, and then coated in chocolate dip.  Sweet, salty, full of texture ... that really called out.  But I couldn't get past one of the topping choices: pie crumble.  Pie!  Crumble!

So I asked if I could modify the American Globs, just with pie crumbles instead of the pretzels.  I was told that sadly, the chocolate dip wouldn't really stick properly on top of pie crumbles, but they could try to sorta drizzle the chocolate over the top, and it would harden ok.  But they couldn't dunk it.  The server was more than willing to do this, but I went back to the drawing board.  

I had a moment of realization that it was 90* out, and I always say that dip is not ok in temperatures like that.  Ice cream melts too fast, and you can't eat it quickly enough with a chocolate shell in the way.  It springs leaks, it makes a mess, it turns frantic ... it is a golden rule of ice cream for me: no dip when the temp is too high!

So I innovated.  I "invented" a half dip.  This solved every problem I had.  I could have the pie crumble on bottom, and the chocolate dip on top!  And this way, I could control the melting.  Perfect.

I was very pleased with this creation.  The vanilla base was just the perfect creamy texture.  Slightly sweet, slightly vanilla flavored, a nice canvas for the toppings.  The chocolate shell was a little above average, not waxy, a nice snap to it, and didn't seem to break apart or spring leaks as easily as many.  And the pie crumble?  Good for texture, but the pie crust nature I was hoping for, more buttery, flaky flavor and texture, wasn't really there.  It was more akin to crushed shortbread cookies, since it was so finely crumbled.

The cone was a very standard cake cone, although the triangle shaped kind (not the flat bottom).  I appreciated the toppings catcher around it.  And I definitely appreciated that the base of the cone was filled with the dark chocolate pretzels (since I did the American Globs on top). 

Overall, I was pleased, and I'd consider this again, or branch out to try something new.
Pie Crumbles & 4th of July Sprinkles.
Oh, and the better part?  My server gave me a box on the side, with more pie crumble, and 4th of July themed sprinkles (it was July 4th when I was there).  "You know you'll want to dip it more while you walk down the street", he said.  

He was right.  This was a bonus that I really appreciated.
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Taiyaki NYC, Boston

Taiyaki NYC.

Trendy.  Instragram worthy.  Now a chain.  As you might guess, most of the locations are in NYC, however they now have locations in Boston, Miami, and Toronto (a very random assortment of cities ...)

And ... yeah, worth a visit.
"Our mission is to unlock a magical exploration of the palette one Taiyaki NYC®  creation at a time."
Taiyaki NYC is known for taiyaki ice cream cones, and in particular, for the fact that they make ones with unicorn horns.  Like I said.  Made for Instagram.

But also, they care about sourcing of ingredients, and about quality.  The taiyaki cones are made fresh throughout the day, the ice cream (soft serve) is made in small batches.  The quality does actually show.
I visited the newly opened Boston location, in the new up-and-coming seaport area.

You can't make this stuff up - there was a weekday farmer's market across the street, and outside free yoga.  The area was hopping, even on a Wednesday night.
Unicorn Taiyaki.
My eyes rolled at the sign out front, almost enough to make me turn away, as I really didn't want to buy into the Instagram nature of this.

Yes, yes, "seas the day", ha ha, and yes, yes, I could get my taiyaki waffle cone with soft serve and a unicorn horn.
Counter Area.
Still, I went in.

Inside was much smaller than I anticipated.

The entire assembly and prep area was behind a counter, with a single register right when you enter, and only a couple seats along the window.  Certainly not somewhere to go when the weather isn't warm, and you'd want to dine in (uh ... they do know about winter, right?)
The menu tries to explain everything, and provides plenty of pictures (and a *lot* of words!)

The beverages side teaches you what matcha and hojicha are, and what taro is, and walks you through options for hot or iced lattes, frappes, and a signel type of slush (taro) ... which you can get with a unicorn inflatable float around it.  Don't ask me.

The other area of the menu is the taiyaki cones(and, someday, "coming soon", souffle pancakes).  There are several pre-designed options to pick from (all $8), or you can build your own.

To build your own, you pick your base: cup for $5, waffle cone for $6, or, as nearly everyone does, taiyaki waffle cone for $8.  The taiyaki cone can be optionally stuffed with red bean or custard (not both!)

Then, flavor of ice cream.  This is the area Taiyaki NYC let me down.  I so desperately wanted taro, but also, they make a taro slush, but have no taro soft serve.  I'd fall back on black sesame even, but alas, no.  Instead, your options are basic chocolate or vanilla (or swirl), strawberry or vegan mango (or mango strawberry swirl), or matcha or hojicha (yup, or matcha hojicha swirl).

I've tried them all.  Sadly, I don't love any, but the vanilla is my go-to.  More on this soon.

After you pick your ice cream, you can add an optional syrup (free), caramel, chocolate, strawberry, or condensed milk.

Then, toppings time.  Two are included free, additional are $0.50.  The lineup includes several types of sprinkles (chocolate, rainbow, cotton candy (!), unicorn (!!)), coconut flakes, crushed oreos, graham crumbs, and rice cracker pearls, and then a bunch of things to stick out of it, like skewers of rainbow mochi or wafer sticks.  Oh, and of course, unicorn horns.

I see why they provide some pre-sets, but of course, I had fun making my own.
Taiyaki Mold.
For the uninitiated, taiyaki are molded, baked cakes, shaped like fish (tai).  They are usually baked to order and filled with things like red bean paste or custard.

Taiyaki NYC *does* make traditional taiyaki like this, but, they aren't really known for those.  They are known for the taiyaki cones.

I didn't see any being made, but I believe they make them all day long.
Taiyaki Waffle Cones.
Here you can see a completed cone, a traditional taiyaki shape, but, with an open mouth, hence, making it a cone.

You can get the cone with red bean or custard in the tip (or plain).
And, like any Instagram worthy shop, its all about the toppings too, which I enumerated above.

The staff apply drizzles and shake toppings on over a grill, and I so desperately wanted to just get a bowl filled with all the stuff from that grill - all the goodies!
Matcha hojicha twist (sample).
So, about the flavors.

They are known for the green tea based flavors the most, so I assumed that is what I would get.  I was mostly just trying to pick which one to get, matcha or hojicha, during my daytime visit (since, caffeine).  I'm glad I asked to sample, as it turned out, I didn't care for either.

The hojicha was just too ... uh ... black tea tasting to me?  It tasted like earl grey.  I really didn't like it, but the texture was good.  It looked like black sesame, and that is really what I wanted it to be.

The matcha was ... ok.  Very bitter.  Grainy actually.  Not my style.
Chocolate (sample).
I moved on to the chocolate, still wanting a good "daytime" flavor.

It was ... ok.  Not much interesting about it, really, and a bit grainy too.  I'm kinda picky when it comes to chocolate ice cream, and this just wasn't for me either.

[ No Photos ]
Strawberry & Vegan Mango.

My next visit was in the evening, and I avoid caffeine at night, and didn't like the chocolate, matcha, and hojicha anyway, but they were out.

I tried the vegan mango flavor, and really disliked it (icy, fake sweet).

I asked to try the strawberry this time, even though I don't generally care for strawberry ice cream.  I wanted something more interesting than vanilla!  It was creamy, good soft serve, but, yes, it was strawberry, and wasn't for me.
Vanilla Soft Serve / Red Bean Filled Taiyaki Cone / Condensed Milk Drizzle / Unicorn Sprinkles / Cotton Candy Sprinkles / Rice Cracker Pearls. $8.
I did a custom creation.

It was a mixed success.

I'll start with the cone, the taiyaki cone, which I got filled with red bean.  The red bean, found down in the tail, was quite good, a sweet, pleasant mash.  It went better with soft serve vanilla that I would have imagined.  I definitely liked the red bean.  But the cone?  Uh ... this was not for me.  Far more eggy that I was expecting, and just not a style I like at all.  Much like Hong Kong egg waffles.  Soft, eggy, no.  But yes it was fun.  I'd have to opt for a waffle cone next time though.

Then, the ice cream.  I had just plain vanilla, since no other flavor suited me (caffeine or fruity flavors I didn't like).  It was good soft serve, great texture, very creamy, rich, good sweetness.  But, alas, plain vanilla.  Still, solid, above average, soft serve, although, as many reviewers note, it did melt far faster than most, and that shocked me, even though I had read these reviews myself (it was night, it wasn't sunny, it wasn't that hot, the waffle cone wasn't fresh and hot ... why did it melt so crazy fast?!)  I'll admit that some enjoyment was taken away by frantically trying to lick it before it melted all over the place.

The toppings are where I had fun.  Sweet condensed milk for my drizzle, which jazzed up the vanilla quite a bit, and made it almost have a hint of dulce de leche flavor.  A great choice.

Then, both unicorn and cotton candy sprinkles, that were crispy, sweet, colorful, and really quite fun.  Really generously applied, and I loved these.  So much better than your standard rainbow sprinkle.  And finally, I added the rice cracker pearls (extra $0.50, or free with Yelp check-in as you can get a third topping free).  They gave it more crunch too, and I was glad I added them.

So, a mixed review, clearly.

Good quality ice cream, although I'd prefer another flavor, and I'd like it to melt less rapidly.  Great red bean filling, but the cone wasn't for me.  Fantastic toppings.

I'd return, opt for a waffle cone, and I'll keep hoping they add more flavors ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Red's Best @ Boston Public Market

When I visit the east coast, I love to take advantage of the seafood variety that we just don't have in San Francisco.  Seriously, east coasters, you might know that people rave about Maine lobster, or your clam chowder, but, do you realize how lucky you are to have haddock? Or atlantic cod? Skate wing?  I really, really love, and miss, these proteins.

So when I planned to meet up with a friend after work for dinner in Boston, I had one thing in mind: quality seafood.  The only problem?  After nearly two weeks on the road, I really didn't want to deal with a fancy restaurant.  I just wanted something super casual, where we could hang out, catch up, and have tasty seafood, but no effort required.

For our destination, I thus selected Red's Best.
"Red’s Best is Boston’s neighborhood fish market featuring fresh, local catch from New England fishermen. Located inside the Boston Public Market in downtown Boston we also have a complete menu including a raw bar, grab and go salads and sandwiches, soups and classic, prepared foods. We are your hub for all things seafood."
Red's Best is located inside Boston Public Market, just a few blocks away from Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, but, way, way, way lower key.  No hoards of people.  No street performers.  But it is filled with an assortment of food stalls, even places to buy fresh produce, but just not ... all the people.  It is peaceful.  Far more what I was looking for.

That said, it is just food stalls, and, although Red's Best sounded like it had a great pedigree, I wasn't quite aware of how little they had in terms of actual kitchen facilities.  There is also no where in the building that sells alcoholic beverages (except the wine shop, but that is just for purchasing bottles), and seating is kinda scattered throughout, which would be great if you were with a group that wanted things from different vendors, but meant there wasn't really a place with nice atmosphere for us to sit.

The highlight of the experience was the very friendly staff at Red's, who took time to recommend things, suggest sauces to add on, and really, were just kinda awesome.
Mediocre Meal.
I wish I could say that I loved this meal, but ... everything was very mediocre.  I think the seafood quality was likely fine, but, nothing was very freshly prepared, not quite what I was expecting.
Fresh Seafood.
Since Red's is actually a seafood market too, they have a counter full of locally caught seafood, for you to take home and prepare.  It all looked fresh.
Ready to Cook Items.
Plus plenty of items that are ready for cooking, like their house made salmon burgers, crab cakes, and stuffed lobster tails.
Grab N Go.
Near the register is an assortment of pre-packaged grab n go meals including a tempting looking kale salad topped with lobster salad (the same portion they put into the lobster rolls), sushi, poke bowls (including a really tasty looking spicy crab version), and packaged soups.

I tried samples of both soups (also served hot and fresh), mostly out of curiosity and future planning, since it was definitely not warm soup weather at the time (it was nearly 90 degrees outside).

The clam chowder was fine, thicker than most, very potato forward.  Hearty, stick to your ribs style.  I didn't find many clams in my little sample.   I didn't really care for how thick and potato-y it was.

The lobster bisque though was fabulous, very very rich, great depth of flavor.  A bisque though, no bits in it.

I was going to purchase a lobster salad topped salad, and asked if it would hold up ok for a day, and the person ringing me up said that normally it would, but pointed at the special mark on the package, which meant ... it was yesterday's product.  He didn't recommend getting that one, and saving it.  This might have been sign of what was to come, not exactly the freshest offerings.
The menu is broken into "Red's Favorites" (standards like fish & chips, fish tacos, crab cakes, fried oysters), lobster (steamed), sandwiches (lobster rolls, oyster po' boys, etc), soups, oysters, a single salad (with optional toppings), and a few simple sides.

I was honestly considering many things.  I do love a good crab cake.  People rave about the lobster rolls.  I can't resist a good fish and chips.  And, hard to resist scallops ...
I ... thought Red's Best had more of a kitchen.  I thought they freshly grilled fish when you ordered the fish of the day grilled.  I thought they freshly fried things.

But ... here you can see the ... kitchen.  A single staff member worked the area, really just assembling dishes from pre-made components.  I thought the food was going to be more freshly made than it sadly was.  Even the fish just came out of a hot box, not actually cooked to order.  This made me very sad to see, once I saw it.
Salmon Burger. $10.
My companion opted for the house made salmon burger, which I had read rave reviews of.

It really was a decent looking patty, thick, well seasoned.  Served on a fairly boring bun, but with a dill (I think?) aioli and arugula.  I think she liked it.  A good value for $10.
Red's Best House Salad with Catch of the Day (Haddock). $8 + $4.
"Chopped romaine, arugula, sliced red peppers, shaved carrots, Old Bay Buttermilk Vinaigrette".

I'm the last one to really order a salad when I go out, but, I ordered it for several reasons.

First, I read a lot of reviews about it.  People really did like the salad, and all claimed it was far better than expected, particularly the mix of veggies.

Second, they *all* rave about the dressing, saying that it turned a good salad into a crave-able salad.  They talk about wanting to go back just for the dressing.  For a dressing lover, of course this was tempting me.

Still, those reasons alone wouldn't make me order the salad.  It was the optional toppings that sealed the deal.  For $4 ($4!) I could add the fish of the day (haddock), or other things like grilled scallops or a crab cake, or other types of fish.

Since I adore haddock, and we don't have it on the west coast, I wanted one more chance to have a great piece of fish.  At this time I thought it would be freshly grilled or roasted to order, and was really, really looking forward to it.

The salad ... was ok.  The base (romaine, arugula, carrots) wasn't very crisp or fresh, and was just pulled out of the fridge.  The sliced red peppers at least still had some snap to them, although again, not freshly cut, and were slightly slimy.  I saved half the salad, but it didn't even hold up until the next day (in the fridge), and was wilted nearly immediately.  I don't think it was very fresh.

The dressing, was ... fine?  Creamy, seasoned, but ... certainly not as life changing as people had made out.

And the fish?  Well, sigh.  Entirely unseasoned.  Dried out.  Pulled out of a hot box.  It was still haddock, but ... the moist, buttery nature of the fish I adore was lost.  I didn't really want it, and honestly, my office cafeteria does a better job of serving mass produced seafood.

Let's just say, I was pretty sad.  Even for the reasonable price, it wasn't worth it.
Side of Lobster Salad. ~$6.
I really did want to try the lobster salad used in the lobster rolls, but I didn't want a lobster roll (I'm a hot with butter, not cold with mayo type).  I also didn't want the day old pre-made salad with kale base, boring dressing, and the lobster salad on top.

So I asked if I could just buy some lobster salad.  It took a little working out, but was no problem in the end.  The cashier quoted me a price per pound, weighed it, and I was ok with the pricing (~$6), although this wasn't that much lobster at all.

It was ... fine?  It was nicely cooked lobster, sure, not rubbery, no shells, and certainly not overdressed (which people either love or hate in the lobster rolls), but ... eh.  I'm glad I didn't opt for this.

I appreciated them selling me a side of it.
Coleslaw. $4.
My companion also got a side of coleslaw, since the sandwiches don't come with anything (no chips even). Everything is a la carte.

She took one bite and immediately starting looking around for salt.  She said it was horribly bland.  She got salt from a nearby vendor (since Red's didn't have any), but even that didn't save it for her.  She found it very bitter, and made me try it.

It was ... yeah, wow.  Flavorless.  It was fresh tasting, crisp, and not overdressed, but insanely lacking any flavor whatsoever.

I almost ordered slaw for myself, so I'm glad I didn't.  Certainly not worth $4.
Onion Rings. $6. (Side of Cherry Pepper Aioli).
For my side, I went for the onion rings, even though I asked the person taking my order how they were, and he immediately said, "well, they used to be great!  We used to make them here, but it was so much work, you have to coat them in buttermilk, and then fry them separate, etc, etc so now we just buy them.  They aren't as good."

I was deflated, but really craving onion rings, so I still ordered them.

The portion was large, and I appreciated the variety of sizes of rings, big ones, small ones, juicy ones.  They were reasonably crispy, although not very warm.  The coating stayed on, but was uninteresting, no real flavor.  They were ... standard.  Fine.  Nothing special, basically as he said they would be.

I asked if they came with anything to dip into, and he told me they had ketchup down on the end in the condiments section, but then, got very excited, and said, "oooh!  you could ask for a side of the CPA!!!"   I looked up quizzically, and he explained that was the "Cherry Pepper Aioli" that they use on other items, and that it would be great.

Since I adore sauces, and aioli, this was a clear "yes!" from me.  It was good, a bit of heat, interesting flavor, although not quite what I actually wanted with my onion rings.  I used it later with sweet potato fries, and then later still with taro chips, and really enjoyed it with those items.  Probably my favorite thing from teh meal
Tartar Sauce.
I also asked for a side of tartar sauce, to dunk my haddock into, and it was fine.  Good bits of things in it, creamy.  Fairly standard tartar sauce.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dunkin' Donuts: The "Bakery".

Update Review, July 2019

Uh ... in my adult years, I've literally never liked a donut from Dunkin' (as you know from my past reviews).  Until now.
Specialty Donut: Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme Donut. (July 2019 Special). $1.75.
"Real Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme crumbles on top of a chocolate frosted square donut filled with vanilla flavored butterream."

Dunkin' Donuts always has two classes of donuts, "Classic" and "Specialty", the later of which cost more ($1.75 as opposed to $1.45, at the location I visited).  These are generally more elaborately topped, and offered for a short time, like this, the Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme donut.

This was a special collaboration with Hersey's, where Dunkin' Donuts introduced a slew of candy inspired beverages, and, one donut, topped with bits of Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme bar.  The square shape was also fairly unique.

I'll cut right to the chase.  This thing is delicious.  If you like sweet of course.  But if you do, um, yeah, get this.

The donut itself is fairly standard, generic Dunkin' Donuts, but, it actually tasted fresher than normal, wasn't greasy or anything, and, well, fried dough is fried dough. 

The chocolate on top was likely the same as the Boston Cream donut, but it was a thick layer, fudgy, and went great with the candy pieces on top (and with the donut, of course).  The chunks of candy bar were small, but the size worked well, little bits of texture, plenty of sweetness, and complimentary flavors.

So, good base donut, good chocolate frosting, great toppings.  And then, inside ...
Vanilla Buttercream Filling.
People sometimes criticize Dunkin' Donuts for not generously filling their donuts, but, mine was very, very generously filled.  I think the square shape helped.

The filling was ... well, yup, vanilla buttercream.  So very very sweet.  Basically, the sweetest frosting I could imagine, and the same consistency of the kind you get in a can.  Fluffy.

It was complete sugar overload, really, this donut was ... not a donut, so not breakfast appropriate in any way, as it was basically a fried dough with the sweetest frosting ever, plus all the chocolate, but, um, it was good in that way.  But, yes, so very very sweet.

There was nothing wholesome about this, no way to pretend it wasn't awful for me, but, it had its place.  I will admit tat I really enjoyed it.

450 calories (33 grams sugar) though is a bit much for, um, a donut?  I'm glad it is short time offering, since I don't need to decide NOT to get another ... as I'm not sure I'd be capable.

Original Reviews, 2014-2016

I grew up on the East Coast, in the part of America that actually "Runs on Dunkin'".  I've consumed my fair share of Dunkin' Donuts coffee (generally iced) and sweet treats (generally Coolattas).  I've reviewed all that stuff before, as well as talked about my nostalgia for Dunks.

Strangely, even though I'm obviously totally a sweets girl, when I think of Dunkin' Donuts, I don't think of the donuts.  Sure, I attended plenty of birthday parties when I was growing up that featured a box of Munchkins, and I had my cheap days in college where I used to order just one Munchkin before they could figure out how to charge for it, but, I was never into the donuts.  And now ... Dunkin' Donuts doesn't just make donuts, they have a huge variety of items from the "Bakery".

Just like the coffee though, standards have changed.  The baked good are no longer baked fresh at every store every morning like they used to be.  I still haven't ventured out to try many of the newer baked goods (bagels, danishes, croissants, even cookies), nor any of the sandwiches (the breakfast sandwiches sorta make sense, but I still can't wrap my head around Dunkin' Donuts selling things like chicken salad sandwiches!)

Anyway, I digress.  Onto the baked goods reviews we go! Spoiler: Um, these are not the things my memories are made of.


So obviously, the signature item at Dunkin' Donuts is, well, the donuts.  They are available in a slew of varieties, raised or cake, and generally topped or filled with stuff.  They carry all the classic flavors you'd expect, and are constantly introducing seasonal specials.  Over the years, I've tried a bunch, but still haven't ever found one that I'd actually like to get another of.
Boston Cream Donut w/ Sprinkles. $1.09.
I'm  over donuts from Dunkin' Donuts, but the same does not apply to Ojan.  Whenever we visit the east coast, he must visit, at least once, for a donut.

On one recent trip, we failed to visit Dunkin' Donuts during the trip, so we had to stop at the Boston Logan airport to pick one up before we left.  Prices were higher there, $1.09 for a single donut, which seems crazy for a Dunkin' Donut, but, Ojan needed his fix.

I asked what kind he wanted, and he looked at me like I was crazy.  There is one, and only one, kind of donut one gets at Dunks: the Boston Cream.

While I could care less about their donuts, I still couldn't resist trying a bite, could I?  Of course not.

It was ... exactly what I expected.  A raised donut, not really awesome, but fluffy enough, kinda stale tasting.  Covered in tons of mediocre chocolate glaze, slightly crusty.  And sprinkles for some reason, not generally part of the standard offering.

I took the first bite, and got no cream, so I had to keep going.  I took a second bite, and a third.  Still no cream.  Isn't the creme filling what this donut is all about?  Ojan glared at me, knowing I don't even like these donuts, yet I was eating his whole donut.

I handed it over, never able to get to the cream.  He then grumbled about how there was no cream inside, although he eventually found a little.  He wasn't pleased with the cream to donut ratio.  He even threw out most of the donut once the cream had been depleted.

Worth the $1.09?  Nah.  But Ojan got his moment ... sorta.

[ Update, 2016: Ojan, as always when visiting the Boston area, got a few Boston Cream donuts.  Eventually, I tried another bite.  It was exactly as I remembered.  The donut was kinda oily and stale tasting.  The cream and chocolate were ok, but, you can't fix a donut that begins with a low quality base.  ]

Blueberry Cobbler Donut.  $0.95. June 2015 Special.
"Yeast shell donut with blueberry filling, finished with white icing and coffee cake streusel topping".

This was available for a limited time only, a seasonal special, and it sounded pretty enticing.

The crumble on top was cinnamon streusel, which was good with black coffee, just like coffee cake.  It had a nice cinnamon flavor, but it was a bit soggy, not crispy like you'd expect.

The icing was very sweet, and flavorless, and there was way too much of it on top.

The donut itself was just a basic fried donut.  The blueberry jelly filling was basically ... slime.  It really made me want a classic jelly donut instead.

I almost threw it out.  But then, it totally grew on me.  There is something about the classic Dunkin' Donuts fried dough that I just can't resist, at least when it isn't totally stale tasting.  I wouldn't get this again, since I didn't like the blueberry filling and thought the icing was too heavy, but in the end, I enjoyed it.

Sugar Jelly Donut. $0.99.
On one visit, I had a coupon for 2 donuts for $0.99.  A single donut usually costs $0.99.  So, even though I didn't want a donut, Ojan of course wanted a Boston cream, so, I got one too, because, well, it was free.  How do you resist freebies?

I opted for a jelly donut.  I'm not sure I've ever had a full size Dunkin' Donuts jelly donut, although I've had the Munchkin.  I was just really craving the amazing jelly donut I had a few days prior from Ohlin's Bakery (stay tuned for this review!)

It was ... slightly better than expected?

The outside had a small dusting of sugar, standard, small crystals.  It was slightly crispy on the outside, in a somewhat stale sort of way.  Light, fluffy, raised dough, a bit sweet, not particularly remarkable, and again, slightly stale tasting, slightly too fried tasting.  I'm really selling this, right?
Sugar Jelly: Inside.
Inside was the part I was most eager for: the jelly!

It was very generic red goo, with no distinct berries, no real indication of which fruit when into the making of the jelly.  It completed the donut in the way that the jelly should, but, really it was unremarkable.

So, overall, yup, a Dunkin' Donut, no more, no less.  I don't need or want another, but, at least I tried it again?

[ Update, 2016: But of course I got another.  I mean, jelly donut!  It was crazy stale.  I should have known better when there was only one remaining on the shelf that they weren't fresh.  But somehow the jelly jumped out, even though everything else looked fresher.  It was really hard on the outside. In some ways, it wasn't awful, but it was clearly dried out and stale.  The filling, again, just goo.  Really sweet goo.  The generous sweet goo inside, and the sugar coating on the outside, combined to be just too much sweet for me.  Sweet on sweet on sweet.  Meh. ]
Reese’s® Peanut Butter Square.  $1.49. September 2015 Special.
"Chocolate frosting and Reese’s® Peanut Butter buttercreme, is there anything better?"

On a trip to Los Angeles, the one part of California where they have Dunkin' Donuts, Ojan wanted a donut.  But we were stuffed from our excellent lunch at Father's Office, so he wanted to split one with me.  He asked what I'd want.  I'm not really a fan of their donuts, but, given the lineup, one was the clear frontrunner: the new Reese’s® Peanut Butter Square.  I love peanut butter and chocolate.  He wanted his Boston Cream, but was willing to try this one.

It was ... ok.  Like all their donuts, I just don't like the donut itself.  Kinda stale, kinda oily, not very good.  The chocolate on top was good enough.  The peanut butter filling was pretty good though, creamy, nice peanut flavor.  Hard to really go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter.

Ojan took one bite, and didn't like it.  He just wanted his Boston Cream.  He immediately said it was all mine.  And I didn't like the donut dough itself.  So ... I ripped it open, and just sucked all the tasty peanut butter cream out.

I wouldn't get this again, obviously.  At $1.49, it was also priced higher than all other donuts.
Assorted Donuts.
I attended a holiday party where my sister works.  The sweets table was a bit amusing.  Half of it was homemade goods, such as my mom's pumpkin pie, the owner's famous gingerbread cookies, fantastic peanut butter fudge made by the mailman, sticky, decadent baklava from a client, all clearly made with love and care.  The other half was store bought goodies, generally from the basic grocery store or Trader Joes.  And, a box of Dunkin' Donuts.  Hey, at least people contributed?

I was clearly far more into the home baked goods, but, I could resist a try of a donut.  Or two.

Strawberry Frosted Sprinkle Donut:
Yes, I was the person who cut out a wedge from the pink frosted with sprinkles.  It was the same as all the other donuts I've tried: raised, stale, oily dough.  Not very good.  The icing didn't really have much flavor, but I'm pretty sure it supposed to be strawberry.  Either that, or this was vanilla frosted, and was just pinkish for the holidays, as it had red and green sprinkles too.  Anyway, it was not very good.

Maple Frosted Donut:
So I tried the maple frosted, thinking the maple glaze would be better.  The donut was just as bad, the icing just sweet.

Chocolate Frosted Cake Donut:
Ok, third time's the charm, right?  I went for something else entirely, the chocolate cake donut, glazed.  I figured that if I didn't like the raised donuts, perhaps I just wanted a cake one?  It was no better, not rich chocolate flavor, and just as stale tasting.  I went back to just get more baklava :)


If you have never been to a child's party where Dunkin' Donuts is, perhaps you don't know what Munchins are.  You just know them as donut holes.  These are a strong memory of mine, always purchased by the box, and always pulled out by the mothers who weren't like mine, and baked everything from scratch for their kid's parties.

I'm a little heartbroken.  I took careful notes on all of the different munchkins I tried, but I have absolutely no idea what happened to them.  I don't have the detailed notes anymore, but I do remember that they all tasted fairly stale, just like oil, and weren't very good.

They've also finally figured out how to charge for just one munchkin.  Back in the day, I'd order my coffee and a single munchkin.  Since munchkins are normally sold in giant boxes, they never knew how to ring it up, and generally didn't care enough to figure it out, so I'd get my munchkin for free.  When I was in college and grad school, I thought I was so clever, and this was a big deal!  Now, they know how to charge me the 25 cents.
Jelly Munchkin. $0.25.
The jelly munchkin had a disappointingly small amount of jelly inside.  This was very sad, because I really used to love these things.  Didn't I?

Pumpkin Munchkin.  $0.25.
I'm really not sure why I ordered this.  I know I don't really care about the donuts at Dunkin' Donuts.  I'm there for the coffee drinks.  But, I saw that they had pumpkin and blueberry munchkins, instead of just the regular glazed, chocolate glazed, and jelly filled offerings, and I couldn't resist the urge to try something new.  Damn seasonal specials tempting me unexpectedly!

It was ... a basic Dunkin' Donuts munchkin.  Not very fresh tasting.  Lots of sweet glaze on the outside.  But, it was decently "pumpkin" spiced I guess.  And it was orange inside, even though I didn't taste pumpkin.  Maybe worth the 25 cents :)


And then ... Dunkin' Donuts joined the cronut craze.  Yes, yes, they went there.

Croissant Donut.
"Flaky layers of croissant glazed like a donut."

The famed croissant donut.  I actually wasn't even planning to get one of these, as I didn't think it would possibly be good.  But when I was visiting my family, my mom showed up with one.  I obviously had to try it.

It was exactly what I expected.  It tasted oily.  Stale.  Meh.

The layers were lighter and fluffier than a standard Dunkin' Donuts donut.  But, not flaky and buttery like a croissant.  And no crispy exterior like it should have.  Sorry Dunkin' Donuts, you can't recreate an item like the cronut in a mass produced way like this ...


The one bakery item, besides donuts, that Dunkin' Donuts had when I was growing up was muffins.  I actually used to love these.  When I drove to and from college, there was a Dunkin' Donuts right at the halfway point, and I'd always stop to get a muffin.  I loved the corn muffins and banana nut most of all.  I've opted not to try them again, as I don't want to ruin the memory.  But maybe they still are good?

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Blueberry Muffin

One time when I was with my sister, we stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for a little sister date.  (I know, aren't we cute?)  She opted for a muffin, blueberry.  She begrudgingly shared a bite with me.

The muffin had large sugar crystals on top, and it was a bit crispy on top like I like.  The inside was moist and loaded with berries.  Overall decent flavor.  I only had a bite of my sister's muffin, but I was impressed.