Friday, December 27, 2019

Toblerone

Toblerone.

A very old chocolate maker, created over 100 years ago in Switzerland (now owned by a US based company).  Well known, but at least for me, not entirely commonplace, although I first encountered the brand many years ago, when I participated in selling them as a school fundraiser.

I've somehow never reviewed it before, so when I recently received a bar as a gift, I was mostly excited to have something new to review (and try).

I liked it, pleasantly surprised by it, really.  I think I had written it off in my mind as just a school fundraiser chocolate, and not actually quality.
Distinctive Packaging.
Toblerone is unique in that it comes in a distinctive form factor, the entire bar is triangular, with triangle shaped peaks, which you can easily break off.
Distinctive Shape.

Bar sizes are done by peaks - e.g. a mini is 3 peaks, the largest bars are 12 peaks.
While they do make a number of varieties now, including white chocolate, filled versions, and more, the standard formula is not just plain milk chocolate, but rather milk chocolate with honey, almonds, and nougat.
Swiss Milk Chocolate with Honey and Almond Nougat.
I'm sure I tried other varieties back in the day, but on this occasion, I had just the classic.

The milk chocolate was smooth, creamy, and the style I do like.  The bits of nougat and almond added pleasant texture.  The honey was a good sweet accent.

Overall, it just came together quite well.  Creamy, smooth, sweeter than average milk chocolate due to the honey, a bit of texture.  Seems like a winning combo to me, and I gladly polished off the bar over the course of a few mornings alongside my coffee.
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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Friendly's Ice Cream

Update Review, December 2019

As I mentioned in my previous review, Friendly's is known for signature ice cream sundaes.  Many diners visit Friendly's just as a dessert destination, particularly as most of their sundaes clock in at 1200+ calories.  Don't even look at the Caramel Fudge Brownie Sundae (1910 calories!).  We rarely went for just ice cream, but sundaes were always a requisite part of a meal there for me growing up, particularly because they offer not only the ridiculous jumbo sizes, but also, a "Happy Ending" smaller size (which, to be fair, is still multiple scoops with toppings, it isn't exactly tiny).

Friendly's has long produced retail versions of its signature ice cream sundaes, individual packaged Sundae Cups, you can find in your grocery store freezer section, which I've reviewed before.  They still catch my eye every time I walk by when I visit my parents, the nostalgia for those sundaes is strong (and we don't have Friendly's on West Coast).

During my recent visit, something else caught my eye however.  Not just ice cream sundae cups, but dessert cups.

Dessert Cups

Dessert cups are a newer offering from Friendly's, retail only.  I was intrigued when I saw the varieties offered, 6 different options, and none seemed based on Friendly's ice cream sundaes.  Rather than just a base of ice cream topped with sauces, candy toppings, and sometimes whipped cream like the Sundae Cups, these are layered creations featuring classic dessert components like pie crust, crumble, and cake.  Think Red Velvet Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, and Pecan Praline.  

I *really* wanted the Blackberry Peach Pie (pie crust pieces, peach pie filling,vanilla ice cream, blackberry sauce, whipped topping, streusel crumble), as this sounded like exactly my sort of thing (except that I'd want the pie components warm ...), but alas, my grocery store had all varieties but that one.  Deciding between the remaining 5 was hard enough. 
Dessert Cup Packaging.
The packaging certainly drew me in, with a clear domed lid with visible whipped cream and toppings underneath.   While the sundae cups often contain a dollop of whipped cream on top, these clearly made whipped cream a primary element.  There was tons.
Banana Cream Pie.
"Layers of vanilla wafer crumbles, banana cream pie filling and french vanilla ice cream topped with marshmallow sauce, whipped topping, and more vanilla wafer crumbles."

I finally decided on the Banana Cream Pie, wondering what banana cream pie filling would be like, and definitely curious about the marshmallow sauce.

On top was vanilla wafer crumble, which only appeared here, not layered throughout, as the description said.  The crumble was fine, basically just like Nilla wafers traditionally used in Banana Cream Pudding.  I appreciated the crunch, and variety of crumb sizes, but the wafers are the least interesting part of banana cream pudding, and I like it better when just made in pie crust anyway ... which the name "banana cream pie" sorta implied ... not "banana cream pudding" ...

Below the crumble was sweet, fluffy, topping.  The description indicated that there would be both marshmallow sauce and whipped topping, but this seemed to be neither, and there was only one layer above the ice cream.  Instead, it was more like a marshmallow whipped topping.  It was very, very, very sweet, but certainly not a "sauce".  I loved the fluffy texture, and at first I loved the sweetness, but after a few spoonfuls, even when integrated in with the other ingredients, it was just too much.  Speaking of too much, there was a lot of that topping, as much topping as ice cream.
Banana Cream Pie: Layers.
Here you can see a bit more of the layers, it took digging to reach the ice cream.  The ice cream was simple vanilla ice cream, fine quality, and necessary to balance out the sweet topping.  That topping really was just too much.

So what about the "banana" element?  That was at the very bottom, the thin layer you can kinda see, "banana cream pie filling".  To me, a banana cream pie is filled with banana pudding and layers of fresh banana, so I expected basically a pudding, perhaps some chunks of banana.  This "filling" was not pudding-like, which I guess is understandable given that it is frozen, and also did not contain any chunks of banana.  Rather, it was more like a ... banana sauce, but not a syrup style, a consistency more like thick caramel.  It is made from banana puree, no bits, not even a touch of texture, from bananas.  It did taste like bananas, no question, and like sugar, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping for.

Together this layered creation was a fun idea, and I liked the sounds of it, but it suffered from just being far too sweet - with more than half the creation crazy sweet, there was no balance.  How many grams of sugar did it have?  61 grams!  In the fairly reasonable size portion.  Yeah.  No wonder I tasted way too much sweet.

Original Review, December 2017

I grew up in a town with few restaurants, but we had a Friendly's.  We didn't go out to eat that often, but when we did, and particularly when we were going for a treat, Friendly's was on the list.

Why?  For the ice cream sundaes.  I honestly don't remember the food at all.  I know we got meals, but, I have zero recollection of what I ever had there.  What I do remember?  The peg games on the table, and, the ice cream sundaes.  While many of my friends always talked about the Fribbles (milkshakes), I had eyes only for the sundaes.  But not the one that all the other kids went for, the signature "Cone Head" sundae with a sugar cone upside down on top like a hat and a face, no, I went for the Reese's® Peanut Butter Cup Sundae.  Every single time.  It just used vanilla ice cream as a base (although I often swapped that out), but it was smothered in warm peanut butter sauce and hot fudge, topped with a mount of whipped cream, and garnished with sprinkles, a cherry, and of course, a peanut butter cup.  On really rare occasions I'd mix it up and get the Reese's Pieces version instead, with, well, pieces instead of pb cups, but this was my constant goto.  I just loved the chocolate and peanut butter.  The sundaes are huge, but, you could add a reasonably size "Happy Ending" one on to any meal, which was always my move.

Friendly's has long been in the ice cream business, a featured part of their menu for 80+ years.  Sadly for me, the restaurant shut down in the town long ago, and no where I have lived since has one.  Since then I know they expanded, offering soft serve, Friend-z (mix-in versions),   But they do make ice cream (gallons and novelties) sold in grocery stores everywhere, so, I finally got inspired to try them out, and see if they measured up.

Sundae Cups

I see this in grocery stores everywhere in New England.  The stores sell them 10 for $10, as in, literally, $1 each, which is a bit mind blowing to me.
"Our Sundae Cups come in a perfect personal size for when you just need a sundae all to yourself."
Friendy's individual sized sundae cups come in basically every variety of sundae they serve at the restaurants, and then some.  Which means, they do have a peanut butter cup sundae.  One really unique offering they make is an ice cream cake sundae cup, literally the layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream they use in the ice cream cakes, layered with the same chocolate crunchies, and topped with the whipped topping and confetti sprinkles.  If you like their ice cream cake, but don't have an occasion to celebrate, just get the sundae!

But back to the peanut butter cup sundae.  The sundae cup version uses peanut butter ice cream, and the fudge and peanut butter sauces on top are obviously not warm.  And no whipped cream.  Same with the Reese's pieces version.  This just didn't feel right to me, so I went for something different.
Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup.
 "Enjoy an ice cream masterpiece of green vanilla flavored ice cream topped with a layer of yellow vanilla flavored ice cream, topped with blue marshmallow, whipped topping and primary colored sprinkles—all in a perfectly personal size sundae cup!"

So yeah.  I went for the ridiculous Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup, clearly designed for kids.  The reason was fairly simple, I was having it in the evening, and so I had to rule out all the chocolate based ones.  Every single option, besides a strawberry one, had chocolate, either in the fudge sauce on top, or chips in the ice cream.  So, this was it.  It sounded a lot like the ice cream cake, just minus the chocolate layers.

I did laugh when I opened the lid.  They weren't joking about the colors.

Bright blue marshmallow topping.  Colorful sprinkles.  Yellow ice cream poking out.

I dug in.

The whipped cream was pretty standard, as were the sprinkles.  The blue marshmallow topping was sweet and fluffy, just like on their ice cream cakes.  I liked it.
Crayola™ Color Me Sundae Cup: Inside.
Under that all was, well, yellow and green ice cream.

It was a bit confusing to the brain to eat yellow and green ice cream, and have them taste like vanilla.  They didn't taste distinct.  They really were vanilla.  They just looked like Playdoh.

Overall, this was clearly fairly simple, but, I liked it.  The ice cream was decent, the marshmallow topping and whipped cream exactly what I remembered from their ice cream cakes.

I don't think I'd get this again, as it was a bit too simple, but, I enjoyed it.  Next time, I'd get the ice cream cake one, or maybe try the peanut butter one, knowing it is nothing like the beloved version served in restaurants.

Ice Cream Cake

I grew up in an ice cream cake family.  Every birthday.  Every year.  Without fail.  However, Friendly's was not our ice cream cake maker.  It was Carvel.  Always.

When I was younger, Carvel had a store in the town, and we had custom made cakes.  It closed when I was probably 8 or 10 years old, forever ago, but luckily, grocery stores still carry Carvel cakes.  Until one year, when my Mom couldn't find them anywhere.  I think she looked in nearly every store to no avail.  She sent my dad on a last minute job to try a final store, and he came back with something that sure looked like a Carvel cake, except ... it was Friendly's.

It wasn't the same.  But, that doesn't mean it was bad.
Celebration Ice Cream Cake.
"Friendly's ice cream cakes are lovingly handmade to transform any occasion into a happy occasion!"

Friendly's ice cream cakes are much like the Carvel ones - layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate crunchies in-between, fluffier whipped forsting on the outside. Available in different shapes and sizes.with the classic one having blue frosting border and some confetti sprinkles. They also make a Oreo version (Oreo ice cream layers, crushed Oreos in the center, fudge and Oreo topping), a Reese's version (peanut butter ice cream layers, chopped pb cups in the center, chocolate truffle frosting), and now, a trendy Salted Caramel Truffle one (salted caramel ice cream, caramel chocolate truffles, caramel sauce, fudge, etc).

But we had the classic.
Leftover Celebration Cake.
"Every big (and little) celebration deserves ice cream cake! Lovingly handmade layers of premium chocolate and vanilla ice cream, separated by chocolaty crunchies, are topped with freshly whipped ice cream and decorations. "

Of course, we all immediately compared this to Carvel.  Most of the family refused to even consider that it might be better in some ways.  But it was.

The ice cream was higher quality.  Sorry, Carvel.  It was creamier, less icy.  Just, better.  The ice cream was in reverse order: chocolate on top, vanilla on bottom.

The crispies weren't as good though, they were softer, not as crunchy, not quite the same magic.

The whipped topping was sweet, fluffy, and good.

Overall, it was a fine replacement for a Carvel cake, and, if you actually care about the ice cream, a better choice.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Waitrose Desserts

Waitrose is a popular chain of grocery stores in the UK, with a slew of regular full size stores, plus a convenience store brand dubbed "Little Waitrose".

I ventured into a Waitrose during my trip to London, just to do my favorite kind of tourism: grocery shopping!  No, really, I love checking out what products are unique to different countries, and being around "regular" people.  It is my version of going to see an attraction, just with no entrance fee, and the entire place is basically a gift shop!

I joke, but only kinda.  I really love this part of my travel experience.  I can't say that the British grocery stores were all that interesting, but I did pick up a few special dessert items to share with my family over the holidays.
Heston from Waitrose Spiced Shortcrust Mince Pies Lemon.
"Zesty mince pies made with spiced shortcrust pastry, richly fruited mincemeat, lemon curd and a zesty all butter crumble topping." 

When I was in London in November, I got a tiny bit obsessed with mincemeat pies.  Really, it was because the previous year I was in Sydney in December and really liked the mincemeat pies served at the Sheraton on the Park in the Executive Lounge, and then didn't encounter mincemeat again until I was in London right before the holidays.  And mincemeat was everywhere there.

I had a few traditional versions whilst in London, but, I didn't really like them.  Meh to the pastry, meh to the filling.  But I knew I do like some mincemeat, so when I saw that the nearby grocery store, Waitrose, had partnered with Heston Blumenthal to come out with a fancy shelf-stable mince pie ... I had to get a package.  (Waitrose is just a chain of British supermarkets, fairly generic.  Heston is a 3 Michelin star chef.  I was fascinating to see the partnership).

I brought them home to the US, eager to try them, and share them, with my family.
Packaging.


The pies came 4 to a package, individual sized, but once you opened the package, they were all exposed, so, you kinda had to use all 4 at once.  Instructions were clear that you shouldn't ever reheat them once baked, which I found a bit odd.

The pies removed fairly easily from the packaging, but were a bit fragile as I moved them onto a baking tray, losing some of their crumble top along the way.
Oven Ready.
The directions were to bake them at 180°C for 10-12 minutes (given in Celsius of course, which lead to a fun discussion on temperature conversions where I learned that most of my family really has no concept of other temperature scales) in an oven.

Easy enough.
Cooked!
After 11 minutes I pulled them out.  The pies were piping hot after 11 minutes, and we needed to let them cool a tiny bit before digging in.

The top had changed, the white powder gone, the color deeper, and, more of the mincemeat layer exposed.  While it looks a bit too dark, it really wasn't burnt.
Insides.
I knew this wasn't going to be a traditional pie, but, I was still a bit surprised by the composition.

The crust on the bottom and side was a spiced dark crust, more like a gingerbread than a traditional shortbread.  I didn't quite care for it, it was fairly dry, and not as buttery as a shortbread would be.  The idea of a spiced crust with mincemeat is a good one, I just didn't particularly like the texture nor dryness.

On top of that was the mincemeat layer, which turned out to be perhaps the thinest layer of the whole thing.  There was certainly more crust and more crumble than mincemeat.  What was there was fine, but, really, I only had several raisins/currants/sultanas, and about two spoonfuls of flavored sweet goo.  It was really quite sweet, and lacked the depth I was hoping for, no citrus elements nor spicing in the mincemeat itself.  But really, just not much of it, and it didn't have any chew to it from a more generous fruit filling.

On top of that was the lemon curd, obviously not normally part of mincemeat pie, but, the lemon was a good match for the mincemeat, as orange flavors normally are.  I don't care for lemon though, so, I wished it was anything but.  And the lemon layer too was sweet.  Too sweet.

Finally, the crumble, a blond crumble, good little bits, topped with powdered sugar (yup, more sweet), fine, but not particularly good.

We all agreed it was far too sweet on its own, and tried to cut the sweet somehow. My mom and grandmother added whipped cream.  And more whipped cream.  And more whipped cream.  Basically, they kept getting more to go with every bite, because, you really needed to cut every bite.  I thought the whipped cream was still too sweet with it (it was sweetened whipped cream), but moved on to ice cream, which worked better (and gave me the hot and cold combo I like). But still, you shouldn't need to do this.  We also all agreed perhaps it would be good for breakfast with a cup of black coffee to cut the sweet.

The size was decent for one person, not huge, but a bit more than I really wanted.  My mom commented that she really would have been happy with half, that a full one, particularly when this sweet, was just too much.

Overall, this just didn't quite add up for me, but it had some fantastic thought behind it.  Spiced crust and mincemeat is good.  Mincemeat and citrus curd is good.  Adding a crumble on top of a mincemeat pie sounds great.  But ... this just came out too dry and way too sweet.
 Christmas pudding with Remy Martin champagne cognac.
"Richly fruited Christmas pudding with Remy Martin Fine champagne cognac cream and pecans."

Next up, I had an aged Christmas pudding, loaded with Remy Martin.

Let me back up and say that I didn't entirely know what Christmas pudding really was.  Just like mincemeat, we don't exactly celebrate with Christmas pudding in the US.  I had a vague understanding that it was much like fruitcake?

The internet tells me that they are similar, but very different.  Both have some of the same ingredients, some kind of alcohol (usually brandy), flour, sugar, dried fruits (usually sultanas, raisins, currants, cherries, and mixed citrus peel), sometimes nuts ... but fruitcake is baked, and Christmas pudding is steamed.  Christmas pudding uses suet rather than butter, and is often flamb├ęd at serving time.  They both do best with aging.

This was already 12 month "matured" (which, I guess is a good thing).
Packaging.
My Christmas pudding was intended to serve 4 (but, given how rich it is, could easily serve 6-8), and came wrapped in red foil.

The instructions recommended steaming it for an hour, but microwave instructions are provided as well.

I usually do *not* microwave things, but, I was trying it alone, so I wanted to just carve out one portion and heat it, as the instructions were incredibly explicit about not reheating any of it.  They also cautioned many times not to heat too much, else the sugars, fruit, and alcohol could ignite.

So, the microwave is where I headed, with just one portion.
Christmas Pudding: Inside.
"Made with plump vine fruit, cream, pecan nuts and a generous splash of Fine Champagne Cognac, and matured for a year to develop a rich, rounded flavour."

Of course I tried a bite at room temperature.

I was pretty fascinated.  It reminded me a lot of fruitcake, loaded up with dried fruits, every type of raisin-like thing you could imagine (sultanas, Chilean flame raisins, currants, regular raisins ...), cherries, and citrus peel, which all added up to give quite a bit of chew, and some crunch from both almonds and pecans.  But it was slightly crumbly too.  A fairly unique texture.

It was also crazy sweet.  In addition to the fruit, it had added "glucose-fructose syrup" and sugar.  I found it cloying, even moreso once heated.  And yes, it was boozy.

I first heated a bit and spread it with Fortum & Mason Spiced Christmas Rum Butter (omg, so good, review coming soon), but, although the rum butter accented the booze and melted in beautifully, this didn't really do it for me.  Still just too much sweet and booze.

I didn't have clotted cream nor custard available, so I opted to try vanilla ice cream (it was ok, definitely tempered the sweet a bit, and hot pudding and cold ice cream was nice), and I tried whipped cream (also helped cut the sweet a bit), but neither left me thinking I had found the ideal pairing.

I think the pudding really would be better with custard.
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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Breakfast @ The Gallery, W Hotel, Boston

Update Review, July 2019 Visit

It had been a few years since I stayed at The W hotel in Boston, but I had fond memories of their breakfast.  Well, in particular, of the baked goods (other things were fairly lackluster).  So on my visit to the Boston area in July 2019, I was excited to stay at the W again, not only to check out the newly renovated rooms, but also, to see what had changed with breakfast!
Breakfast (s) of Champions?
I tried items from nearly every section of the menu.  Some were not very good, many were average, and a few were shockingly delicious.
Menu.
The menu did change a fair amount since my previous stays, although retained much of the same format.
5 Spoons.  No forks or knives?
My orders were all for takeout, and were handed over relatively quickly the first day, but it took up to 40 minutes on other days.

The first day my order was lacking a component of one dish, and, um, I opened my bag to find 5 spoons.  No knives.  No forks.  Just spoons.  I had french toast and sausages, not exactly spoon food ...

The staff were always friendly though.

Drinks

I didn't order any drinks from the restaurant itself, as they were never good before, and opted to at least give the lobby coffee another try (although it had been horrible before too).  This is one area that continued to remain weak.

I returned to my room to brew coffee instead that day (Nespresso machine FTW!), I sought coffee elsewhere after that.
Hot Coffee.
The hot coffee (regular only) was strong and harsh, in the too concentrated, been sitting there too long kind of way.  It was pre-9am though, it couldn't have been that old.
Iced Coffee.
I give them credit for offering iced coffee as well, so very Boston of them.  It was better than the hot coffee, but not remarkable.  At least it was somewhat drinkable.

Lighter Side

I generally read right past the "lighter" sections of menus, and I did go right past the smoothies, oatmeal, and granola, but, one morning, I actually wanted some fruit.
Fruit and Berries / Wildflower Honey Mint Yogurt. $16.
The menu includes sides of fruit ($9) or berries (also $9), but I opted for the "Fruit and berries", not knowing exactly what it was, but, expecting a more substantial dish, particularly as it comes with yogurt (or, it is supposed to ...).  I did of course ask for no melon due to my allergy.

The fruit was ... well, very standard fruits.  The same berries I enjoyed on my fruit plate in my room (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries), all fine, ripe, and decent quality.  Sliced fruits, just banana, apple, and pineapple.

And that was it.  Just fruit.  No drizzle of anything, no garnish.  And, um, no yogurt, even though the menu said it would ave "wildflower honey mint yogurt".  This was a very expensive bowl of very generic fruit.

I did return to the restaurant to track down my yogurt.
Wildflower honey mint yogurt.
Once I got my yogurt, it just came in tiny little condiment side containers, two of them.  

It was fairly average yogurt, thinner style, although it almost seemed like Greek yogurt, just, thinner.  I didn't taste the mint I was expecting given the description, but it really grew on me.  I had my own granola that it went really well with.  I was a bit surprised how much I ended up liking the yogurt.

I was also provided two small jars of honey, Dickinson's.  Plain honey.  Still not sure where the wildflower or mint were ...

Specialties

The "Specialties" were certainly the most exciting section of the menu for me, although I skipped right past the egg offerings (egg white omelets, eggs benny, classic eggs your way, etc), and past the healthy offerings (smoked salmon plate, avocado toast), and went right for the things I like most; breakfast carbs! I was trilled to see I had two options, both pancakes and french toast (so often places just have one of waffles/pancakes/french toast).
Cinnamon Bread Pudding French Toast. $17.
"Maple syrup, fresh berries."

My first morning, I went for the french toast, even though ... I'm not really into french toast.  Why?   Well, it was not just french toast, but, "bread pudding french toast", and I *do* love bread pudding.  They very careful reader might remember that I didn't like the previous version of french toast though, even though that too was "bread pudding" french toast.

Luckily for me, the dish was entirely different, and absolutely delicious.

Gone was the banana bread base, and in its place, a dense, rich, cinnamon studded bread.  Two huge thick slices, absolutely soaked in custard, and crazy crazy moist.  It really was bread pudding.  But also french toast.  I loved it.

It came with maple syrup (standard), butter (standard), and a scattering of berries (yup, standard).  I enjoyed it just with maple syrup, but I really wanted whipped cream with it, which I know sounds ridiculous given how heavy it is with the generous custard, but, I did.

Still, even sans whip, this was very tasty, and I really liked it.  I had a few bites cold the next morning, which was ok, but not great, and then heated up the remainder in a toaster oven (at a friend's house) and topped it with whipped cream and a drizzle of maple syrup, and it made a glorious dessert too.

So, protip, order it, and order other things, and only eat half with your breakfast, save the other half, heat it up, and enjoy as dessert!
Cinnamon Bread Pudding French Toast. $17.
I ordered it again a few days later, and it was again fairly spectacular.  The base was slightly different, not quite as custard-y, and there were more distinct chunks of bread, but, it was still good.
Buttermilk Pancakes. $16.
Eventually I decided to try the other hot breakfast carb, the pancakes.

They were ... mediocre.  A stack of 3, large size.  Not much buttermilk to them really though.  They were fine, not gummy or anything, but fairly ... average.

Still, I was excited mostly for the toppings that came with them.
Toppings.
"Burnt orange ricotta and Maine blueberry compote."

The toppings ...weren't quite what I expected.

First, the leftmost one ... pineapple compote?  Not on the menu with this dish, or any other.  It was fine, fruity, bits of pineapple, but not entirely sure where that came from.  

Next, blueberry compote.  This was fine, sweet, little berries, but there wasn't much of it, at least not really enough to load up a stack of pancakes.  It also ... made me want whipped cream.  Yes, there is a theme here.  In this case, I blame IHOP, they have made me always want whipped cream and blueberry compote together with pancakes.

And finally, the "burnt orange ricotta", that tasted nothing like orange, and was ... a *tiny* amount.  A dollop.  These were little condiment containers, and it wasn't even half full.  I was not impressed.

None of the toppings really helped elevate the pancakes in any way, nor did the maple syrup or butter I had from my french toast.

I wouldn't get these again.

Sides

The a la carte side menu is pretty standard: your choice of protein (bacon, smoked salmon, smoked ham, two kinds of sausage), veggies (crispy potatoes, spinach, wild mushrooms), and healthy (berries, fruit, yogurt).

Mostly not interesting to me, except that I do love a good breakfast sausage ...
Pork Sausage. $8.
I had the choice of chicken or pork, and went for the pork.  Sadly, both options were links, not patties (which I greatly prefer).

This was almost delicious.

The sausage had a great crisp exterior (maybe a bit too crisp, the ends were kinda dried out).  It was greasy in a kinda satisfying way (but a bit too greasy). It was porky.  Decently seasoned.

But ... I didn't love it.  I think it was just a bit too overcooked, a bit too greasy for me.  Best dunked into maple syrup.

Bakery

The "bakery" had been a highlight for me before, but, the lineup had changed.  Gone were croissants, and the varieties of muffins changed.  The new lineup was 4 types of muffins (one of which is gluten-free), bagels (4 kinds), toast, and english muffins.  Not the most exciting lineup.

Still, I gave the muffins a try, remembering their greatness.  Sadly they weren't as good as before.

I also eventually asked about other items, and was told ... they *do* have croissants, several kinds, they just aren't on the menu?!
Gluten Free Chocolate Chunk Muffin. $4.
I tried this because I wanted chocolate, and was actually expecting a plain muffin with chocolate chunks.  I don't mind that it was double chocolate, but that wasn't what I expected.  I was of course weary of the gluten-free nature.

It ... wasn't very good.  Strange texture, dry, just, not very good.  It didn't taste like chocolate, and the bits of chocolate in it were just tiny little chips, not the promised chunks.

Would not get again, least favorite.
Blueberry Muffin. $4.
I also tried the blueberry, remembering these were great before.

At first, I thought I was given the wrong muffin, as it looked like a dark bran muffin.  But it was the blueberry.  It had ... maybe 4 berries total inside?  Mostly plain.  And yes, very dark.

It was ... mediocre.  Kinda greasy/oily.  Very few berries.

Wouldn't get again.  Only moderately better than the GF Chocolate Chunk.
Blueberry Muffin. $4.
Ok, so I ordered it again, as my companion wanted a blueberry muffin.

It looked ... totally different?  This was just a few days later.

The top wasn't dark, and there were clearly tons of berries bursting out of it.  I didn't try it, but, I was pretty confused by the lack of consistency.
Lemon Poppyseed Muffin. $4.
I moved on to the lemon poppyseed muffin, which ... didn't win any beauty awards, heh, it had ... an arm?

I had zero hopes for this muffin, since I didn't like the blueberry or GF Chocolate Chunk, but ... it was actually really good.  Crispy top, moist inside, just like I like it.  Slight lemon flavor, tons of crunch from the poppyseeds.

I slathered the blueberry compote from the pancakes on it, and the lemon - blueberry combination was awesome.
Croissant. $4.
I did want to try the corn muffin, usually my favorite variety of muffin, but alas, they were out of them.  Since I had tried everything else, I opted for the off-menu croissant.

It was ... better than average.  Not a high end french patisserie quality croissant, but, clearly fresh, flaky exterior, moist inside.  It really was good.  Also, surprisingly served warm.

Just like the yogurt, served with jars of Dickinson's, strawberry preserves and concord grape jelly.
Chocolate Hazelnut Croissant.
I also ordered the off-menu chocolate hazelnut croissant.  Really a random order on my part, but I'm so glad I decided to just try it.

It was far, far better than I expected.

The top was crispy, it was well laminated and layered, buttery and moist inside, and, stuffed with gooey chocolate hazelnut spread.  I found myself devouring it, even though I had a pile of other things I thought I'd want more.  I really enjoyed it, and the fact that it too was served warm, with the perfectly warm, sorta melty chocolate hazelnut spread inside was a real bonus.

Besides the bread pudding french toast, my favorite item, and I wish I had discovered it sooner (and why, oh why, is it not on the menu?)

Update Review, December 2016 Visit

Start with my original review from July, where I discovered their fantastic baked goods, then, return here.
Banana Bread Pudding French Toast. $17.
"Vermont maple syrup and white chocolate. Served with fresh berries and banana."

On my previous visit, I didn't find the cooked food to be very good, and the menu then had nothing really all that appealing to me anyway (the only "breakfast carbs", besides the pastries, were some soggy Nutella pancakes).  However, this time ... a single new item was added to the menu: french toast!  And not just any french toast "bread pudding french toast".  Oh yes!  I ignored the fact that I'm not actually a fan of banana bread ...

My order arrived fairly quickly, 2 slices of french toast, made from banana bread as expected.  It was covered in shaved white chocolate and served with a little pot of maple syrup on the side and a pile of berries and bananas.

The fruit wasn't particularly good, just as my previous visit.  Not bad, but, it was December, and it certainly wasn't local or flavorful.

The white chocolate added a ton of sweetness, and melted in, and of course I liked that.

But the french toast itself ... that was kinda meh for me.  The crusts were hard, and it was, well, banana bread.  It was nicely moist and fairly fluffy though, I suspect this is what made it "bread pudding french toast"?  It was fine, but, it didn't scream "bread pudding" in the way I was hoping, and I wouldn't get it again.
Muffins (Banana-Nut, Blueberry, Bran), Pain au Chocolat. $6 each or 3 for $13.
After my lackluster french toast, and the uninspired breakfast menu, I went back to what I knew was good: the baked goods.  I got them as a "pastry basket", and took togo.  I opted for one of each of the three types of muffins, plus a pain au chocolat (other options for pastries are just a regular croissant or assorted bagels).  I enjoyed all of these during my last visit.

The bran muffin turned out to be my favorite this time.  Dense, loaded with plump raisins, hearty.  I had it at room temperature, but I think it would be great warmed, and even better buttered up and slathered in jam (they did provide me with Dickinson's grape jelly and strawberry preserves).

The blueberry was again loaded with blueberries, and I liked the flavor in the base.

Interestingly, the banana nut was my least favorite this time, even though I had liked it the most last time.  I really just wasn't into the banana flavor, not that I ever really am.  I did like the nuts.

As before, the baked goods are available for $6 each, or a "Pastry Basket" of 3 for $13.  I clearly got a pastry basket (one of each muffin!), but still had some allowance left on my daily breakfast, so I added in a pain au chocolate as well.
Pain au Chocolat: Inside.
I added the chocolate croissant, er, pain au chocolat, mostly because I had more $$ I could spend in my credits, but also because chocolate sounded really good at the time, and I knew they make a decent croissant.

Which, they did.  Look at the loft! The layers!  It really was nicely layered, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  But the pastry dough didn't have much flavor, and wasn't as buttery as I'd like.

The chocolate inside was good, but I lamented that there wasn't nearly as much as I wanted, just a single, rather than double, bar.

Individually for $6 this was very pricey, but if gotten as part of a pastry basket each item is $4.33, which is a little more reasonable?

Original Review, July 2016

When I travel, I most often stay at Starwood properties, as I somehow achieved Platinum status due to all my frequent travels.  As part of my status, I also can choose to receive free breakfast (or points, or a welcome amenity).  I'm a breakfast lover, so, I often pick breakfast, as you've probably noticed by now.

My travels took me to Boston this past year, to work from our Cambridge office for a few days before joining my family in New Hampshire.  I stayed at the W in Boston, a bit of a walk to the office, but, one I picked because it sounded like it would be much better than the closer options (plus, it was more affordable).  The hotel was quite nice, and I'd gladly stay again.

But back to the food.  Starwood hotels all choose to offer something different as part of the Platinum breakfast amenity.  Some will literally just have a little room on the side with 1-2 token pastries, warm juice, and coffee, even if they have a full restaurant (ahem, Le Meridien Delfina!).  Others give you access only to the continental buffet (like the SLS Beverley Hills, which has the most amazing continental buffet ever, with dessert-worthy yogurt parfaits and quality pastries).  Most commonly, you get access to a full buffet, generally including eggs cooked to order and a few hot items (like the extensive but not tasty Mosiac Restaurant at the Westin in Sydney).  For locations with executive lounges, you can also opt to take your breakfast from the buffets there (like the lackluster Westin Martin Place or amazing Sheraton on the Park in Sydney).  Properties without a lounge or restaurant, like Aloft, will give you a $10 credit to spend in their little convenience store (like I tried in Buffalo).  And then there are the cases where they have a restaurant, but not a buffet.  In these cases, you are usually given an credit to spend in the restaurant however you want.  While I do love buffets, as I love to try all the things, the a la carte breakfasts are quickly becoming my favorite (and, protip, sometimes, even if they have a buffet, you can opt for an a la carte allowance instead!)

The W Boston was the first time I was given an a la carte option at a Starwood property, as they do not have a buffet nor lounge, just a restaurant, "The Gallery".   Except, we weren't actually given an a la carte option, instead, we were told that we had the "Substance" breakfast: 2 eggs, crispy potatoes, toast, bacon/ham/sausage, juice, and coffee, normally $24.  I of course did my research and knew that I could opt for a $24 credit instead, and spend it as I pleased, since I didn't really want eggs and toast and um, they had pancakes and baked goods on the menu.

So, both Ojan and I were given an allowance of $24 to spend daily, and could choose to dine in, or, as I discovered a few days in, we could get it to go to enjoy either in the comfort of my room, or, on the walk in to the office.

I really appreciated how flexible the breakfast option was, and enjoyed trying several things on the menu.  Most of the a la carte food was pretty mediocre, but, the pastries were actually shockingly good, which is the opposite of what I've come to expect, as most places have really crappy baked goods.  Also, protip, you can get a lot of pastries for $48 ...

The Space

Interior.
The restaurant was fairly inoffensive but totally boring, decor-wise.  Brown, beige, and white, no real color anywhere.  The lighting, curtains, and accents at least made it not feel sterile, and were clearly done by a designer, but, still, not much zing to the place.

The room was made up of mostly tables for 2 or 4, generally chairs, although there were a few higher tables with stools and a few with bench seating.
Table.
Tables were wooden, had brownish placemats, and cloth napkins.  Coffee mugs, water cups, and juice glasses were all set on the tables, along with succulents in pots.
Condiments.
Each table also had an adorable mini ketchup, tabasco, honey, and two types of Dickenson's jams, along with salt and pepper shakers, and assorted sweeteners.
Menu.
The "Wake Up" menu, in addition to the "Substance" option they seemed to push everyone towards, was also broken into specialities, sides, and bakery, plus assorted beverages.

Beverages

For drinks, there is coffee by Fonte ($6 for drip, $7 for espresso drinks), tea by Tea Forte ($7), assorted juices not from concentrate ($6), milks ($6), and a smoothie ($9).
Decaf Americano. $7.
The first day, I opted for a simple decaf coffee.  It was poured out of a carafe, and it was rather awful.  I tried adding tons of sweetener, I tried thinning it down with water, it was just awful.  Nothing saved it.

The next day, I asked if they had french press decaf.  Nope.  So I went for a decaf Americano.  It was crazy strong, and not very hot, so I ordered extra hot water to add in, to both warm it up and thin it out.  It was better, but still not very good.

Finally, the last day, I decided to ditch the coffee, and go for a hot chocolate.  I hoped it would be made with milk, maybe topped with some whipped cream.  But ... it seemed to just be mix and water.  It wasn't rich, it wasn't chocolately, it wasn't good.  And $7??!!
Pineapple Juice. $6.
The juice selection is surprisingly extensive, ranging from classics like orange and apple, to pomegranate, pineapple, cranberry, grapefruit, and tomato.

Ojan went for a grapefruit juice one day.  It was fine, but, just juice, not fresh squeezed or anything.  I opted for pineapple juice a few days later, when I had a sore throat, and was really craving cold juice.  I actually liked it, it was crazy sweet, and fruity, and what I was in the mood for.

Egg Dishes

Egg dishes all come with crispy potatoes and toast.  Options aren't extensive or customizable really, only a single type of omelet (with manchego cheese and chorizo hash, $18), an egg white omelette (with broccolini and smoked gouda, $19), eggs benny (available 3 ways: tasso ham, smoked salmon, or sauteed baby kale with roasted red pepper hollandaise, all $20), and a frittata (wild mushroom, white truffle oil, smoked cheddar, $19).
Egg White Omelet / Broccolini / Smoked Gouda / Crispy Potatoes / Toast. Togo. $19.
One morning, I wasn't feeling well.  Pastries didn't sound good to me (I know, shocker.  But, it happens).  Pancakes didn't sound good to me.  Nothing sounded good.  I just wanted something simple and plain.  I actually wanted some fruit, but, the fruit plate was composed mostly of melons, plus apples which I don't really like, and since I'm allergic to melons, it wasn't really an option for me.

I decided to go out on a limb and get an omelet, even though I don't really like eggs very much.  I wasn't feeling the manchego in the regular omelet, so I opted for the egg white omelet, just because I wanted smoked gouda, not because I was trying in any way to be "healthy".

The toast I wasn't really planning to eat, but it came with the eggs, and I forgot to say I didn't want it. I think I was supposed to get to choose my type of bread, but I wasn't asked what kind, and I think I was given the multigrain.  The toast was just generic sliced bread, toasted.  It didn't seem to be buttered, nor was I provided any butter.  I wonder if that was because it was the healthy egg white omelet?  Or maybe they never butter it?  Or maybe they were supposed to give me butter?  Anyway, dry toast, even with some strawberry jam, was pretty boring, and I just nibbled a little.

The other side included with all egg dishes is "crispy potatoes".  They were not crispy.  They were soft and soggy and not really warm.  They weren't good, even when dunked into ketchup.  Did not like.

I got my breakfast to go, so I could go crawl back into my room, and my bag also contained one of the mini ketchups, a mini tabasco, and strawberry jam, along with plastic cutlery, salt, and pepper.  I appreciated that they included these.
Egg White Omelet: Inside.
As for the omelet, it was ... an omelet.  I don't know what I was thinking ordering it.  Egg whites, decently cooked I guess, but just egg whites.  The broccolini was literally just stuffed inside, not folded into the egg or anything.  It too was fine, but, just broccolini.  The smoked gouda was decent, smokey, flavorful, well melted.

So I guess it was exactly what it should have been, incredibly boring.  I wasn't really into it ... at all, but honestly, I don't know what I would have wanted given how sick I was feeling.

Specialties

The rest of the menu is the "Specialties", and isn't very extensive nor exciting: oatmeal ($11), granola with greek yogurt and fruit ($13), a fruit plate with yogurt ($16), and basic General Mills cereals (Cheerios, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran, $6).  Slightly more interesting is the bagel and smoked salmon plate, with herb whipped cream cheese, caper berries, pickled red onion ($16).

There was only one dish that falls into my favorite category, aka, breakfast carbs (things like pancakes, waffles, french toast, bread pudding): nutella pancakes, served with berries and maple syrup, $16.  I obviously order them one morning.
Granola Refresh. $13.
"Greek yogurt, banana, berries"

I woke up one morning feeling ... healthy.  I don't know what was wrong with me.  I didn't want pancakes.  I didn't want eggs slathered in hollandaise or cheese.  I didn't want another basket of pastries.  No, I wanted fruit, yogurt, and granola.  Really, I think I was somehow imagining that all hotel yogurt would be like the insanely ridiculously best yogurt of my life that I had at the SLS in Beverly Hills (no, seriously.  I'd go back to LA, just to go to that hotel restaurant, just to have that yogurt again.  Its mind blowing!).

So, I ordered the "granola refresh", along with a side of sausage (more on that to come), because, really, who are we kidding, no matter how healthy I feel, I'm not ever just going to get yogurt and granola!

It was ... well, yogurt and granola.  Very generic, thick, tangy Greek yogurt, likely Fage or similar.  Not sweetened, not whipped, not infused with vanilla, just straight from a container.  On top was standard granola, clearly not housemade.  Since the rest of the cereals are General Mills brand, I assume it was too.  No interesting seasoning, no clumps, just granola and hard-as-rock raisins.

The fruit was a mix of blueberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, all incredibly lackluster, as it was the middle of winter.  Oh, and a sliced up half a banana.

I drizzled the honey from the table on top in hopes of improving things, but it didn't really help.  I ate the fruit, and I devoured my sausages, but the yogurt and granola really weren't for me.  If you like plain, basic yogurt and granola though, by all means, there was nothing wrong with it, it was just clearly not anything I ever should have ordered.
Nutella Pancakes / Mixed Berries / Maple Syrup. $16.
On my last day, I finally managed to order the pancakes.  I love my breakfast carbs, but didn't have time during the week to stop and have a slower paced pancake breakfast (besides the day I wasn't feeling good).  Plus, nutella isn't really my thing, so I wasn't super excited about the single pancake option.  And no whipped cream?  Boo.  But still, pancakes.

The fruit on the side was the same mix as served with the granola: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and sliced banana.  It was the same level of not particularly good.

The pancakes were large, a stack of 3.  They were kinda gummy, kinda soggy, thin, and not particularly good.  I guess they did have some slight nutella flavor, and were dark brown, but, otherwise, not great.  I expected some Nutella spread on the side, or at least some whiped cream or something.

On the side I had a container with balls of butter and syrup.  I'm fairly certainly this was not real maple syrup, it was too sticky.  Not very good.

Overall, a disappointment, and besides the fruit, I didn't each much of it.  Luckily, Ojan opted for yet another "pastry basket" (more on that soon), so we had plenty of muffins to share.

Bakery

The "Bakery" section of the menu offers up $5 toast (and no, not the hip SF version, actually, just toast) and $6 bagels, pastries, and muffins.  The pastry selection is limited to only croissants (plain or chocolate).  The muffin line up features blueberry, raisin-bran, and a seasonal choice (banana nut at the time of my visit).

This was a pretty lackluster sounding "bakery" to me, as I was expecting to find scones and danishes, perhaps some cinnamon buns ...  But, given the low traffic the hotel sees for breakfast, and the lack of buffet, I guess I couldn't really expect them to have an extensive line up.

I didn't really expect that any of these "bakery" items would be great, but, you know me and baked goods, how could I resist?  Turns out, not resisting was a great move.

Also, I lied: there is one more bakery offering, the "Awake Pastry Basket" for $13,  made up of your selection of any 3 of the bakery items.  Since an individual pastry is $6, this is quite the bargain.  And, now that you know that Ojan and I had $48 per day to spend together, you can imagine just how many pastries we ordered (yes, we could get 10 per day!)  
Awake Pastry Basket To-Go: Raisin Bran Muffin, Blueberry Muffin, Pan au Chocolat. $13.
For my first pastry "basket", I opted for my first choice of pastries, the blueberry muffin.  I also selected a chocolate croissant, in order to mix it up in case the muffin wasn't very good.  Finally, I threw in one more selection, my last choice of muffin, raisin bran.

This may seem a bit odd, but it was very strategic.  Since a basket of 3 pastries was only $1 more than buying two individually, and I had the money included in my package, I went for the 3, obviously.  I was planning to get at least two (in case one wasn't good, plus, I like to try all the things).  I wanted to hedge my bets between the muffins and croissants.  And, still not expecting generic hotel pastries to be good, I threw in my last choice, just so I could try it, and get my curiosity out of the way.  Plus, I thought that maybe the basket was mini sizes rather than full, because really, what kind of breakfast is this?  Who orders a basket of these for breakfast?  As you can see, these weren't mini.

I laughed when I opened my bag to find my three, very large, pastries all smushed into the togo box together.  I wondered if when served at the restaurant they came in more of a "basket"?  I also thought "woah, what did you get yourself into, these are huge!"

I started with the blueberry muffin.  I took one bite, and stepped back, surprised.  Woah, where did this come from?  It was really, really good!  The top had a sweet streusel crumble.  I'm such a sucker for streusel.  It was crispy on top, just how I like.  Inside was moist and dense, although perhaps a little bit oily.  The blueberries inside were very flavorful, plump, and juicy, although there weren't tons of them.  Overall, really quite good, and they nailed the topping in particular (sure, it could have been less oily, and have more blueberries).

I quickly moved on to the raisin bran muffin.  It didn't have a streusel, but instead had an oat topping.  It too had a crispy top as I like, and was moist and dense inside, although again, a slightly too oily.  And, just like the blueberry muffin, the raisins were super plump, although again, like the blueberry, there weren't tons of them.  The base flavor had a complex sweetness to it, sorta like molasses.  Another quality muffin.

And finally, the pan au chocolat.  I'm not a huge fan of croissants, and always go for almond or otherwise filled, but again, I was just hedging my bets.  The croissant, like the muffins, was well executed.  The outside was crispy.  Inside was clearly defined layers, and it was moist.  It wasn't dried out at all.  The chocolate was quality dark chocolate, although, there wasn't tons of it.  Still, a good croissant.

Let's just say I was blown away.  These were all good, and clearly freshly baked.
Awake Pastry Basket To-Go: Raisin Bran Muffin, Blueberry Muffin, Banana Nut Muffin. $13.
The first day I got my pastry basket, Ojan went down on his own, and ordered just one muffin and one croissant.  Once I explained that for $1 more he could have a third item, and that it easily fit in our daily allowance, so the next day he opted to do so, and had me pick up his "basket" of muffins, along with a grapefruit juice.

Of course, I may have "helped" him out with some of these.  The raisin bran muffin was about the same as the day before, still a little too oily, but otherwise had a great flavor, and nice plump raisins.  I didn't try the blueberry, as it is his favorite and I had it the previous day, and he gobbled it up.

The banana nut turned out to be my favorite, and I immediately planned to order it myself again the next day.  Moist, good banana flavor, crunchy nuts, crispy top.

And of course, I did order the banana nut again (and again, and again).  Definitely my favorite of the muffins.  Crispy top, coated with sugar, moist interior, lots of nuts, banana flavor not to overwhelming.  Hands down favorite.
Blueberry Muffin.
One morning, all of my muffins arrived cut in half.  I'm not sure why, but, it enabled me to take close-up photos of the interiors, before I devoured them.

The blueberry muffin was always my second choice; I loved the streusel, the crispy top, and the moist decent base.  As I said before, the blueberries were huge, plump, and quite tasty, but here you can see illustrated my complaint that there were not many blueberries inside.
Raisin Bran Muffin.
The raisin bran was always my third choice, but one I was happy to eat.  It always had the oats on top, a molasses flavor to it, and plenty of raisins.  I wished I had tasty jam to slather on it.
Banana Nut Muffin.
But my favorite was always the banana nut.  Sugar on top, super crispy on top, moist inside.  Loaded up with walnuts, for extra crunch, and the banana flavor was never too overwhelming.

Sides

The final section of the menu is sides, such as plain or greek yogurt ($8), smoked salmon ($8), bacon ($7), sausage ($8), ham ($6), and potatoes ($7).
Pork Sausage. $8.
So, little known fact.  I love sausage.  Ok, not all sausage.  In fact, I don't really like sausages like you'd eat for lunch in a bun with toppings, I only like breakfast sausage, or crumbled sausage in pasta or on pizza.  I prefer patties, but a thick link with a crispy outside can be good too.  And, I like pork sausage, even though I don't really like many other pork products (other than bacon, pork belly, and uh, mortadella).  Heh, we can't control what we like, can we?

Anyway, to hedge my bets with the yogurt/fruit/granola dish, and to spend my full $24 credit, I added a side of sausage.  I had no idea what to expect, as it could be anything from a single sausage patty on the side, to a pile of greasy thin links.  I was quite pleased my when side arrived, 2 large, glistening, crispy sausage links.

The sausages were quite tasty.  Super crispy on the outside, just how I like.  They were thick and juicy.  Breakfast sausage style, so mildly seasoned.  Very large.  The serving of 2 of these was bigger than a regular lunch sausage, and really should have been split with someone, but, uh, I really liked my sausage, and had no one to share with.  How could I let this deliciousness go to waste?

I really love breakfast sausage drizzled with maple syrup, but I didn't have any (it comes with pancakes, so I'm sure I could have ordered some, but that certainly would have broke the bank!)  It was fine on its own, and easily devoured, but some syrup would have pushed it over the top.

It wasn't without faults though, as the sausage really was way too greasy.
Applewood Smoked Bacon. $7.
After the success of the sausage, I decided to go for bacon the next day when I was ordering to go.  The portion was 5 strips, slightly more modest than the two large sausages.

It was crispy, decently cooked bacon, but pretty greasy.  It didn't seem to have been drained.  I liked the crispiness, I liked the salt level, but, it was just bacon, nothing earth shattering.

$7 price was slightly lower than the sausage, but a bit crazy if you think about it as just 5 strips of bacon.
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