Thursday, April 28, 2016

Charlies Kitchen in Cambridge Massachusetts!

Working in Cambridge, MA can be a bit of a blessing and a curse. Occasionally it’s nice to get out of the office and into the bustle of students and academia and castle-y looking buildings that remind me of my youth. Or I guess more accurately, pretend that they remind me of my youth- my school had “students”, “academia”, and “buildings”. But it can be a real pain when errand xyz lies behind troves of tour groups and long lines. But there’s one place that always catches my eye when I’m in the Harvard neighborhood, just between my bank and local comic shop- a symbiotic relationship between the two, I might add. It’s called Charlie’s Kitchen, the “Double Cheeseburger King”, and it boasts what claims to be a “World Famous Double Cheeseburger”. Today I decided to brave the conditions and give it a go.

I don’t know about you folks, but there’s only one place in the world I know that can boast a world famous double cheeseburger. It’s called McDonalds, and it’s where you go to spend little over a dollar for a double cheeseburger. What could make a double cheeseburger more than really just a double cheeseburger? Is it a special mix of herbs and spices?  Size? Free condiments? In McDonald’s case, I’ve already answered the question- it’s really cheap. I get exactly what I expected every time- a cheap, thrown together meat holder with cheese. So with hopes of something that could warp that concept, I set out to Charlie’s on a Sunday morning where I really had nothing better to do then wait for the season premiere of Game of Thrones.

It was a chilly, windy day, but as I entered I knew I wanted to sit in the rows of empty patio tables out front. Charlie’s Beer Garden looked packed, and when I entered the restaurant, I felt the glare of the regulars all wondering why I didn’t go out to the Beer Garden with the rest of the non-regulars. The maître d’ seemed not to mind seating me out front even though I was the only patron there, which I appreciated. It gave me a chance to soak in the atmosphere of little-recognized Brattle Square, a spot so close to Harvard Square it makes one wonder why they bothered naming it.

The maître-d’ ended up being my waiter, and he checked up on me just after I settled on my choice of drink. The drink was bourbon mixed with ginger beer- I believe they called it a Bourbon Mule. Not as strong as I would’ve liked, but they seldom are. It was definitely mixed with real ginger beer though, as I could taste the notes of ginger above the strong taste of bourbon. At $6.00 a pop, though, I should not have cared  of whether it was ginger beer or ginger ale. I had barely finished it before my double cheeseburger arrived- maybe about ten minutes after I placed my order.

Really? Really though? It looked like something I could’ve whipped up at home, if I had the patience with a grill and cooking and what-not. There was the burger, open-faced on both sides, two patties and two slabs of cheese. I felt like a putz. The buns were not grilled. There were no fancy spices on the patties or the fries. And the fries looked more dull and bland than khaki pants. Disappointed, I slid the tomato, pickles, and lettuce on to the burger and chewed.

It tasted like a family barbecue. Which, all things considered, isn’t really that bad. A must-eat, definitely not, but it wasn’t necessarily wrong in any way, just kind of plain. I ate it and the fries quickly, and feared I had nothing of substance to put in my review.

I was kind of surprised when I looked up and saw an unexpected fellow patron seated at a table a few rows in front of me. She was young with dark hair and also seated alone. I felt compelled to ask her why she had come to Charlie’s unaccompanied for a quick bite to eat. Was she writing for a food blog too?
Jessie had a lot of good things to say about Charlie’s. She said it had been there for a long time, was a popular spot for the nightlife (they serve their full menu until close), and had killer karaoke on Tuesday’s, where she busted out some Dave Matthew’s Band and Creed. She admitted that their food might not be something big to write about, but it was really the ambiance and familiarity that kept her coming back. Given her willingness to be interviewed, I was inclined to believe her. She also tipped me in that burgers need to be ordered on grilled cheese and the fries simply must be their waffle fries.
So Charlie, you caught a pretty big break this time.
I’m gonna say:
 “Charlie’s World Famous Double Cheeseburger” = C+. Not bad, nothing special. Ideal for drunk, home-sick students.
Ambiance = B. The Beer Garden really seemed hoppin (pun=hops), but I was too intrigued by the advertising of this burger to pay it any mind. Considering a random patron wanted to chat with a stranger about how great the place was for over fifteen minutes?  That’s solid enough for me.

So if you’re visiting Brattle (Harvard) Square after 8pm during  the school year, drop me a line and let me know why it’s awesome spot. Until then, I’ll be in search of other cool places around Cambridge to write about.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

M&M's have gone nuts! THREE NEW FLAVORS: Honey Nut, Coffee Nut, and Chili Nut!

I've never shied away from trying a new flavor of any candy. Sure, there's some that end up not being very good. But in the end I will always try anything once, even if it's a flavor I might expect to not like. Never before has that been more true than with the three new flavors of M&M's. All three are new takes on the classic Peanut M&M but you can vote online for which of the three will stick around. The flavors? Honey Nut (Sounds fun!), Coffee Nut (Oooh interesting), and...Chili Nut (Wait...what? Who would want...ugh seriously?...). But as a member of the most kick ass food blog on the entire Internet, it's my duty. So let's do this! Three new kinds of M&M's in one review! 

First up, Coffee Nut! Living in Seattle, I take my coffee pretty seriously. I drink about a pot a day and don't feel bad about it. Even when I'm so jittery that I feel like I'm shaking more than the meth-head I passed on my way back from the store today. The price you pay, son! Judging these by the evidence given, I was expecting them to just taste like a peanut M&M with an added fake coffee taste, and you know what? That's exactly what they are.

They chose an earthy brown color scheme for these and it fits them nicely. You can't have bright colors when you're trying to taste like coffee. In the end these aren't bad, but they also aren't anything I would freak out about. It might have been cool for them to smash up espresso beans in the chocolate for a SERIOUS coffee flavor. I almost said swap out the peanut for an espresso bean, but you know what? Is that ever good? Flavor-wise, yeah, but then you're left with a mouth full of espresso bean debris for the next hour. So, no, that's not a good idea at all.

If you're a fan of coffee flavored things and Peanut M&M's like I am, these are a pleasant little treat, but not good enough to get my vote for one that needs to stick around in their usual lineup. 

Next up? HONEY NUT! 

When I ripped open the package of these I was really hoping that the gimmick here would be that the peanut inside would be a honey roasted peanut. Seems like that would make sense, right? How else would you change a regular peanut M&M into a Honey Nut M&M? Well...apparently they had other ideas. It's just a regular peanut. At first these seems to be...regular peanut M&M's. Perhaps if I was some chump off the street I would believe that. But you see, my taste buds are honed to superhuman levels so I did detect an added honey flavor and sweetness. But having to try this hard to taste a flavor reminded me of when we reviewed Birthday Cake M&Ms...

There is honey flavor here, and I can't for the life of me tell if it's in the candy shell or the chocolate. But either way, it's way too faint. While I enjoy the yellow and black coloring and what honey flavor they do have, I really think if they had combined whatever they have already done, with making the peanut a honey roasted peanut, these might have been a home run. Still enjoyable, but missed potential!

Now comes the one I was dreading out of the three...Chili Nut M&M's!

I popped two of these in my mouth and chewed them up and had a split second where I said, "Hmm...these might not be that bad." Then the spice started to burn a little. These are basically spicy peanut M&Ms. The peanut isn't a chili peanut or anything. They just have chili spice mixed in. At first I tossed the package aside in disgust. Spicy M&M's! Who would want that?! Gross!

But then something happened...

As the spiciness on my tongue started to go away my brain presented the question, "Well...why not spicy peanut M&Ms?" It's true. I've had chocolates that were slightly spicy before that ended up being pretty tasty. While it's not the first flavor I would navigate towards when looking for a sweet treat, is it so bad? To find out, I decided to eat the entire package.

I thought I would hate these. So much that I did at first. But then as I ate more, they were kind of a fun take on a classic. The spice definitely builds. So once you put down a handful of them you have a pretty solid burn going. Keep in mind I'm a level 27 wimp when it comes to spicy stuff. I enjoy a burn here and there if the flavor is good enough along with it, but really spicy stuff, I only eat on a dare. But these aren't terrible. The classic crunch of the peanut and candy shell together take on a whole different importance when coupled with a spicy burn. They go together quite well and the sweetness and creaminess of the chocolate eases it a little bit.

In the end if I had to vote for a favorite of the three, I supposed it would be the Honey Nut, which is kind of disappointing because while they are good they could have been awesome. Are they worth a try? Absolutely. The Coffee Nut are also pretty good but the coffee flavor seemed to get more fake with the more I ate. They are all cool and interesting enough to scoop up a pack just to try them. Even if you are unsure about the Chili Nut, If you are into spicy stuff at all, give them a whirl and you might be surprised like I was!

Click the pic below to vote for whichever flavor you think is best!

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Review by Rich, who currently hunts M&M's in Seattle, Washington when he's not hunting for the real life Superhero known as Phoenix Jones.

Monday, April 11, 2016

What the hell is Chocolate Leather? Let's find out together!

What the hell is Chocolate Leather?! When Rich first asked me about reviewing it, a few different scenarios ran through my mind. Could it be a replica of the Fonz’s jacket made entirely from milk chocolate? Maybe a few slabs of flank steak carved out of the cows that they use to make chocolate milk? Or perhaps he had heard about my crippling loneliness and pitied me enough to send me out a top-notch hooker from Seattle? With high hopes it was the latter, I enthusiastically responded with a hell yea and I sent him my office address, because whatever the situation was, I’d almost certainly be receiving a very welcome stress relief in the middle of a very stressful day. 

A few weeks later I had completely forgotten about the offer as the paradoxically anxiety inducing and mind numbing work days cyclically rolled on like a wheel on Satan’s chariot. Upon my return from yet another lunch break that felt exactly 7.5 times too short, I was welcomed back by two large packages behind the front desk for a co-worker, or so I assumed, as I hadn’t had the time to order office supplies for at least a month. I brought the packages to her desk and as I passed them to her, the shipping label on the larger one caught my bloodshot eyes. The sender: Manhattan Chocolates. The recipient: yours truly. At that moment it dawned on me that the mysteries of Chocolate Leather were about to be revealed.

I didn’t even wait to get it back to my desk. I ripped open that box like it contained a life less depressing than my own. Well in a way, it did, because this treasure chest contained not one Chocolate Leathers, not two, but five beautiful boxes of them- three original, three dark chocolate. 

Things were finally looking up. 

I took the bounty back to my desk and opened one up. I chewed it… and I chewed… and I kept on chewing. These bars are extremely chewy. But as I chewed my mouth filled up with genuine chocolate flavor. The flavor of the dark chocolate flavor is indistinguishable from a traditional chocolate bar. The original flavor has more of a caramel like taste. But the consistency is a bit strange- not just the chewiness but it actually becomes kind of a grainy texture from the brown rice crisps. I ate a couple of each flavor, which I enjoyed, and then decided I was satisfied, what with bikini season coming up and what not. A few minutes later I found myself mindlessly reaching for another, and another. After about eating six or seven, I noticed that they were only a mere fifty or sixty calories each! So I gleefully and gluttonously snacked on them guilt free for the rest of the day. Not bad for a dude who just came back from his lunch break.

With my brain now saturated in chocolate covered serotonin, I decided to share my good fortune with some of my coworkers, blissfully unaware that I would quickly creating a whole office full of ravenous chocolate craving monsters. A mere half hour later people I had never seen before were asking me for one of these mysterious treats that had taken the building by storm. My co-workers didn’t like them, they LOVED them. Seriously, it’s been a few weeks since that awesome day and they are still asking me if I have any left (I do, but I tell them I don’t because I want them for myself). 

As an added bonus for our friends with dietary restrictions out there, they’re gluten, dairy, soy, and GMO free. They also use fair trade certified ingredients- which, admittedly, I don’t exactly know what that means but it sounds like something I’d probably be on board with. Anyway,  I think Chocolate Leather would be perfect for chocolate lovers to take on hikes or a long bike rides, because they won’t get all melty in your backpack or picnic basket like regular chocolate (although a bit gooey if you pocket them for too long). Look, I know they sound pretty weird, but everyone I’ve shared them with so far has enjoyed them and eaten more than a few. With this in mind, here’s my report card:
Chocolate Leather Original Flavor: B
Chocolate Leather Dark Chocolate Flavor: B+

The one constructive criticism I might give is that given they’re aimed at the health conscious consumer, it’d be nice to see some protein worked in there. But then again, I’m a lowly food blogger, not a food scientist- this suggestion is probably easier said than done. Truth be told, I’ll binge eat them either way.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Burger King: The Angriest of all Whoppers

Burger King released a black-bunned Halloween-themed burger last year. It gained notoriety after people started dropping bright green deuces. It became a bowel movement badge of honor to try this burger. Think about that for a moment. People were buying this Whopper to see how it looked the next day. Great marketing tactic, BK!

I’m sad to report that the new bright red Burger King Angriest Whopper bun does not cause turd tinting. This is not as big of a letdown as the burger itself.

Full disclosure: I had to get some liquid courage before this review due to my general dislike of BK. I do promise that this is an objective review.

Burger King mindgames

I ripped into the bag (possible red poo, remember) and was immediately disappointed. I ordered the large fry and this was a medium at best. BK fries are some of the worst but can easily be improved with salt and ranch. On to the main event!

WOW! Looks exactly like the promo pics!

According to BK’s website, The Angriest Whopper consists of savory flame-grilled beef, piled high with thick-cut bacon, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, angry onion petals, jalapenos, creamy mayonnaise and spicy angry sauce all layered between a red bun that has hot sauce baked in. YUM!!! 

Yes, that is a red-bun

The Whopper is a decent fast food burger. It’s got the nostalgia factor but hasn’t really changed in decades. Enter the Angriest Whopper. First impressions, it’s a mess. There was too much going on. The pissed off onion petals were chewy and most definitely not freshly fried. No heat. The lettuce was limp and pointless. Same with the tomato. They forgot the “angry sauce.” The jalapenos added some heat, natch, but were right out the can. Some fresh ones would’ve done wonders. The bacon was decent and had a nice crisp. The massive globs of mayo were a bit much for this guy, but the American cheese added a nice flavor and was melted perfectly.

I can’t get over how this looks 100% like the pics from the website
And how about that novelty bright red bun with hot sauce BAKED RIGHT IN?? It tasted just like a regular bun. I even isolated a morsel to make it more scientific of a process. Not hot, not even Gringo hot. Straight up Whopper bun. 

Burger King is as royal as King Joffrey, nay, Prince Robin of the Vale-I’m way too excited about season 6 of Game of Thrones. Anyways, I’ll gladly stick with BK for their satisfying and greasy breakfast menu but you’re killin me with these garbage burgers.

I give the “Angriest Whopper” a C for only truly being a little miffed, not Hulk-angry, as I was promised. -Mark

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Friday, April 1, 2016

Wingstop Smoke 9 wings!

I had seen Wing Stop around before but never ended up stopping into one. So when one of our readers emailed us asking if we had tried their new Smoke 9 wings, I decided that it was time for the FGFB to roll up on a Wing Stop and see what they were all about. 

We were turned away from the first location because their card reader was down. Hey, It happens right? No big deal! Not like I expected them to roll out a red carpet for the me. They can't all be Qdoba, right? 

Luckily there was another location just twenty minutes away!

This location was nestled in a little mall area with plenty of parking. We parked right in this handicap spot in front and strolled in like we owned the place. (Just kidding. We would never do that. Respect.)

The inside was clean and decorated with lots of Aeronautics memorabilia. It took me a second to put that together. Planes? Wings? Wing Stop? Ohhhh okay.

Then the sign was staring me in the face. The wings that took them nine times to perfect! A dry rub with a mesquite bite and smoky finish! The Smoke 9 Wings! So not only did I order those, but also decided to try lots of other stuff. If you're going to do a review, you might as well do it right, right?

Let's start with the coleslaw. It's never incredible. It's often terrible. I grew up eating the stuff from KFC and loving it, but these days that's been downgraded to just liking it. This slaw was a lot like KFC's. A lot like it. Maybe slightly less sweet. Not bad!

 We got an order of their regular seasoned fries. Let me tell you something. I rarely even think about fries these days because they are so similar from one restaurant to another. Rarely am I surprised by them. These fries? EXCELLENT. Whatever their seasoning is, it was delicious. I looked online to see what people were saying and it seems like their recipe is still a secret. But not only was the seasoning great but they were hand cut and still had skin in places, plus they were cooked to perfection. Big thumbs on on these fries.

Then there was the option for Parmesan fries, so we tried that too! Same great fries but with a ton of Parmesan cheese all over them. Still delicious but not nearly as good as the ones with just the Wing Stop seasoning on them.

Their menu also boasted a cheese sauce you could buy in different sizes to dip your fries or chicken in. Normally I wouldn't have been enticed by this, but they called it "Aged Cheddar cheese sauce." Aged you say? Cheddar, you say? Well, guess what? It tasted exactly like the horrid nacho cheese sauce you get at the movies with those cardboard-like yellow chips. Not a fan. The top congealed like  a wound scabbing over maybe two minutes after I uncovered it and I never went back. 

If you're going to get chicken at a place you absolutely need to try their rolls. It's an unspoken rule. The last chicken place we reviewed, you know, the one that's Oprah's favorite, had incredible rolls. Off the charts awesome. KFC has those biscuits, which used to be good but now they are the smaller than the damn croutons on my salad. These rolls? Not bad at all! They come out glistening with butter and are quite soft. No complaints here!

In case you're doubting me on the fries, here's the aftermath. When all was said and done we ate every one of those little crumbs out of the regular seasoned fries and left a good amount of the Parmesan ones.

So did we try any chicken at this wing joint or what? Yup, we did. We started out with some Hickory Smoked BBQ boneless wings. Some of you wing purists will be asking why I went boneless. The answer is quite simple: I'm all set with gnawing at gristle and bone like a mad dog. Also if we're coming at it from a monetary standpoint, you're throwing a third of what you're paying for in the trash. You go boneless, you waste NOTHING. See? This is how you save the environment, FGFB Style. 

Their boneless wings are damn good. A generous portion of white meat chicken surrounded in thick, crunchy breading and slathered in sweet and smokey bbq sauce. They had a very sweet base with a nice tangy burn as you ate more of them.

They reminded me a lot of the Honey BBQ Boneless wings from Applebees, but if they were made with all around better ingredients. Better chicken, top notch breading and a much more interesting bbq sauce. I totally give these a thumbs up.

Next up we went with the Garlic Parmesan Chicken tenders!

I have to say, their chicken tenders themselves were excellent. Delicious slabs of white meat chicken breaded with a thinner coating than the boneless wings. The meat was still juicy but not to the point where the breading got soggy. The Garlic Parmesan flavor was good, but again, the issue with the fries is kind of the same here. The cheese ends up sprinkling off. If they had used a garlic oil and shaved pieces of the cheese it might be way better. But all in all, the fingers were great and I'd imagine if they were rolled in any of their signature sauces they would be excellent.

Finally we reach the main event of the evening. The Smoke 9 boneless wings. These had a very unique smell, before I even bit into one. I was intrigued by the notion of putting a dry rub of flavor on fried chicken. Is this a thing that happens? I've put down my fair share of chicken and it's usually only sauces that they are rolled in.

It took them nine tries to get it right, but I'll tell you what, the ninth time is the charm. These things were great! They tasted a lot like the seasoning on the fries but with a massive added smokey flavor! 

Excellent chunks of chicken, thick breading and plenty of flavor dust. The rub made me think of the flavor particles you'd see on Doritos. Which then made me realize this flavor would be awesome on chips. Smoky, slightly sweet, with a definite garlic flavor and maybe even some citrus in there! These had a lot going on!

As I got to the bottom I was met with a puddle of Smoke 9 flavored grease. I'd like to tell you that I let these last two go and tossed them away because I knew how bad this was for me. But, my friends, I'm not going to start lying to you now. I actually dug them deeper into the puddle, trying to cover them with as much of the Smoke 9 flavor as I could, and boy, was it great.

I'm giving the Smoke 9 Wings from Wing Stop a solid B+! Little greasy at the end but all around good chicken and a very unique flavor that I would absolutely go back for.

The Smoke 9 flavor at Wing Stop is only there for a limited time so make sure you go get them soon!
For more info on this and other Wing Stop items, check out their website!

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Review by Rich Brunelle, who currently lives in Seattle, Washington and spends his days walking around his neighborhood counting how many dudes have the Macklemore haircut.