One thing I try to do for Sandwichtalk is keep things somewhat interesting and novel. I focus mainly on either new and limited time sandwiches from large chains, or I review small local places that readers may not have heard of. I don’t usually review the basic menu at most fast food restaurants because I assume most people already have a solid understanding of what they taste like, and various opinions on them. The maxim I always used to explain this was “It’s not like I’m going to post a review of a Big Mac or something.”

 

UNTIL NOW.

 

Burger King’s Big King, an absolutely shameless knockoff of the famous Big Mac, gives me the perfect opportunity to do just that. Let’s start with a quick overview of the Big Mac, for comparison. I like it. I don’t love it, and I much prefer the tried and true McDoubles if we’re going with McDonald’s, but the layers patties and bun set-up is interesting, and the combination of the sauce and pickles and onions is a cool alternative to the basic lettuce and tomato plan of most deluxe burgers. In short, I like the concept. But is Burger King’s execution an improvement on the original?

You come at the king, you better not miss.

You come at the king Mac, you better not miss.

Not really. The patties are a little higher quality, probably, as are the buns. It is Burger King, after all. And actually, so is the lettuce. It’s sort of the intangibles that get me on this one. It doesn’t taste like a Big Mac, exactly, but that’s not for lack of trying. If it was a little closer in taste, to the point that they were indistinguishable, I might rate it higher. I’d also like the other option, adding an extra element or something to rise above. But as it is, it’s just kind of a curio.

Excited for Dairy Queen's entry into the race, with two Dilly Bars swapped out for the patties.

Excited for Dairy Queen’s entry into the race, with two Dilly Bars swapped out for the patties.

I also tried the Chicken Big King, which does set itself apart by swapping out burgers for chicken. This isn’t too bad in theory, except that two processed chicken patties is way too many for one sandwich. The reason the Double Down worked (outside of wretched excess) is that KFC chicken is good. Burger King chicken is not that good, and this is too much of it. A chicken sandwich with lettuce, pickles, onion and sauce would probably work better.

All in all, I can’t fault BK for trying, but the Big King is more familiar than impressive. If you want two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese onions pickles on a sesame seed bun, just go with a Big Mac.

I’ve been a fan of Steak ‘n Shake since the earliest days of the blog, and their seasonal Oktoberfest Steakburger is among my favorite fast food burgers on the market. They’re pretty reliable when it comes to providing me with new and interesting burgers to try, and they’ve outdone themselves again with the Pepperoni Pizza Steakburger, an attempt to combine both pizza and burgers into a single gesalt pleasure. Well, let’s get to it!

I know a ton of people who get pedantic about what is and isn't a sandwich, or a pizza, or BBQ or what have you. Just enjoy the crazy food times we live in.

I know a ton of people who get pedantic about what is and isn’t a sandwich, or a pizza, or BBQ or what have you. Just enjoy the crazy food times we live in.

The Pepperoni Pizza Steakburger is pretty obvious, in design. It’s two patties topped with mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce and pepperoni slices, and then served on a pretzel bun. It’s a nice idea, and executed decently well. The pepperoni is pretty good, and there’s plenty of cheese and sauce. It’s a little greasy, so the pretzel bun is a nice choice to help soak up excess grease. It’s also kind of heavy, with all the meat and cheese, so make sure you have a big appetite.

The Pepperoni Pizza Steakburger runs for about $5.50 with fries and a drink. I haven’t had a ton to say about it because it’s pretty average, overall. If you came up with this in your house, it would be the coolest thing you ever made, but as a restaurant offering, it’s inexplicably a little lackluster. Still, I’ve ordered it more than once, so I guess I enjoy it, so I’ll give it a recommendation.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Taco Bell has recently introduced a breakfast menu, available from about 7:00 AM until 11:00 AM at most of their restaurants. You might be thinking “oh, that actually sounds cool. I wonder if they’ll adapt actual Mexican or Latin American breakfast dishes into something that can be easily reproduced in a fast food setting?” You’re right, dear reader, that would be cool. It’s also almost the opposite of what they did. Rather than adapting Mexican breakfast food into a fast food context, they adapted standard fast food breakfast fare into vaguely Mexican shapes and formats. This isn’t a super new idea, as evidenced by even McDonald’s having breakfast burritos, and the majority of their menu is pretty standard breakfast burritos and tacos. The signature ones, though, are the AM Crunchwrap, a variation of their standard Crunchwrap full of breakfast meats and cheese and an entire hash brown, and the Waffle Taco, which is you guessed it, a waffle folded over like a taco, full of eggs, sausage and cheese. It also comes with syrup to drizzle across it.

Oh my God... I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! (camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand)

Oh my God… I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! (camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand)

If it sounds like I’m angry about this, I’m not. This is basically the kind of thing Sandwichtalk lives for, and my only regret is that it took me so long to try it and report back. A lot of it had to do with putting in the effort to get out to a Taco Bell before noon, to be honest. But enough chit-chat. Is the Taco Bell Breakfast menu worth it?

Actually yeah, I’d say so. I’m a fan of fast food breakfasts in general, with the McGriddles being my favorite, and it’s pretty standard, in terms of ingredients and quality. The AM Crunchwrap comes with choice of meat between steak, sausage and bacon, and I went with sausage, the most breakfasty of the bunch. It was all surprisingly competent, with the eggs, hash brown and sausage being pretty tasty and the right consistency. It also had a tangy sauce, which may have been the normal Crunchwrap sauce (I’m not overly familiar with the Crunchwrap) but reminded me of their quesadilla sauce. All in all, it was satisfying, and easier to eat than I remember Crunchwraps as being.

The little lumps on the left are Cinnabon Delights. They're kind of beyond this blog's purview, but they're delicious little doughnut holes filled with icing and served warm. They might be the best part.

The little lumps on the left are Cinnabon Delights. They’re kind of beyond this blog’s purview, but they’re delicious little doughnut holes filled with icing and served warm. They might be the best part.

And now, for the main event. The Waffle Taco. Unfortunately for this blog, the Waffle Taco is both not as bad I might have feared, nor as good as I might have hoped. The waffle itself is alright, but much more akin to a thick flatbread than an actual waffle. It’s soft and a bit soggy, where I was hoping for a texture if not quite as still as a hard shell, then at least a little crispy. The sausage and eggs are fine, and the addition of syrup is a nice touch. This all probably sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not a bad breakfast. It can be a little messy, so I’d probably go with the Crunchwrap in general over the Waffle Taco, but the WT is worth trying at least once.

It’s odd to say I was disappointed by the Taco Bell Breakfast, because it’s actually much better than I expected. Everything about it was tasty enough, and competently executed. It’s just that McDonald’s and Burger King have had the breakfast game locked up for years now, and without something truly revolutionary, Taco Bell can’t compete. But there’s nothing wrong with being acceptable, so if you’re looking for cheap breakfast (around $5 per meal) and a Taco Bell is nearby, give it a shot.

I reviewed Kalamazoo downtown lunch spot Dogs With Style a couple years ago, but it’s recently come under new management, and the changes are significant enough to warrant another review. The ladies who run the place are taking it to the next level. They still have the usual standbys, like Coney, Polish and Chicago dogs, and they’re all good. But the real draw of Dogs With Style 2.0 is the visionary new hot dogs they have.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The one on the left is the Mad Max, and the one on the right is the Guatemalan. Say hello, boys.

The two I’m reviewing, the Mad Max and the Guatemalan, are like edible works of art. The Guatemalan is similar to a Chicago, in that it features a number of vegetables accompanying the frank. The Guatemalan includes cabbage, avocado, tomato, and a couple different salsas and sauces. There are a lot of flavors at work here, and they all harmonize wonderfully. It’s a bit spicy, but the avocado helps to cool it down. It’s a great example of the kinds of interesting things you can do with hot dogs if you have a solid imagination and palette.

But on to the main event. The Mad Max is an evolution of the Swanky Franky, a fabled hot dog concept involving cheese and bacon my parents told me about as a child. I never imagined I’d see one in a restaurant in my lifetime. The Mad Max starts with a hot dog frank, split and filled with pepper jack cheese and then wrapped in bacon and cooked. It improves upon the Swanky Franky here though, by topping it with macaroni and cheese and sriracha and serving it on a pretzel bun. It’s a decadent delight. The central frank is delicious and well-crafted. I’ve never had a problem with cheese leakage or bacon falling off. The mac and cheese uses think bow-tie pasta and is dry enough that it works as a topping without making the whole thing soggy. You haven’t had the true Dogs With Style experience until you’ve had the Mad Max.

Just because I've waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn't mean their regular fare isn't great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

Just because I’ve waxed poetic about their specialty hot dogs doesn’t mean their regular fare isn’t great, as these Chicago and Coney dogs prove.

The new Dogs With Style is even better than before, and definitely worth checking out. Most dogs range from between $2-4, well worth the trip. As far as I know, they’re still cash only at this point, so keep that in mind. They’ve also expanded the previous hours, so they’re not only open for lunch (11AM-3PM) but for late night snacks from 10PM-2AM Monday Wednesday and Friday nights.

We need to talk about the recent changes to McDonald’s Dollar Menu. The rising cost of beef has hit the fast food industry pretty hard, with recent focuses on chicken sandwiches and slowly creeping prices on various value menus. The hard times have even hit McDonald’s, who recently recalibrated their dollar menu with some new options and shifted price points. First let’s start out with the nightmare bad news: the McDouble has been raised to $1.19. While this isn’t a huge price increase, there’s just something about America’s favorite dollar burger (or at least, my favorite dollar burger) breaking that threshold that’s kind of sad. There are some new, cheaper burger options, but both of them only include one patty. The other additions are McChicken variations, used to pad out the 99 cent section of the menu. Let’s look at some of these freshman offerings.

*slide whistle*

*slide whistle*

The Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger is pretty simple. It’s a patty with a heaping helping of grilled onions and a slice of White Cheddar cheese, similar to a White Castle hamburger. It’s not bad by any means, but again, compared to the lean, balance recipe of the McDouble, it’s just kinda lacking. Stranger still is the BBQ Ranch Burger, another single patty burger that shares the White Cheddar but adds barbecue ranch sauce and genericized Fritos corn chips. It’s interesting, and I’ll give them points for originality, but it still doesn’t really come together very well. They can’t afford tomatoes on a dollar burger, but even some onion or something might give it a little more of an identity. The last one I sampled was the Bacon Cheddar McChicken, which as you’d expect was a McChicken with bacon and Cheddar cheese on top. It was an improvement over the regular McChicken, but the McChicken patty is still substandard, so if you really want chicken, their premium chicken sandwiches are worth the extra price.

No bad ideas in brainstorming. Actually producing and selling this, though...

No bad ideas in brainstorming. Actually producing and selling this, though…

All in all, the new Dollar Menu sandwiches do little to soften the blow of the McDouble price hike. I appreciate the effort, but none of them are remarkably good, and it’s still probably a better bet to go with the McDouble, even with the markup. It’s took bad they didn’t take a page out of Burger King’s book and try a French Fry Burger, I think that might actually be worth having on their menu.

Subway’s November line of sandwiches claims to be “the hottest they’ve ever offered,” and they’re doing it with the help of everyone’s favorite trendy condiment, Sriracha.  For the uninitiated, Sriracha is a Vietnamese hot sauce, made primarily from chili peppers, vinegar, sugar and salt. It’s used both as a general term for the style of sauce, as well as the product name for the brand sold by Huy Fong Foods in the United States (this will be important later). Sriracha’s appeal is split; detractors characterize it as little more than a fancy ketchup or hot sauce, but the faithful apply it to everything from burgers to eggs to macaroni and cheese. I’ve had the sauce once or twice, but I was interested to see how the Subway sandwich handled it. And to be honest, my opinion is less important than the answer to this question: How much, dear reader, do YOU like Sriracha?

I have to give it to them, though, it IS a clever use of a buzzword. Reminds me of the glory days of "chipotle" stuff.

I have to give it to them, though, it IS a clever use of a buzzword. Reminds me of the glory days of “chipotle” stuff.

Hopefully, the answer was “a lot,” because this sandwich is all about it. Remember how I said that Sriracha is both the general type of sauce and the brand that everyone buys? I’m not positive, but it seems like the sauce on the sandwich is the former, rather than the latter. For one thing, it’s a “creamy Sriracha,” with a lighter color and thicker consistency than the usual Huy Fong version. This alone leads me to believe Subway developed it in-house, as well as the fact that it’s really spicy. I had mine with pepper jack cheese, green and banana peppers, tomatoes, and onions, which didn’t help the spice any. I’ve always preferred spicy foods with a primary flavor to those that are just hot for hot’s sake. It’s a reason I’ve never really gotten on board with Buffalo Chicken. While the Huy Fong Sriracha we know and love works well for me, this just doesn’t. It’s too hot, without a clear peppery taste to make the burning worthwhile. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely cut it with ranch or mayonnaise to cool it down a little bit.

The Sriracha Chicken Melt is around $6 for a six inch sub, which is all I could take of it, honestly. I’ve never been a fan of vinegar-based heat, and that’s really the main thing this has going for it. I’d be really interested in a Subway take on a Bahn Mi, or some other Vietnamese-influenced sandwich idea, but this just feels like they’re trading in on a popular name. But hey, if you like hot stuff, or you looooove Sriracha, maybe you should check it out. Just make sure to grab a drink or something too, you’re gonna need it.

Arby’s has made a lot of money doing one thing very well: roast beef. Sure, they’ve branched out into other sandwiches, especially in recent years, and you’ll never find a more ardent defender of their Chicken Bacon Swiss sandwich than on this blog. But overall, it’s their thin-sliced roast beef that provides them with a reliable foothold in the fast food world. I was interested, then, to try the Smokehouse Brisket, It follows the usual Arby’s format pretty closely, but rather than roast beef, the beef here is smoked, and not only smoked, but smoked for “at least 13 hours,” as the website repeatedly assures us. Sounds interesting, but does it have the juice?

Absolutely, positively no less than 13 hours of smoking! This thing should come with a Surgeon General's warning!

Absolutely, positively no less than 13 hours of smoking! This thing should come with a Surgeon General’s warning!

…To some extent, yeah. The Smokehouse Brisket is piled pretty high with smoked beef, which actually turned out pretty good. It has a nice, distinct flavor, and a texture that’s chewier than roast beef while still remaining pleasing. It’s also loaded up with smoked Gouda cheese (an interesting, if somewhat bland choice), crispy onions, BBQ sauce and mayo. Everything pulls together pretty well, but not overpoweringly so. One odd bit to note is that while the sandwich is designed to be served on a toasted bun, mine came on a basic sesame seed roll, and after comparing the two, I actually prefer the mistake, I don’t know if it’s work a special order, but given the circumstances, I thought it was worth mentioning.

The Smokehouse Brisket is a little pricier than the average Arby’s sandwich, coming in around $7.50 for a combo. I wouldn’t call it a must-buy, but if you’re at Arby’s and feeling a little adventurous, I’d check it out.

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