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.

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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 theĀ 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.

Pretzel buns are a relative newcomer to the fast food scene. Long established in smaller restaurants as a complement to ham and cheese sandwiches, they began to come into vogue last fall as an Oktoberfest ingredient. Both Steak ‘n’ Shake and Red Robin offered Oktoberfest burgers on pretzel, paired with sauteed onions and spicy brown mustard. It’s a traditional German thing, or maybe a Chicago thing too? I dunno. Anyway, the pretzel bun is making the move to more pure commercial restaurants with Wendy’s new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. It’s less ambitious than most Oktoberfest burgers, skewing closer to a basic bacon cheeseburger.

I didn't want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I'm not a rabbit.

I didn’t want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I’m not a rabbit.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger adds a hearty honey mustard to the usual array of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The cheese used is Cheddar, which is a nice step up from the usual American and suits the pretzel bun well. My only complaint is that mine had a bit too much lettuce. It was good lettuce (I’ve never been a fan of the shredded stuff), but it would’ve overpowered the burger if I hadn’t pulled some off. The pretzel bun has a nice flavor and different texture, but isn’t overly chewy or tough. The burger seemed a little on the small side, but overall was tasty and satisfying.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger runs for about $6-7 in a combo, which is a pretty good deal. If the current trends continue and pretzel burgers continue to expand, you won’t have much trouble finding some to try. So far, though, this is among the best of them, and doesn’t appear to be seasonal. Give it a shot.

I’ve been away from my duties as a sandwich blogger for a while now, and things have changed in my absence. McDonald’s once-lauded Angus burger line has been retired. As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of the campaign to convince (read: trick) people into thinking that “Angus” is some kind of marker of higher quality, rather than just a specific brand. The Angus burgers were a decent line, as specialty burgers go, but I felt that they lacked creativity and ingenuity to set them apart.

Of course, this doesn’t mean McDonald’s isn’t still going to offer deluxe burgers with various fixings. Empires rise and empires fall; the classic Big ‘n’ Tasty was axed just before the Angus invasion, and obviously the time is ripe for a new set of burgers. This time, McDonald’s is keeping it pretty simple. The new line is an expansion of their basic Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with the addition of bacon to most options as a theme. Not terribly daring, but one of them showed a little bit of promise: the Bacon Habanero Ranch QPC.

HAB

HAB

The Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder with Cheese is the most unique of the new line. Rather than American cheese, it uses a slice of White Cheddar atop a patty and a couple strips of bacon. It also includes lettuce and tomato, but the real draw is the eponymous sauce. It has a low, building heat, but enough of an actual Ranch and pepper flavor that it’s still enjoyable to taste. I kind of wouldn’t mind a little bit more from this sandwich, like actual peppers or crispy onions, but it also seems to have been designed on a budget, which I can respect.

Speaking of the budget, the BHRQPC is affordably priced at around $5 for a combo. The entire line is, which is clearly a reaction to the dip in the higher-priced Angus sales. All in all, it’s a decent deluxe burger. The McWrap is still a stronger bet for taste/quality, and you really can’t beat a couple of McDoubles for value, but if you’re looking for a bacon cheeseburger with a bit of a twist, the Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder with Cheese is a nice pick.

I have to tell you guys, I was a little skeptical of the McWrap. I’ve long been annoyed with the popularity of the Snackwrap, McBites, and other new menu items McDonald’s has introduced over the past couple of years. I think that for the most part, these are just ways to reuse existing items with smaller portions. Every time they push one of these, or a new coffee drink, it means we’re gonna have to wait that much longer for a new bonafide sandwich to review. At first glance, I figured the McWrap was more of the same: existing stuff mixed around and packaged as something new. Strangely enough, that’s exactly what it is, and I actually love it for it.

Wait, did McDonald's just trick me into eating a salad by wrapping it in a tortilla?? (The Chicken and Bacon is on the right)

Wait, did McDonald’s just trick me into eating a salad by wrapping it in a tortilla?? (The Chicken and Bacon is on the right)

Let me explain. First of all, the McWrap is much bigger than I expected. While Snackwraps are a single chicken finger wrapped in some lettuce and tortilla, the McWrap includes a full-sized chicken breast filet sliced up. It’s actually much bigger than the commercials suggest, which is surprising. I also didn’t realize from the ads that there are three different flavors: Chicken and Bacon, Chicken and Ranch, and Sweet Chili Chicken. There’s a lot of overlap in the ingredients, but I decided to start out with the Chicken and Bacon.

Now, how was the sandwich itself? Really good, as it turns out! The weirdest part about it is that it repurposes a lot of salad ingredients, like the salad lettuce and tomatoes and shredded Cheddar cheese. This is actually a big perk, because the salad lettuce and tomato are much nicer than the stuff they usually put on sandwiches. The lettuce isn’t shredded, and the tomatoes are sliced thicker. There’s also a garlic sauce, which is sort of like a fancy mayo with some subtle spice to it. All in all, it’s impressively high-quality for a McDonald’s sandwich, especially in this era of various “bites.”

The McWraps go for around $6 in a combo, and are definitely one of the best options for chicken on the menu right now. I’m looking forward to trying the other two varieties, but if you’re a fan of actual quality vegetables (or at least, higher quality than usual McDonald’s fare), this is not a sandwich to miss.

Burger King has been moving through new burgers and sandwiches at a fast clip this year. This is good, for me, in that it gives me more to write about. It’s also become something of a double-edged sword, as I haven’t been able to review everything I’ve wanted to. Their Chicken Philly sandwich in particular is one I’m sad to have missed. It’s also something I need to make sure to stay on top of, to maximize the usefulness of these reviews. So without further ado, here’s the Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger!

I stole this promotional image off of Huffington Post, which makes me happy.

I stole this promotional image off of Huffington Post, which makes me happy.

This is actually Burger King’s second attempt at a stuffed hamburger patty. Like the Stuffed Steakhouse XT, the patty has chopped bits of ingredients mixed in, as opposed to a central pocket of cheese or something. This patty includes bacon bits and nuggets of cheddar cheese. It’s not terrible, per se, but there’s not quite enough of a flavor from the cooked-in ingredients to make it worthwhile. I don’t really think this is Burger King’s fault. The best stuffed burgers I’ve ever had have either been home-cooked or made to order at a steakhouse or burger joint. It’s a conceit that doesn’t translate well to machine-pressed patties, and Burger King isn’t really equipped to cook any other way. The rest of it (lettuce, tomatoes, onion rings, ketchup and mayo) is all fine, but nothing special.

Being as it’s Burger King, the Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger runs $7-8 in a combo. While it’s not inedible, the execution doesn’t nearly live up to the concept. I’d avoid this one. There are plenty of other interesting options at BK right now, including a turkey burger and veggie burger, and I can’t imagine they’re going to slow down over there this summer. Save your money and try next month’s special.

Anyone who’s stopped by Taco Bell recently has noticed something upsetting. There’s been some rather insidious price-gauging going on, and nearly everything’s been moved a price-point. That’s an increase of about 20-50 cents, depending on the item. This has thrown my usual meal (Crispy Potato Soft Taco, Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, and Chicken Burrito) into disarray. As a partial solution to the problem, Taco Bell introduced their Loaded Grillers line, a series of small, grilled wraps for 99 cents apiece. Are they enough to fill the hole in my heart?

Oh man, I forgot about this. They're also trying to market these as a viable alternative to classic Game Day food. Seriously?

Oh man, I forgot about this. They’re also trying to market these as a viable alternative to classic Game Day food. Seriously?

Yes and no. The Grillers are up and down, depending on their content, but overall they’re not super satisfying or filling. Let’s move into specifics.

  • The Spicy Buffalo Chicken Griller was my least favorite. My disdain for buffalo sauce is well known at this point, but more than that, I felt that the combination of chicken, Lava sauce, and sour cream was missing an essential third element, like cheese or tomatoes or something. I wanted more from it, and I didn’t like what I did get out of it.
  • The Beefy Nacho Griller fared a bit better. It combined ground beef, nacho cheese, and slightly spicy Fritos-style red corn chips into something akin to a Volcano burrito. It comes together nicely, but again, the smaller size leaves me wanting a bit more.
  • My favorite, surprisingly enough, was the Loaded Potato Griller. I’ve said before that adding potatoes to a wrap is a great way to round out the flavor and make it more filling, and indeed, this sandwich reminded me a lot of a Menna’s Dub. The Griller combines potatoes, bacon, nacho cheese, and sour cream into a filling, flavorful meal. This is the only one of the bunch I can see making it into my regular rotation.

All in all, the Loaded Grillers were pretty disappointing. While I enjoyed the Loaded Potato, the other two felt like smaller versions of other items, or at worst things thrown together from scraps, like the ill-fated Chicken Flatbread. Check them out if you want, but you’d be better off resigning yourself to paying a little more at the register.