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.

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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 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.

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.

I’ve posted before about the noticeable shift in focus and price hike Taco Bell has undergone recently. Actually, on a recent T-Bell trip, the Loaded Grillers themselves had been hiked to about $1.19, making them all but worthless. But the flip side of Taco Bell’s gentrification is a new classier menu by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, the Cantina line. These new offerings include a couple of burritos and salads, as well as a new guacamole, made with Hass avocados (a distinction that sounds fancy but means nothing to me. Hass avocados could very well be the lowest quality avocados that can legally be sold, for all I know).

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would've guessed?

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would’ve guessed?

I’ve had both the steak and the chicken Cantina burritos, and I’m of two minds about them. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Taco Bell branching out a little bit. In addition to the meats, the burritos contain black beans and rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, roasted corn and pepper salsa, and a cilantro dressing. There are a lot of comparatively new items here, and both the ingredients (corn and cilantro especially) and the combinations (it’s basically all sauces and medleys working together) show the clear involvement of a master chef. It’s a tasty burrito set apart from normal Taco Bell fare. But at the same time, it’s very similar to the kind of thing you can get a Chipotle or Qdoba, not to mention any number of local places. It’s a big step for Taco Bell because the bar is set comparatively low, but what’s remarkable here is only kind of average elsewhere.

The Cantina Burrito goes for about $7.50 in a combo, and is a dollar or so cheaper a la carte. It’s on the pricier end of the menu, and it’s kind of a hard sell compared to other stuff both here and elsewhere. But if Taco Bell wants to refine and rebrand a little bit, as it seems they do, it’s a good start, and I’d recommend checking it out if for no other reason than to see where things may be going.

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.

Like the leads from The Five-Year Engagement, Santorini Island Grill is a slick California operation which has made the trip out to the frozen tundras of Michigan (Kalamazoo, to be precise). Although their usual setup seems to be sit-down Greek restaurants, the specific location I’m reviewing is located in the basement of the student center on Western Michigan University’s campus, and is more of a fast food-style setup. Let’s see how well it works!

Pretty well, overall! Santorini offers a number of Greek entrees, but I decided to focus mainly on their gyro. After all, a Greek restaurant isn’t worth its salt if they can’t put together a halfway decent gyro. Thankfully, Santorini was up to the task. Their gyro meat is sliced fresh to order, and they make their tzatiki sauce in-house. The veggies and pitas are kept fresh as well, and the portions, which not gargantuan, are filling.

"Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek."

“Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.”

Santorini also offers burger, burritos, and breakfast scrambles. These entrees are hodgepodges of various and sundry ingredients, everything from gyro meat to guacamole to bacon to a home-made hot sauce. I’ve tried a couple of their burritos (the Greek, which involves gyro meat and feta cheese, and the California, which is chicken and bacon, specifically), and they’re fantastic as well. I love the fusion cuisine that comes from necessity, and these are great examples of that. I haven’t tried their Greek burger yet (a beef patty topped with gyro meat), but I hope to soon.

Overall, Santorini Island Grill is a great choice for quick, tasty Greek food if you’re on WMU’s campus. Meals come with french fries or a side salad and a drink, and most run for about six and a half dollars. It’s definitely worth a trip out even if you’re not right on campus, and here’s hoping it sticks around for a while, although judging by the lines I’ve seen when I’ve been there, that won’t be a problem.