REVIEW: Umami Burger’s The Impossible Burger

While the novelty food industry is mostly concerned with how to make cookies taste like sandwiches, protein powders taste like breakfast cereals, and chips taste like fried green tomatoes, the larger and finer culinary scene is chasing after something much more serious – plants that taste like burgers. The recent push in plant-based meat alternatives is lead not only people advocating for animal rights, but using less resources and reducing gas emissions to limit humans’ carbon imprint. Perhaps there’s no bigger player, at least from a hype standpoint, than Impossible Foods, who spent five years perfecting a burger that uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gases than cows, while being free of hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients. And oh yeah…it bleeds.

Since the release of this breakthrough burger technology its availability has been fairly limited to high end, often reservation-only engagements with daily limited quantities, until Umami Burger launched The Impossible Burger at 14 of their California restaurants as a regular menu item. For their spin on the buzz worthy burger, Umami combines two Impossible patties with caramelized onions, American cheese, miso-mustard, house spread, dill pickles, lettuce and tomato.

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Let’s cut to the chase and call this burger exactly what it is – the iconic In-N-Out Burger Double Double Animal Style wearing Birkenstock’s and smoking a joint. The smaller-sized patties and grilled onions squished into American cheese is immediately recognizable as the California classic, and I think it was a very smart move to release something that is instantly crave-able to those who cannot or will not eat meat. Upon its arrival the burger is very appealing with melty cheese oozing out the sides and nicely charred patties with some glistening pink poking through the grill marks.

Biting in is very impressive. Umami’s stunningly soft Portuguese-style bun begins the experience with a soft yet firm chew that reminds me of brioche and leads to crisp butter lettuce and the huge flavor of sweet onions and salty cheese. Eaten as a whole, if this had been served to me wrapped up like at In-N-Out I wouldn’t have bat a suspicious eye, as the profile is super on point, not too salty, and full of moisture and flavor.

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When I pick off a piece of just “meat” and eat it on its own it’s apparent that it isn’t beef, as the inside has a bit of layered texture I know from tofu or tempeh that’s a touch softer and wetter than actual beef. The outside has a very nice caramelized crust that resembles a properly seared patty, and while it’s much closer to medium well than the medium rare I like on my burgers, it’s very impressive and without a doubt the most convincing veggie patty I’ve ever had. No one cooks a ground beef patty and eats it straight forward, just like no one eats an un-toasted plain English muffin, and the composition of this burger is delightful and will no doubt be a treat for anyone who can’t indulge in the real thing.

If I were fault The Impossible Burger in any way it’s that the item as a whole isn’t vegan. In fact, a lot of the crucial elements aren’t vegan and Umami Burger doesn’t currently have any suitable replacements for them. The bun, cheese, and spread all have some form of dairy in them, and rather than have a different bun and cheese on hand to make the substitution, vegans have to skip out on cheese and wrap the burger in lettuce, which kind of defeats the purpose of indulging in a new, rare, and pricey burg. With the amount of bread that exists without eggs or milk and the abundance of non-dairy cheese in mainstream grocery, it would be in Umami’s best interest to keep some alternatives on hand to really up the ante on this cutting edge exclusive beefy substitute.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: Umami Burger San Francisco ($16.00)

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REVIEW: Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip

Graeter’s have been churning out small batch super premium ice cream since 1870, and as a west coast ice cream lover I have a confession to make – I have never had Graeter’s! They don’t have any scoop shops on this side of the country and until recently didn’t have a ton of distribution in the area either. They use super high quality ingredients in their unique French Pot process which yields only two gallons at a time, resulting in super dense, heavy ice cream that is regarded as some of the best in the world by creamy aficionados everywhere. For my initial foray in Graeter’s territory I decided to go with what many deem a true classic – Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, which is simply black raspberry ice cream with their highly acclaimed chocolate chips.

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The ice cream has one of the most gorgeous deep purple hues I have ever seen, channeling the rich juicy flesh of the berries, and is incredibly eye catching and appealing. The texture, as expected from a super premium high fat ice cream, is velvety smooth and heavy, but has been churned with such expertise that it doesn’t feel aggressively fatty. Based on the intensity of the color, I’m actually a bit letdown by the flavor, which isn’t nearly as bold as I was expecting. The berry flavor is very subdued, not that sweet, and not tart either. I was expecting some lush berry notes, and instead am left with only the slightest hint of fruit. It seems that the fruity notes are getting washed out by the high butterfat content in the ice cream itself, and the intended creamy power play is actually working against the execution of the desired flavor.

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The chocolate chips, however, are very good. Many trusted ice cream sources, and even Graeter’s website, refer to the massive size of their chocolate chunks, and while I didn’t really get what I anticipated, I still love what is in this pint. The chocolate is in mostly smaller pieces with the occasional bigger boulder, but my goodness the flavor and texture of the pieces is flawless. There’s a deep, slightly bitter cocoa flavor that stands out strong against the dairy with a literal melt-in-your-mouth texture that is gentle and succulent like soft serve that has been dipped in magic shell. It is some of the softest, most perfect chocolate I have ever had in ice cream and falls somewhere in between chips and fudge with its beautiful textural give and flourish.

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All in all this is an okay introduction to Graeter’s for me. While I cannot deny the fantastic quality of the textures at play, the flavor in the base is lacking for such a high priced premium product. Good enough to try another flavor, but not impressive enough for me to go out and pick up this particular pint again. I have heard that Graeter’s quality took a hit once they got bigger distribution, and I get the feeling that if I scooped this in one of their shops I may have a different experience, but I can only grade what I’ve got.

Rating: 7/10
Found at: Whole Foods ($6.99)

 

REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes

Within any collective community or “scene” there are always different levels of dedication. There are casual sports fans who might don a team’s hat when they’re doing well, and then the guy who shows up shirtless to every game painted in the team’s colors. There are listeners of metal music that may fancy themselves a nice studded bracelet, and then there are those true-to-the-core metalhead badasses who don’t own a single piece of non-black clothing. There are part-timers who punch in 23 hours at their workplace, and then those who crawl their way in on Sunday’s and never push less than 60. There are the Taco Bell’s who are dedicated to the insanity and the McDonald’s who never stray too far from the path. You get the picture.

In the junk food world the levels of dedication can be measured by limited time offerings, and while Oreo reigns supreme in coming out with kooky cookies (Swedish Fish, Cotton Candy), Keebler have yet to really take any risks since delving into the LTO-iverse last year…until now. While they’ve played it generally close to the vest with Pumpkin Spice, Lemon, and Cinnamon, this summer the Elves took their first step towards true dedication, trying a flavor that is no easy task and could ultimately lead to Fudge Stripe failure – Strawberry Cheesecake.

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Ripping open the soft pink and off-white packaging reveals a distinctly tangy and cheesecake-y aroma. It’s mellow but sharp, and surprisingly less strawberry-forward than what I expected. These cookies were shipped to me straight from the Elfin land of Keebler’s Hollow Tree, and quite a few of them took a crumble tumble in travel, but that shouldn’t effect the taste at all. The intact cookies share in the same rosy pink as the package with the signature white “fudge” stripes on the top.

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Wow – these cookies are awesome. Much like the initial smell, the flavor that I get smacked with immediately is cheesecake, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting these to taste like cheesecake at all. I was anticipating a wallop of too-sweet artificial strawberry flavor with a hint of nondescript creaminess, more akin to a strawberries and cream, but these are tangy and cheesy with a great balance of sweetness. I’m not a big fan of fake strawberry, and I don’t get much of that flavor here at all, it may even be closer to cherry, as it just has a slightly tart fruity essence beneath the layer of cheesecake.

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The texture, like all Fudge Stripes, is a soft-yet-crumbly shortbread that brings a nice hit of butteriness beneath the cheesy berry flavors. Much like the Lemon Stripes, the flavors here are all around a bit muted, but with such notoriously bold tart and tangy potential I really appreciate the subtly they come across with. The ratios are spot on with the berry taking the backseat, because no one ever eats a slice of cheesecake drowning in sauce, it acts as the acidic highlight to the decadent cake, and that’s exactly what these cookies do.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Sent to me from Keebler but can be found in stores and online (approx. $3)

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REVIEW: Ample Hills’ The Commodore

Vanderbilt Avenue is the street that houses the first Ample Hills scoop shop, where the company cut their teeth in 2011 cranking out all of their ice cream from its small kitchen. The street gets its name from the lore of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was an 1800’s business tycoon known for owning the New York Central Railroad, and more importantly, inventing the potato chip. Yes, he was that picky dude who sent his fried potatoes back for being too soggy. The cook, George Crum, responded in passive aggressive fashion by slicing them mega thin, too thin to be eaten with a fork, and they were the surprise hit of the evening. James, also known as Commodore Cornelius, literally paved the streets in gold with his advances in transportation, but he also blessed our tastebuds with the then dubbed “Saratoga Chips”. No slouches to churning out thoughtful delicious custard, Ample Hills’ The Commodore is a Vanderbilt store exclusive flavor that combines a salted honey base with clusters of chocolate covered potato chips and housemade honey comb candy.

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In a completely un-shocking twist, this is the most restrained level of sweetness I’ve ever had in a honey based ice cream and it’s refreshingly delicious. The salt brings not only a different flavor but a different feeling as well – with a slight tingle that coats my tongue. I love the traditionally sweet and creamy bases that honey can deliver, but the salt in this one helps reduce the sugary notes and heighten the deep golden flavor of the sacred bee-vomit. It isn’t quite savory, but it has just enough of those salty earth tones that is doesn’t taste aggressively sweet, and I find myself wanting to eat more to figure out this unique sensation.

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The chocolate covered potato chips are absolutely perfect. The milk chocolate adds a great sweet punch and has preserved all the crunch of the deliciously crispy fried chips. Cornelius would be completely lit on this pint. There’s a big genuine potato flavor that comes through like grabbing a handful from a bag of Kettle brand, and the saltiness still pops despite the minerals’ presence in the base. It might seem odd at first glance, but the mashup of chocolate and honey and chips really works and hits that ideal balance of interesting yet craveable that all craft companies should aspire to.

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The honey comb candy in my pint has stayed somewhat intact but has also partially dissolved into little pools of honey caramel, and I’m not complaining. The pieces chomp with a lovely crystalized crunch that further release the deep golden honey notes, while the saucy caramel-esque sauce bleeds into the ice cream, once again deepening the honey presence. The honey comb is without a doubt the sweetest component in the container and adds that extra layer of candy crunch that makes The Commodore eat like a true sweet treat.

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This flavor, usually only available at one store in one state is currently for sale as part of the Taste of NY 4 pack through the end of the month. If this sounds remotely delicious to you, I can guarantee you will love it, and the investment will be worth the cost.

Rating: 9/10
Found at: http://www.amplehills.com

REVIEW: Lay’s Do Us A Flavor 2017 (all three finalists)

One of the greatest moments in modern junk food history is when Lay’s announced the Do Us A Flavor contest in 2013. Three flavors of “weird” potato chips that the consumer got to vote on and ultimately decide the fate of. I love this shit. Limited offerings and seasonal engagements are what make junk and fast food so fun, and this idea from Lay’s spawned other great offshoots like voting on peanut M&M’s and the ongoing My Oreo Creation contest from Nabisco. It also was an unfortunate reminder of how boring America’s tastebuds are, as the most snooze-worthy and underachieving flavor from that initial year – Cheesy Garlic Bread – took the potato crown from the far more interesting and successful Sriracha and Chicken and Waffles. But that’s all in the past.

Over the last four years I’ve tried every flavor from the contest, and I’m one of the weirdos that even liked 2014’s Cappuccino chip – which was a slightly creamy, cinnamon-kissed chocolate coffee sweet savory oddity that was so bizarre it worked. 2017’s lineup of the top 10 semifinalists had lots of promise, with the likes of Smoked Gouda & Honey, Sloppy Joe, and Nashville Hot Chicken sounding particularly interesting – but of course, none of them made it. I already tried and did quick “TASTE TEST” videos of each of the flavors with the lovely Sil B on Instagram, but below you will find my overall thoughts on each flavor as well as the associated video. Enjoy – and don’t forget to vote for your favorite to still be around next year!

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Wavy Fried Green Tomato:

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These chips came in with the natural advantage of being Wavy, aka the best type of potato chip, and they live up to their advantage in terms of texture and crunch. They’re wonderfully crispy and perfectly fried without being greasy at all. The flavor is salty and peppery with some herbaceous tomato notes that are present but not incredibly bold. Each of the chips, depending on their amount of coating, tell a bit of a different story with some packing a much bigger punch than others (classic). I haven’t had a ton of fried green tomatoes, but the most dominant flavor I get out of these is “fried coating” with a hint of parmesan cheesiness, garlic, and a nice black pepper finish.  The most interesting element to this flavor is a mayonnaise-y creamy undertone to represent the sauce shown on the front of the bag.  They’re good, safe, and a very eat-able chip that aren’t offensive in any way but don’t have much of a wow factor either. As I eat these I can’t help but feel like the semifinalist Fried Ravioli would have been a similar experience but much better with a more robust, oregano and basil seasoning blend and some wonderful slightly sharp mozzarella notes instead of fatty aioli. Oh well.

Rating: 7.5/10

Crispy Taco:

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Wow. These chips are exactly what Do Us A Flavor is all about. When the semifinalists were announced Crispy Taco was one of the most boring average sounding flavors that have already been done as a chip seasoning for years, but Lay’s completely knocked it out of the park with this one. The flavor emulation game is on another level here with the leading flavor being lettuce – yes, lettuce. Somehow they packed the bright, crisp flavor of shredded lettuce into the powder, followed by cheddar cheese, tomato, beef seasoning, and even some tomato acidity. It’s actually unreal how this potato chip tastes nothing like a potato and somehow manages to taste more like a hard corn taco shell than the vegetable it’s actually made of. Kudos Lay’s, you officially impressed the hell out of me. And yes, I did squeeze some Fire sauce onto the chips and it tasted 95% like I had just left the Taco Bell drive through. Ridic.

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Rating: 9/10

Kettle Cooked Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese:

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These were the chips I was most looking forward to, since everything bagels have lot’s of great seasoning that can plop themselves onto most vessels and be delicious. What a missed opportunity. I’m not sure if Lays got too focused on the cream cheese element of the profile or simply got lazy, but these chips taste like sour cream and onion with a slight tang and hints of garlic, onion, and an extra dash of salt. Not a disgusting chip by any means, in fact it’s pretty good, but nothing new or exciting in the slightest. I can’t say they didn’t try though, as there are poppy seeds on most of the chips, but the flavor doesn’t translate. None of the more dominant elements of “everything” – like sesame, deep onion, or a twist like caraway seeds – are present at all. These are a safe bet to be enjoyed by someone seeking a salty/creamy/slightly spiced snack but do not deliver on what could have been an ultimate follow up to the now standard salt and pepper kettle chip.

Rating: 6/10

Overall this was an okay return for the annual potato battle. Keep in mind that the ratings are based mostly on whether or not the desired flavor was achieved, and that all of these chips are pretty good and a worthy sando sidekick. My biggest disappointment is that none of the finalists this year were spicy in the slightest and they are all relatively safe. Hopefully a couple more of the semis make it out as exclusives or short runs in the near future. 

REVIEW: Limited Edition Dunkin’ Donuts’ Mocha Oreo

Few things in this world go together as beautifully as coffee and chocolate – so why the hell did it take so long for Oreo to put a spin on the classic combo? When Trader Joe’s released their fantastic Mocha Joe Joe’s earlier this year I couldn’t believe they beat Nabisco in the cookie race, but they did, and they put out a real bang up of a product in the process. Although late, Nabisco teamed up with another junk food juggernaut in Dunkin’ Donuts to unearth the Limited Edition Mocha Oreo, which pairs the traditional chocolate Oreo wafer with a coffee flavored creme filling.

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Coffee is one of the most fantastically seductive aromas the culinary world has to offer, and shockingly these Oreo cookies don’t smell like coffee – at all. In fact, they smell like chocolate frosting. Slightly less sweet than what I remember regular double chocolate Oreo’s smelling like, but absolutely zero traces of the roasted bean that’s the inspiration behind the product. Sometimes coffee is used in baking to elevate the flavor in a chocolate cake, adding extra depth to the bitter cocoa notes, and I’m hoping that’s what’s at play here, and not a cookie that tastes as weak and diluted as Dunkin’s overhyped coffee.

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Fortunately for me, and for Nabisco’s reputation, these cookies actually taste great. There is 100% more coffee flavor than there is smell, and while it isn’t the punchiest mocha product I’ve had, it’s a damn good one. The usual bitter notes of the wafer cookie are amplified by the coffee creme, and the two play off of one another to great success. A mocha is generally less coffee-heavy, with only two or three ounces being actual espresso and the rest milk and chocolate, and with those ratios in mind this Oreo is pretty much spot on. As a daily black coffee drinker who really appreciates the natural flavor of the dark stuff these satisfy my tastebuds and are still sweet enough to actually compliment a real cup of bitter joe on the side.

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As simple as this minor creme-change is, it really works, and I find these Mocha Oreo’s to be the best chocolate-based limited offering in recent memory. They’re much more interesting and endearing than Chocolate Covered Strawberry and have a much more significant flavor switch up than Filled Cupcake or Brownie Batter. While they may not deliver as big of an espresso hit as Trader Joe’s Mocha Joe Joe’s, they’re nearly just as delicious and full of that classic Oreo nostalgia.

Rating: 8.5/10
Found at: Safeway ($2.99)

REVIEW: Pro Supps MyBar Confetti Cake Crunch and Ice Cream Cookie Crunch

As a wise man once said, “you’ve gotta get your daily turd-shaped protein injection somehow…”. Okay, maybe no one ever really said that, but I love me a good protein bar and when a new one pops onto my radar I’m eager to get a taste – turd shaped or not. The Pro Supps MyBar came onto the scene within the last year but I had yet to see them in stores, and I’m not one to take a gamble on ordering a box of 12 blindly. As I strolled the selection of porta-gains at GNC I noticed two MyBar’s tucked away on the bottom shelf, and I knew the moment was mine for the taking.

The MyBar looks very much like a Combat Crunch or MuscleTech Nitro and texturally falls somewhere in between the two. The bar is noticeably smaller but has a pretty solid density to it that makes it feel hearty in my hands. It should be noted that while they have similar calories and protein to the CC and MT bars, they’re slightly higher fat (10 grams) and lower carb (17 grams), which could be a pro or con depending on what kind of macros you’re looking for in a protein pick-me-up.

Confetti Cake Crunch:

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Fortunately the flavor of the Confetti Crunch doesn’t have any of the weird lemony Froot Loops aura of the Combat Crunch and is much more in line with MuscleTech’s solid spin on cake. It starts off cake-y and channels frosting with some nice vanilla notes and definite party vibes. The taste fades quickly and ends pretty flat with a protein supplement finish that doesn’t live up to the sprinkle crunch texture of the bar. Eating this bar reminds me a lot of Zebra Stripe gum – it starts begins with a wonderful bold flavor that is gone almost as soon as it arrives.

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When all is said and done it simply isn’t sweet enough, and for a bar with 6 grams of sugar I would expect a bit more sugary push to round out the lovely frosting beginning. It isn’t disgusting, but doesn’t reach the high points of the MuscleTech or Oh Yeah! ONE, so I’m not sure why I would get this one again.

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Rating: 7/10

Quick Nutrition: 220 cals – 10g fat – 5g sat fat – 20mg cholesterol – 210mg sodium – 17g carb – 1g fiber – 6g sugar – 20g protein

Ice Cream Cookie Crunch:

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This bar has one of the more interesting names I’ve seen from a supplement company, and as good as an ice cream-y protein bar sounds I’m pretty skeptical of their ability to deliver. My suspicions are correct, as aside from a pretty notable creaminess in the outer chocolate coating of the bar, nothing translates ice cream here at all; not to mention ice cream doesn’t typically crunch, so the name is pretty confused overall.

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It’s a pretty standard chocolate coated chocolate protein that has a nice dense-yet-soft, almost truffle kind of texture, with only a bit of decent flavor to back it up. Much like the confetti, it begins pretty sweet with some crunchy bits and fades very quickly to finish on a protein-heavy note that leaves a slightly dry, almost chalky feeling on my tongue. It’s fine, but again, nothing at all remarkable, and doesn’t come close to any of the chocolate Combat Crunch bars, which in my opinion are the best in the game.

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Rating: 6/10

Quick Nutrition: Identical to above except 400mg sodium