Monday, December 29, 2008

Announcing the winners of the High School Lunch Memories Contest

After careful consideration, I have chosen the winners of the Nate's Plate High School Lunch Memories Contest. Why winners and not winner? Each of the following stories were fantastic for completely different reasons. Coincidentally, they were submitted in the order in which I am honoring them. So, Alia, John and Matthew: Get in touch and we'll make some dinner reservations.

Bronze award: The mayo bet, by Alia.

Brief, well written and hilarious, I was quite sure this would be a winner when it was submitted.

"During my sophomore year, Art Anderson was in a bet that he could eat a whole jar of mayo. Since he is the ultimate human of all time, he took the challenge at lunch. He got half way done with this jar of mayo and then our not so ultimate principle paid him to stop which was a bummer... but I think she actually paid him more then he would have won through the bet (which was 5 dollars if I recall correctly) which is even better."

Silver award: The school store is "the Pits," by Matthew

This is a trip down memory lane because Matthew and I went to high school together.

Ah, high school. I remember eating on the floor of a large dusty landing and listening to the suicide machines on a tape player that looked like an answering machine while Andrew Miller jumped down the stairs repeatedly.

When I purchased actual food, which was rare, it was usually a piece of pizza with the flavour and consistency of modeling clay and an apple juice with a foil lid that always managed to find new ways to spill all over my pants. Most of the time though, it was three chocolate chip cookies.

Three glorious, gooey, tooth-rotting freshly baked cookies for a dollar, shoveled into a bag gone translucent from the fat and pure awesome they contained. Quite often these cookies would clump together, and you would be forced to pick at the edges before finally manning up and confronting this absurd, half-baked brick of semi-solid goo. It was impossible for me to eat this brick without smearing chocolate all over my zit-pocked face and billabong hoodie in full view of the cute, popular girls who hung around the Salem School Store. Not that they were paying any attention to me, instead making googley-eyes at the meatheads behind the counter with their hooters t-shirts and downy soft whispers of goatee.

One time I decided to venture to the Canton building (my high school, and Nate's high school, and possibly your high school was actually two high schools on the same campus) to see what sort of mysterious and exotic cookies they peddled. Turns out they were the exact same cookies, albeit sold in what resembled a holiday inn gift shop next to a useless set of stairs to nowhere everyone called the pit. I think people hung out there because they felt they had to. Anyway, I had not idea how to procur cookies at this location. Being incredibly shy and awkward, I conveyed my need for sugar and empty calories through mutters and frantic stares, but the meatheads remained unresponsive. Inwardly furious, I got out of there as fast as I could, striding in speedy shame back to Salem in order not to be late for art class. Having missed my fix, I bought a bag of cookies during passing time and ate them so quickly they made me sick and my stomach loudly gurgle all throughout english.

I'm not sure what lesson to extract from this, other than cookies are great and stay out of the Canton School Store.

Gold award: Lunchtime Coke problem, by John

I can't think of a more memorable and traumatizing lunch experience.

This story definitely began during school lunch but extended for several hours beyond in the emergency room.

So I was one of those kids whose mom packed their lunch. Every lunch was wholesome and nutritious; carrot sticks, Oscar Meyer ham sandwich, Welch's juice box, maybe a bag of Doritos. That sort of thing.

Around seventh grade, my sister and I started pestering my mom to buy 12 packs of Coke for us to take in our lunches as they were delicious and we were thoroughly addicted to caffeine. After a few weeks of begging she finally conceded.

One day I grab my brown bag lunch off the top shelf of my locker and take it down to the lunch room. Upon arrival I was horrified to find that my lunch was squashed (mayo shooting out of the side of the sandwich, chips crushed) and the Coke can was dented to hell.

"What the hell," I thought. "I'm young and virile, I can handle a dented up Coke can." I did the "tap the top" thing that supposedly takes down the pressure in the can (it doesn't), popped the fucker open and started drinking the Cola-flavored corn juice.

At the end of lunch I had finished my meal and daily routine of throwing bagels at nerds and pickles at windows and tipped the Coke to get the last drops of my brown rebellion.

Something totally hurt. Like a lot. In my throat. So I went down to the drinking fountain to drink some water. Ouch. Every time I swallowed there was an INTENSE pain. It felt fucking weird and I couldn't figure out what the fuck was going on. I still had the Coke can with me and examined its insides. Had someone put razor blades in it?

No, the tab that goes inside the can when you popped it had fallen into the can and I had drank it and got it stuck in my throat. I went to the school nurse and she called my mom and my mom took me to the emergency room. I was put in a room at the back of some darkened hallway with nothing but a spitoon. I couldn't swallow without intense pain, so I spit. For hours.

Finally, they came to take an X-ray of my fucked up insides. They took me into the room and gave me a cup of this milky, chalky white liquid to drink. "Barium," the technician said. "Barium swallows." I laughed at the phrase "barium swallows" (obvi) but it hurt so I stopped. "It'll let us see where this pop can thing is stuck." I drank it.

The barium tasted like chalk and gunmetal. It was fucking gross. So after I swallowed it they put me under the X-ray machine and I realized it didn't hurt anymore. Somehow the heavy metal cocktail washed it away, down into my guts. I went home with my mom super pissed at me for not previously drinking a heavy metal cocktail while I worried about shitting out a pop tab the next day.

I never shit it out (I presume it dissolved in my stomach acid) but the next day my shit was white from the barium.

- - -

If you didn't win, don't worry: I still love you and I'd dine with you any time.

Burger King Flame Broiled Flavored Potato Snacks

Don't give yourself indigestion with worries -- Winners of the High School Lunch Memories Contest will be announced tomorrow.

If you enjoyed my review of Burger King Onion Rings Flavored Snacks, you're in for a real treat -- Burger King Flame Broiled Flavored Potato Snacks. This is the second snack in the Burger King snack trifecta, the other being Ketchup and Fries flavored snacks.

The existence of these chips was foretold to me, and I discovered them one day while waiting in line at the local Blockbuster Video. They sat on my counter, awaiting review, for some time. Then, my power went out and I had no access to my refrigerator and no time to go on a Flavor Quest so I knew it was time to fire up the proverbial grill.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous as I opened the bag. I grew up in close proximity to a Burger King and the "flame broiled" greasy smoke smell hung heavy in the strip mall adjacent to BK. The smell always made me huffily exhale out of my nose and say, "Ew, Burger King smells gross." I imagine the smell of Burger King is how it would smell if you managed to smoke some grease (the way you'd smoke a turkey breast) and then vaporized it. The smell made me see visions of red brick chimneys on the surrounding houses stained black with Essence of Burger King. I swallowed the fearful lump in my throat and broke the seal.

Whiff one of the bag revealed a smell not at all unlike burnt, over-fried normal potato chips. Bleh. Not at all promising, just like Cabo Chips.

Taste one was rather herb-y, followed by a slight beef taste that immediately made me picture rare "beef medallions." Taste two indicated an attempt at simulating "burger fixins." A mildly herbed tomato was definitely present.

Burger King Flame Broiled Flavored Potato Snacks are a prime example of false advertising, which, in this case, is the best thing they have going for them. The smell I hate (smoked grease) is thankfully not present, replace by one I can at least tolerate. And, most importantly, the simulated jazzed-up low-grade beef taste is spot on.

If I had to associate potential actions I would take with these chips regarding the way I feel about them, I'd say that I would suggest you try them, but I probably wouldn't take one from you if you offered to share.

Perhaps you'd like to try my review of Burger King Onion Rings Flavored Snacks. Or Cabo Chips.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snapea Crisps

As I was browsing my local high-end grocer's produce department, a bag caught my eye. A photo of pea pods, arranged like a haphazard fence, indicated its contents, so I tossed it into my shopping basket without any more thought. I felt very pleased with myself and I anticipated enjoying some fresh, crisp sugar snap peas. WRONG!

I returned from the store and my post-shopping snack attack led me to open the aforementioned bag. As it turns out, I had just purchased Calbee Snack Salad Snapea Crisps. Delicate & tasty. Original flavor. Baked. Net wt. 3.3 oz.

The detailed photo showing peas bulging in pods on the packaging wants us to believe that whole snap peas, in-pod, were baked. I have a different theory.

My theory is that a cauldron of pea soup was left to boil until it was reduced to dried pea sludge. This product was then made into a fine powder and then reconstituted with water before being molded into fuzzy-looking (but not fuzzy) pod-like shapes. Why else would rice be in the list of ingredients?

Taking a cross-section of said pods indicates no discernible individual peas, which just adds more clout to my argument.

Despite the onset of snack confusion, I continued chomping away. I am not even sure if chomping is the right word. These Snapea Crisps aren't really they crisp. They don't snap or crunch. It would be more accurate to say that I was mashing them and dissipating the powder with my teeth as I chewed. The crisps are a light and airy snack, and I am confident that anyone could eat an entire bag in one sitting and still feel hungry. More importantly, they taste good.

The familiar flavor of non-fresh peas is subtly present, and the flavor tricks your tongue into believing that the crisps are more heavily seasoned than they are. The list of ingredients is simple: Green peas, corn oil, rice, salt, calcium carbonate, ascorbic acid (vitamin c).

Adding to this snack's intrigue is the supposed availability of a Caesar-flavored variety, which is sadly not sold at my local store.

My snack confusion yielded a pleasant surprise and I'll conclude this review in agreement with the folks at Calbee America, Inc., quoting the conclusion of the Snapea Crisps product essay: "[I] propose this product as a new type of snack."

By the way, I dare you to win the High School Lunch Memories Contest. Winners will be announced next week.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Doritos 4cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips AND A CONTEST

Today's review is decidedly brief -- it had been sitting on my "shelf" since October for this reason -- because I am announcing a little reader participation event this week. Get the details after the review.

My quest for a mid-morning snack once again turned up a surprise when I noticed the sudden appearance of a new item in the vending machine: Doritos 4cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips. "They're back by popular demand."

The packaging alone is enough to make this snack enticing, but not because it makes it appear overly appetizing.

The hazy pattern of the bag itself conjures up fire, and a silhouetted creepy hand makes me think that someone is being burned alive. This sort of imagery conveys "spicy," although "4cheese" does not sound spicy at all.

Why is "4cheese" one word? Doesn't the Frito Lay family of snack foods have a typographer?

Back, to the creepy imagery, "4cheese" seemed to be tied to horror somehow, because Doritos invited me to "unleash the spirits at on the back of the package. This URL simply redirected me to where I was met with some sort of virtual city that did not succeed in enticing me to explore it. What spirits were they expecting me to unleash here?

And why are these chips "back by popular demand" if I have never heard of them in my life?

I had a lot of questions at this point.

The only answer I got was that these chips taste like Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos combined. Who, exactly, demanded this?

And now for the High School Lunch Memories Contest!

After my friend Haim, proprietor of the Frosty Insides refrigerator blog, suggested that I sneak into a high school and review high school lunch (a plan that is still in the works) he and I started talking about high school lunch memories. So, I'm asking you this: What do you remember about high school lunch? Share your lists or stories and the lucky winner will receive an exciting prize of my choice. If you live nearby, I'll probably take you out to eat. If not, I'll mail you something cool like a limited edition Nate's Plate promotional coaster, a yet-to-be-produced Nate's Plate lobster bib, or maybe some Taco Bell Bucks®.

To share your tales of dipping fries in cheese sauce, taco pizzas shaped like stop signs and that kid who always lurked around the ketchup dispensers, post 'em up in the comments. You don't even need a Blogspot ID to do it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

7 Mile Shrimp Palace of Detroit

If you live in metro Detroit and have been watching channel two at around 2:30 a.m., you may have seen a commercial for a little local shrimp joint, 7 Mile Shrimp Palace. The commercial features a friendly, enthusiastic, welcoming voiceover describing what this palace of fried goods has to offer. What really makes it work is its low-budget aesthetic and the voices of children in the background repeatedly chanting, "7 Mile Shrimp is REAL good."

After seeing the commercial one sleepless night a few months ago, I suddenly remembered it out of the blue and found it on YouTube. After making it "go viral" in my office, my colleague Trevor and I decided we'd make the 16.5-mile trip to Detroit for lunch. We hoped we wouldn't go viral ourselves, and we didn't.

Long story short, 7 Mile Shrimp IS, indeed, real good.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from 7 Mile Shrimp Palace. On our journey there, we crossed paths with everything one does when travelling the perimeter of downtown Detroit: Horrible potholes, roads with undetermined numbers of lanes, abandoned rib shops, burned out traffic lights and scores of hand-painted signage. That's one thing I love about visiting the outskirts of Detroit -- Seeing the peeling works of sign painters past. Also impossible to ignore is the red and yellow color scheme that seems to be mandated by the Detroit Signage and Building Painting Style Guide.

7 Mile Shrimp Palace is not exempt from this motif. We entered the lobby, made our choices from the menu (1/2-pound shrimp baskets with fries and potato salad for $10.28 after tax) and ordered from in front of the bullet-proof glass. They fried our shrimp on-demand as we waited and soaked up the lobby's atmosphere.

A flat-screen TV, surrounded by depictions of fish and shrimp by a local artist, displayed a CSI-like show that depicted dead bodies covered in beetles. A glimpse behind the bullet-proof glass revealed rather sparse facilities. Behind the modest kitchen was a modest utility area, semi-masked by large beverage coolers with sodas and grape drink inside.

After a 10-minute wait, our orders were ready and dispensed to us through the bullet-proof glass carousel. We hightailed it to my car to rush back to the office, since there were no tables to dine upon in the restaurant lobby. As I navigated back toward the Southfield Freeway to save time, Trevor broke open his styrofoam box so we could feast on shrimp "hot and fresh out the kitchen."

The jumbo shrimp had a "beer batter" style coating. They were piping hot, light golden brown, and the perfect texture. I was later told by a friend that this style of batter is called Calabash for the town in North Carolina, "The Seafood Capital of the World." Sadly, I cannot verify this since I am known to dine at Red Lobster.

I can honestly say that this was the best fried shrimp I have ever had. The low-budget advertising got me in the door on kitsch value alone, but the shrimp will absolutely guarantee a return trip.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hot D Wake Up Juice Bloody Mary + Energy Mix

Before you even take your first sip, you need to know that it is a complete coincidence that this review is being published the day after "Bloody Mary Day," whatever that is.

The Bloody Mary has been my drink of choice lately. I have been known to consume them in bars where the waitress wasn't even sure if they had the mix on hand. Last winter, I was at Meijer and saw a shelf tag under some empty real estate that was called Hot D Wake Up juice. I laughed hysterically. I took a photo.

Months went by with nary a thought of Hot D Wake Up juice, then it randomly came into my head one day. I immediately hopped on The Google and found the Hot D web site. In a more conservative office, a site with such a title surely would have been blocked from my computer, but access was granted. I was directed to to place my order from Cowboy George, "Director of Deliciousness." A few days passed and my shipment arrived in a Styrofoam box plastered in "Fragile" stickers. I felt like the father in A Christmas Story when his leg lamp arrived in a large crate.

Sunday morning came soon enough and this meant Bloody Mary time.

I extracted the bottle of Hot D from my refrigerator, opened it and took a whiff. "This smells familiar," I thought. Two seconds of contemplation revealed the resemblance: Cocktail sauce. As a shrimp lover, this was OK with me. Next up to be evaluated was the color. For some reason, I was expecting this to be bright red because, you know, it's made from tomatoes. But no. The color was more like that of A1 steak sauce. So was its texture. Thus answered the question I had about "does it look brown because it's in a brown glass bottle or is it brown liquid in a clear bottle?" It's brown liquid in a brown bottle.

For my first time experimenting with Hot D, I decided to mix some Smirnoff into it, straight up, over ice. No garnish or anything. This would reveal the true flavor of Hot D Wake Up juice. Plus, the ingredients indicated that the mix came with most of the accoutrements one normally applies to tomato juice, and then some:
Compare our premium ingredients:
Tomato juice
Lemon juice
Tomato paste
Celery salt
Worcestershire sauce
Red wine vinegar
Hot sauce
Vegetable base
Cocoa powder
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper

Allergens: Fish, wheat

The texture was very odd as far as Bloody Maries are concerned. As opposed to being a semi-thick liquid with random spice chunks floating about, it was more of a sludge with some thicker globules throughout. Again, it resembled A1. Perhaps I will add some A1 to a future Hot D Bloody Mary mixture.

I soon realized I was doing myself a disservice by not jamming this thing full of pickles, olives and celery. The 1.33 shots of vodka I had out into the almost eight ounces of mix were imperceptible. I added another capful of Smirnoff. I could now taste the vodka a bit but the flavors were still wimping out.

The burn I have come to love just wasn't there. Prior to adding the extra vodka, the heat was nonexistent unless I did some post-sip mouth smacking. Even then, I could only perceive a slight tingle at the sides of my tongue. After the extra booze was added, I began to detect a slight "after shock" -- a bitter taste in the back of my throat that I'd sooner affiliate with some bitter medicine than with a spicy drink.

Perhaps this was due to the blank "expiration date" field on the label. Maybe I was drinking a bottle of the very first experimental batch. Or maybe the taurine prevented expiration.

Admittedly, panic was beginning to set in. The bottle of Hot D indicated that there were only four servings available to me, and I now had only three left. It would take lots of experimenting to perfect my drink, which is sad considering that this mix supposedly contains all the items you'd put in a Bloody Mary to spruce it up.

At this point, I had no choice but to finish my drink while watching Mad Men, which is appropriate since the characters on that show are always drunk. Drinking in the morning and writing about it ... I was now a true writer.

As I sipped onward I began to ponder my situation. "Round two will feature a Claussen Kosher Dill and some hot sauce," I thought. "Maybe I'll squeeze a lime section into it."

But wait!

Sure, some garnish would be OK, but unless that pickle brine really did the trick, the fact that I had to add more to this already complex mix meant that Hot D was a failure. There was no saving Hot D. It couldn't stand alone. Now I had to experiment in order to serve my taste buds and get the most out of my $10 plus shipping.

Two thirds of the way through my first drink I was feeling pretty OK -- My typical Sunday morning nap craving had been put to rest.. I'd been up 'til 2:30 AM with a generous quantity of Pabst Blue Ribbon in me and I only got seven hours of sleep. Despite the sub-par taste, Hot D truly D woke me up. Perhaps my next spin on this drink would give me some afternoon delight.

For all intents and purposes, this review should end here -- Hot D Wake Up Juice is not an all-in-one Bloody Mary solution. But with three servings left, I had to find out how it fared as a foundation for a more complex mixed drink. A few days later, it was time to get serious.

I assembled my reinforcements:
  • Claussen kosher dill pickles

  • Frank's Red Hot sauce

  • Garlic-stuffed olives

  • Garlic powder

  • Black pepper

All of these ingredients were combined in a mason jar with ice, Smirnoff vodka and Hot D Wake Up Juice. I screwed the lid onto the jar and agitated the mixture. Shaken, not stirred, my good man.

Despite the inclusion of all my favorite Bloody Mary fixins (I usually base my Bloody Maries upon V8 juice), this new drink continued to be unpleasant. If I were served this drink in a bar, I would honestly consider sending it back. There was some sort of sludgy sweetness that came up from behind and overtook all other flavors. Perhaps the use of honey instead of high fructose corn syrup was making Hot D flaccid. Perhaps the cocoa powder was causing performance anxiety. (Update: My friend Shaun suggests that this taste is likely the taurine ... a logical explanation). The only improvement for this round was the fact that the harsh after shock had somehow diminished despite the addition of more hot sauce.

It's official: Hot D Wake Up Juice hits the gag spot, not the g-spot.