Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Millville Strawberry Pastry Crisps (Aldi)

A box of Millville Strawberry Pastry Crisps, from Aldi
Like the millennial version of Pop Tarts!

Well here’s a breakfast type of bar that I always forget about, so let’s give them a shot, shall we? (I’ll actually save you from a lengthy introduction for once!)

These look like they’re the millennial version of “Pop Tarts”, you know, since everything apparently has to have a “millennial” update, or be tied to a certain generation. (I’m sure you’ve seen those clickbait ads everywhere where millennials are responsible for causing disruption to a particular industry…barf.) Like Pop Tarts, each package contains two crisps, which are so small that both of them don’t even equal half the same volume as a typical toaster pastry. Getting less for more, that, if anything, is more akin to the millennial experience.

Anyway, as the “crisp” of the title alludes to, these are actually soft and feel almost flaky, with a light, somewhat airy texture. The pastry itself is lightly sweetened, but gets much moreso with the addition of the icing drizzle. In this one, we have a strawberry filling that honestly tastes pretty much exact to the filling inside the national brand of strawberry toaster tart; it’s a familiar, somewhat welcome taste that ends the pastry on a relatable note. 

Each pack, which includes 10 crisps (5 packs of 2) runs $2.19, which is actually kind of expensive given how little product you actually get, but still cheaper than the national brand, so I guess I can't really complain about it. If you've ever thought yourself too sophisticated for a toaster pastry, yet wanted to experience a very similar combination of flavors in a more upscale vessel, then look no further: your snobbish prayers have finally been answered.

Overall: 7/10. This is a pretty tasty snack, which strikes similar chords to toaster pastries. In fact, this comes off as a more "upscale" version of the famous breakfast food, with a very similar filling, and all topped off with an icing glaze. At $2.19 for ten small (but long) crisps, they're way more expensive than toaster pastries, and you get way less, but for situations where lugging a large square pastry - prone to making crumb-y messes all over the place - isn't an option, this is a nice, easily concealable alternative. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Sundae Shoppe Strawberries and Cream Rose Cones (Aldi)

A box of Aldi's Sundae Shoppe Strawberries and Cream Rose Cones
These are even better looking than they taste...and they taste great.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like chocolate, I like ice cream, and I like fruit, but I don’t typically like when all three of those combine. I’m of the belief that many things belong in ice cream, but fruit is not one of those things; my wife, on the other hand, completely disagrees. And this, my friends, is one of the reasons I know we were meant to be together. 

And yet, when I saw these ice cream roses in Aldi, as part of their pre-Mother’s Day Special Buy selection, I knew I had to get them. Well, of course part of it was to surprise my wife with them, but I also told her to save one for me...they looked so unique and cool I just had to try one for myself! 

One quick observation before we move on to the main point of this matter: I'm a little shocked that Aldi didn't release these under a more premium label, and with slightly more premium packaging, to boot. The packaging is kind of cute as-is, but it doesn't really scream "gift"...I think with a "Specially Selected" label and maybe some darker packaging, this could have really stood out a lot more. But what do I know? That's just my two cents. 

The top layer is a whippy confection of what tastes like strawberry whipped cream. Actually, no...that would give it the wrong impression, because it’s a rather strong, pretty realistic strawberry flavor, and not nearly as “airy” as a whipped topping would be. It's like a whipped cream with some substance, and is very good...that’s not something I’ll typically say about a frozen fruit flavor. It really does do a great job of setting the tone by getting things off to an exciting start.

Top view of Sundae Shoppe Strawberries and Cream Rose Cone, still in its packaging
The poor picture doesn't quite convey it, but these things are gorgeous.

Once you get passed that, you’re now about at the top of the cone itself; this is where I thought it would simply die down and become more like a standard Drumstick-style ice cream cone, albeit with a chocolate cone instead of a vanilla one, or whatever the hell plain cones are normally flavored like. But it has yet another trick up its sleeve: mixed into the vanilla ice cream are streaks of what appears to be strawberry jam. I didn’t think it was all that great - it certainly wasn’t anywhere near as decadent as the rose - but it’s a little more thoughtful - and visually appealing - than just plain ice cream. The cone, while chocolate, is still boring, but it at least provides more of an intriguing look than a standard white cone would. 

Even the last bite contains one final surprise: a bite of hard chocolate planted at the very bottom of the cone. It's not completely unexpected - many "regular" cones have this feature - but it's a nice touch that ends everything on a sweet note.

Now onto value: each box of four is just $3.49, which I don't think is really all that bad to begin with. But I also don't mind paying a premium when it’s evident that some extra thought went into them: each cone is individually wrapped in silver foil, while the strawberry “rose” is covered in a plastic dome to ensure that the entire thing stays intact until it’s ready to be eaten. It looks like a premium product, to the extent that the subject of your gifting might have a hard time bringing themselves to actually eat it. (Which, again, speaks to my question about why it wasn't presented as more of a premium product.)

This is that rare time where I’d have to say the experience of eating it was better than the item itself: outside of the brilliant rose intro, the rest is a mostly middling affair. But I’d gladly get these again, even if my wife didn’t love them as much as she did, simply because they’re beautiful to look at, and just plain different. Here's to hoping these become an annual Aldi tradition.

Overall: 8/10. Honestly, outside of the whipped rose topper, I found the remainder to be a mostly ho-hum affair, with streaks of strawberry jam mixed into vanilla ice cream, and placed in a chocolate cone tunnel. But I’ll be damned if these things aren’t gorgeous to look at; it’s evident that some time and effort was put into these, with each one individually wrapped in silver foil, and complete with a little plastic dome “helmet” to keep the rose intact. And all of this for under $4, for a box of four? It’s probably not a great spotlight gift for the mother in your life, but pair a box of these up with another thoughtful gift or two, and this will be a standout addition. One that, for the last time, deserves a more premium presentation.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fit & Active Turkey Sausage Frozen Sandwiches (Aldi)

Stock image of Fit & Active Turkey Sausage Frozen Sandwiches
I clearly stole this image. Credit: Aldi US

I love me some breakfast sandwiches, and it had been a while since I had purchased any from Aldi.  I used to get them to eat as a snack before work, but stopped because they’re so full of cholesterol and sodium. They’re also kind of pricey…I feel like it’s probably a lot cheaper to just buy the ingredients separately, and make them yourself, something that I now want to do.

I actually saw these in the freezer case right as we were getting ready to get into the line, and decided they would make a good little snack to eat at home, or for a night that I wasn’t hungry and just wanted a light dinner.  The “Fit & Active” part did make me pause for a little while--that is Aldi’s “healthy” line, and while I realize these still aren’t great for you, I was afraid the little changes they made (egg white, turkey sausage) would make them taste terrible.

Boy was I mistaken.  Everything on this sandwich is pretty darn tasty, especially the turkey sausage, which tastes pretty close to regular sausage, and is bursting with flavor.  The egg white causes the biggest problem--while it tastes fine, I had some problems getting it to heat up properly.  I thought the first two breakfast sandwiches I made were done, because the sandwich itself was super-hot.  Each time, however, it turns out that everything was hot except for the egg white, which was still nearly frozen.  Maybe part of that has to do with our microwave (it is pretty old), but I had to nuke it for significantly longer than the instructions stated to finally get everything hot.

The English muffin is pretty chewy, but functions perfectly as a “carrier” for all the other ingredients.  Honestly, this tastes pretty close to any similar fast food breakfast you can get, but for way cheaper than what you would pay at any of them (you may be able to get a sausage biscuit for around the same price, but not a sausage, egg, and cheese muffin!)  Now, while I wouldn’t say these are “good” for you, they actually do provide 25% less sodium, 18% less fat, and 21% less cholesterol than Aldi’s regular sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits (provided under the Breakfast Best label); it's no small feat that they were able to do that without sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of flavor. Pick these up, for sure.

Overall: 8/10.  I bought these on a whim, and was afraid that the “Fit & Active” part would ruin them, but these pack a lot of flavor into a package that actually is quite a bit better for you than their regular sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits.  The turkey sausage is pretty darn close to the “real” thing, while the egg white provides the required egg, and the cheese is just cheese, something you can’t go wrong with.  Holding it all together is the English muffin, which tastes like an English muffin should.  These are very comparable in taste to similar offerings from fast food establishments, but at $1 per muffin, these are much cheaper.  Wouldn’t hesitate to pick these up again.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Elevation Crunchy Peanut Butter Energy Bar (Aldi)

Box of Elevation Crunchy Peanut Butter energy bars
These aren't really all that crunchy.

It had been a little while since I’d seen what the Elevation line had to offer; after perusing the unfamiliar selection for a little while (they changed all the packaging!) I decided to play it relatively safe by grabbing these bars. I’m not entirely sure why, because I don’t care for peanut butter all that much (at least, not as a “base”, or “main” flavor), but I figure it’s one of those tastes that seem to be a standard across “protein” and “energy” bar lines, so they must be able to emulate it pretty well.

First things first: they look kinda gross. But a lot of these bars do, given the way they eschew normal characteristics of food, in favor of an “all natural” look. In this case, it looks like someone just added some peanut butter to some oatmeal, put it through a rectangular-shaped mold, and then finished it off with a spritz of Mod Podge. It’s not nearly as off-putting as some bars are, but it doesn’t share similar characteristics with any food that I would consider “good”.

Second things second: is there even any peanut butter in these? The packaging says there is, but usually it’s the dominant scent...and I don’t really get much peanut butter at all, despite repeated sniffs to the exterior of the bar. Who knows...maybe it’s all hidden inside.

The taste here is...pretty underwhelming. Peanut butter is a pretty distinct taste, and while it's obviously in there, it doesn't shine through as much as I was expecting. In fact, it's the non-peanut butter flavors that steal the show. As a not-huge-fan of peanut butter, you may be thinking that's a good thing; the problem is, the remaining flavors are just...odd. It tastes kind of like an attempt to make something taste like peanut butter, without actually using any peanut butter; or like there's an ingredient missing, or something. It's not very pleasant, and admittedly gets old quicker than a bar that tasted like the actual peanut-based product would.

Curiously, it was the texture itself that became my favorite part: it’s somewhat reminiscent of a cookie dough. In fact, the first couple bites felt like I was eating something that shouldn’t be healthy, and almost tricked me into thinking it was actually good. The taste quickly knocked me back to reality, but considering I wasn't expecting to like the texture much at all, I have to say I was somewhat impressed.

These bars are actually pretty good-sized for the price.

The “crunchy” part of the name is quite the misnomer, and initially made me think I was getting a harder bar: there’s no crunch whatsoever in these. The bar is soft, and the oats are soft; maybe they use crunchy peanut butter in it, but if that's the case, it's hard to differentiate that between the oats and other ingredients. No matter the case, I wouldn't have named the bar after a secondary texture that's barely even noticeable to begin with.

Onto the value: each package is $3.99, which is much cheaper than the typical prices of a natural name brand health bar. Even better yet? There are six bars inside. I’ve mentioned in other Elevation reviews that I’m perturbed by the varying number of health bars inside each box, which can skewer the value proposition considerably; if you’re paying $4 for 4 bars when you’re expecting 5 or 6, well that’s not really such a great deal. Getting six for $4, however, is actually pretty good for this type of thing, and one of the better deals across Aldi's Elevation product line.

I just wish I wanted to eat them more often.

Overall: 5/10. I’m not huge into peanut butter, so take my review with a grain of salt, if you must. This bar, despite the typical weird “natural health bar” appearance, actually comes off much better in person, with an appealing texture somewhat reminiscent of cookie dough. Peanut butter might be the main flavor, but it's offset by an off-kilter taste that isn't peanut butter, and that constantly threatens to ruin the whole experience. And you can ignore the "crunch" in the flavor title, because this is a soft, oat-based bar - there's nothing really resembling much of a crunch at all. The sole upside: the $3.99 asking price (for six bars), which makes this one of the more affordable offerings from the Elevation line. If, after reading all this, you find that it still sounds like something that would be down your alley, pick these up. If not, don’t.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Venezia Shugar Soapworks Charcoal Eucalyptus Vegan Soap Bar (Dollar Tree)

Box packaging for Venezia Shugar Soapworks Charcoal Eucalyptus Vegan Soap Bar
Don't fall for the smell in-store like I did...it doesn't translate well in the shower.

Dollar Tree bath and body items don’t always have the best scents. They’re getting a lot better compared to how they were ten or fifteen years ago, but many products have a lingering something that’s...amiss. Or a fragrance that smells okay, but dissipates much too quickly. There are very few things you can smell inside Dollar Tree that live up to that promise outside of their store walls; it’s like the scents are programmed to disappear once you take them off the premises.

So imagine my surprise when I caught this full-sized bar at a DT in Tennessee, one of a few things I bought while on vacation visiting the ol’ in-laws. I honestly didn’t think much of it at first sight, except for “Wow this looks pretty big for the price”. Considering one was already hanging outside of the packaging, I decided to take a sniff...and my socks were blown completely off, leaving me standing there in nothing but...well, everything except socks.

This had a strong, fantastic smell more befitting a full priced product rather than something being sold from the dollar store. I thought maybe I was going crazy (my nose doesn’t work the best, as anyone close to me knows), so I had my wife inhale in through her nose about six inches away from the product; she verified what I had thought. This smelled really good.

It was almost as if it were too good to be true. There were some red flags that were already creeping up in the back of my mind - the bar’s large size being the main one - but I forced them back out. After all, you don’t always know why products are being sold at the dollar store: maybe they just didn’t sell well and were on closeout. Or they were new and had gone as-of-yet undiscovered...I was excited to be the one to get to break this under-the-radar gem to the world.

Alas, it is not to be: this is one hell of a disappointing soap bar. You know how cheaper brands of candles will overload the top with fragrance - so anyone taking a casual whiff in store will be impressed with its strength - and then barely put any in the rest? So that the scent is barely noticeable by the third or fourth time you light it (if not sooner)? Well, that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here, because once you actually use it, the smell is virtually untraceable.

None of that strong scent carries over. In fact, it’s rather baffling just how much it drops off once you start lathering it up. Even right out of the shower and sitting next to her, she couldn’t smell me, or notice that I had used anything different, until she virtually pressed her nose against my skin. To be fair, the light scent that remains is good, but if it’s only noticeable in close, then I would imagine it doesn’t last long at all.

While we’re on the topic of suds, the lather quotient isn’t nearly as strong as I would like, another issue that faces most Dollar Tree soap brands (and inexpensive soaps in general). There’s a light accumulation of soap bubbles that land on the skin, but nothing that’s going to make your skin feel super hydrated, or anything. It didn't seem to dry out my skin, though, which is a plus.

Another possible plus to some people that honestly doesn't mean much to me, is the fact that it's vegan. On one hand, I do respect and appreciate Dollar Tree for trying to cater to as many people as possible, and staying on top of current trends; with many vegan products being sold for excessive markups, I suppose it's nice that this can be had for such a small price. That being said, it's basically the only "vegan" thing I've seen in the store (I don't even think they have vegan food products), so I highly doubt anyone who identifies as "vegan" is going to go out of their way, to a dollar store, just to buy mediocre soap. But hey, I could be wrong!

At any rate, despite the mention of “charcoal”, the bar is light, and the suds go on pretty light, too. I’m not sure what amount of charcoal has to be in something to gain the “benefits” of the stuff, whatever they may be, but I’d imagine it would have to be more than this. In fact, if there was no mention of it anywhere on the packaging, there would be no way to tell any is in there at all.

Despite the previous six paragraphs indicating the contrary, it’s not an entire waste of money: there really is a lot of soap here for the price. And using almost any soap is better than not using any at all; the scent might be weak, but at least it’s better than BO, so I will definitely finish the bar. But it’s not one that you’re going to want to use before a night out on the town, or a romantic evening in, so it’s relegated to those days when I’ll be doing my best to stay far away from everyone.

So I guess it will get more use than I thought, after all.

Overall: 4.5/10. This is a hugely disappointing soap bar that preys on consumers with the oldest scam in the book: by overloading its surface with fragrance, and then putting virtually none in the rest of it. It’s light on lather (which is a “con” in my book, although others might appreciate that), and outside of the packaging, contains virtually no signs that there’s charcoal anywhere in it at all. There are some plusses: the bar is huge, and even light-scented soap is better than none at all. It's also vegan, and made in the U.S.A., two things that are pretty rare inside Dollar Tree, but also two things that don't really mean much to me personally. I certainly won't be grabbing another one once my current supply runs out.