Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Drinking 2015 - Hard Ciders

According to CNN Money, hipsters are replaced PBR with craft beers. And according to Slate Money, rose wine is the drink of the summer. But at our house, hard cider is going strong as our drink of choice for summer 2015.

We've been a fan of the Angry Orchard line, produced by Sam Adams, since we first tried them late last year. Since then we've tried nearly every variety they produce, as well as many other ciders we run into at liquor stores. Since we've tried so many I thought it might be fun to do a few posts comparing some of our favorite ciders on this blog.

I love cider as a summer drink because it's refreshing and drinkable with a comparatively low alcohol content compared to beers and wines. It also pairs well with most of my favorite summer foods -- grilled meats and veggies, pizza, burgers, etc. I think the right cider can also pair well with mexican or chinese food, even though you wouldn't usually expect to find cider on the restaurant menu. 

Hard cider is a beverage with patriotic history in the U.S. (early European settlers turned to cider as a potable beverage after grains (for beer) proved too difficult to grow) and also a fun drink to seek out as a tourist elsewhere (Greg and I are excited to try cider from Normandy when we're in France later this month). I'm looking forward to telling you about more of my favorites, and maybe creating a few new cider fans!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Thinking Cup Pumpkin Spice Latte

The Thinking Cup's PSL is the most expensive one I've tried so far. While the $4.17 price puts it only a little over a quarter more expensive than Peets, the high price belies its itty bitty size. Despite this, it was one of my very favorite PSL's.

What's tricky about rating this one is that Thinking Cup starts out with a better latte than the competitors, and it's the flavor of the Stumptown espresso and perfectly frothed milk that set it ahead of the other PSL's. The PSL syrup itself is only so-so. In fact, true latte fans might prefer to skip the syrup and just go for a regular latte instead.

Location: The Thinking Cup on the Boston Common
Price: $4.17
Calories: ? It's pretty tiny, so probably not too bad.
Room Temp Flavor: so small it'll evaporate before it reaches room temp.

Pumpkin Rating: Perfectly-cut jack-o-lantern with a superfluous wig on top

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dunkin Donuts Pumpkin Spice Latte

I’ve been meaning to try the Dunkin Donuts pumpkin spiced latte for a while.  The DD’s near my school has a special on lattes in the evening, which is a great deal for a before-class treat. Yesterday, while I was hanging out with some friends I finally pulled the trigger.

Ordering the drink was a lot more complicated than I expected it to be. Gone are the days of Dunks lattes coming from a reconstituted powder mix. Now I had to answer “hot or iced,” “what kind of milk” and “with or without sugar.” (I was particularly confused by the sugar question because I think the flavor mix already includes sugar…?) Anyway, I was impressed with the customization options. Other than requesting decaf (I always get decaf), I tried to stick as close to the standard PSL as I could. I asked for a hot latte, “regular” milk, and no additional sugar. “Just make it yummy.”

The resultant latte was yummy, but only very subtly flavored. I didn’t detect any spiciness, and only the slightest hint of pumpkin-ness. It’s hard to describe the flavor of the drink, other than to say that the pumpkin spice somehow enhanced the milky-ness of the latte. It had more of a round nom-nom-nom flavor than a basic latte (sorry for using such technical terms).

It’s possible that my tastebuds are starting to get burnt out after all these PSLs and that’s why I didn’t taste much flavor in this latte. And barista error is always a possibility. But, still I wouldn’t say it was a bad experience, just that I wouldn’t want this to be my one pumpkin spice latte for the year. It was kind of boring.

Location: Dunkin Donuts in the Transportation Building
Price: under $2.50
Calories: 230
Room Temp Flavor: Drank it too fast to find out

Pumpkin Rating: un-carved pumpkin painted white

Friday, September 26, 2014

Panera Bread Pumpkin Spice Latte

This one was a somewhat accidental PSL trial. I was on my way to class at 5:45 and thought I’d get a Starbucks PSL. Unfortunately, the line was out the door. I headed across the street to Dunks and – same problem. Then on the street I ran into Kristina (btw, if you’re reading this you really need to check out her blog, which is 100 times more profesh than mine) who alerted me that there was no line at Panera.

Now usually, I don’t like Panera’s coffee. It tends to taste watered down and like the pots haven’t been cleaned properly. No matter, everything is topsy-turvy in pumpkin spice latte land, and Panera ended up serving me one of the best PSLs I’ve ever tasted.

The secret to the perfect PSL is balance. You shouldn’t forget you’re drinking a latte. There needs to be milk and coffee in there. The spice should be a complement to those flavors.

The best word I can come up with for the flavoring of Panera’s PSL is “soft.” Cinnamon and vanilla meld with the milk flavor, to make a soothing, sleepytime version of the drink. The drink did not come with whipped cream, but the flavor was so balanced, whipped cream might have pushed it over into too sweet territory.

The best part of this drink was that I could continue sipping it for my entire four hour class because the flavoring never turned nasty. It was a highly drinkable, yummy beverage.

Location: Panera in the Theater District
Price: $3 + something
Room Temp Flavor: yummy

Pumpkin Rating: Mommy, Daddy and Baby Jack-o-Lanterns in a Row on a Porch

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Peet's Pumpkin Spice Latte

I won’t bury the lede …

Holy schnikes was this a disgusting drink.

I’m surprised at how badly Peet’s f-ed this up, because I’m generally a Peet’s fan and think they get things right more often than not. Their pastries, for example, are the best of any chain coffee shop I know of. And during the summer I’ll routinely go out of my way to hit the Peet’s in Harvard for one of their summer cooler drinks.

But this pumpkin latte? Nope. Nope nope nope. Nopetty nopetty all the nopes.

It would be better if they labeled it what it really is -- a candy corn latte. From the first sip my mouth was filled with that overwhelming sugary waxy flavor, without a hint of espresso taste to balance it out. There was zero spice, zero complexity, not even much of a vanilla flavor. Just a flat fake-sugar / real-sugar mix that was utterly barftastic.

As an aside, I really hate “candy corn” as a flavor. Candy corn, the candy, is fine in the way that peeps are fine. A once-a-year nostalgia trip that’s more decoration than candy.  But why on Earth would someone want a food that isn’t candy corn to taste like candy corn? Candy corn Oreos? No. Give me regular Oreos. Candy corn M&M’s? You should be fired. There’s a reason M&Ms are one of the best selling candies in the world and a bag of candy corn comes out for one month a year and then sits in the storage closet for 11 months before anybody thinks about it again. I promise you no convenience store worker ever dug out the Halloween box in the back room in March because they were jonesing for some candy corn. Stop trying to make candy corn happen.

But in spite of my hatred for candy corn, I’m a live and let live kind of person. If you want a candy corn latte, have at it. But at least have the decency to call it what it is so the rest of us don’t accidentally spend $3.75 on one.

Location: Peet’s in the 360 CafĂ© on the Boston Common.
Cost: $3.75
Calories: afraid to ask
Room Temp Flavor: equally bogus 

Pumpkin Rating: Snaggle-tooth Jack-o-lantern Puking Pumpkin Guts

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Pumpkin Spice Latte Challenge

Happy Pumpkin Season everyone!

It seems like just a few years ago Starbucks invented the “Pumpkin Spice Latte” and now it’s an unstoppable force in cafes. Pumpkin spice is everywhere, from pastries to beer to lasagna noodles (don't click this link if you're prone to buying weird foods online). 

Although I love pumpkin, I have to admit that I usually don’t drink many pumpkin beverages. They’re calorie bombs, expensive, and often cloyingly sweet.  I have, maybe, one a year.

Except this year I’ve decided to take advantage of this blog to provide a much needed service to the community. If you, like me, are only drinking one pumpkin spice latte a year, you want to know the pumpkin spice latte you’re drinking is the very best.

So I’ve decided to commit myself to trying every (or as many as I reasonably can) pumpkin spice latte in Boston and tell you which is the best.

I’ll rate these lattes on immediate flavor, flavor after the drink cools (because I cannot chug a hot drink), and overall value. I’ll also do my best to mark down the calories and cost. 

Note – I will be drinking most of these on an empty stomach, because the calorie count and cost are both high enough to replace a meal.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bobby's Burger Palace

So last night I was absolutely desperate for a burger, but I just didn't feel like hitting any of the regular spots. (Not to mention, by the time we were ready to eat it was 9pm and most of those places were closed!)

I remembered seeing some fuss about a new burger restaurant in the Burlington Mall, so I convinced Greg to come with me to check it out.

Bobby's Burger Palace at the Burlington Mall is one in a chain of 18 burger shops found in malls, university campuses, and casinos around the country. Its namesake is Bobby Flay, the food network star who... okay to be honest I don't watch the Food network so I'll just assume he's famous for burgers and shakes.

BBP is a mixed counter/table service restaurant, similar to Wahlburgers. You order at the counter, then find your own seat and wait for a server to bring your food to you. Tipping is always an awkward situation at these kinds of places, but I'd say the level of service here was definitely on the "do tip" side of the scale. Various servers checked in with us throughout the meal to make sure we knew what the different sauces on the table were for, to bring us an extra straw for our shake, and to make sure we had everything we needed.

Greg ordered the burger of the month, the "Mulberry Street," which came with fresh mozzarella, basil ketchup, parmesan cheese, and arugula. I ordered the "Miami," a pressed sandwich with a turkey patty, ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. We also shared an order of fries (split between sweet and regular potato) and a black & white milkshake.

We were both satisfied with our burgers, with Greg liking his a little more than I did mine. For just under $8 each, the burgers were fairly loaded with toppings. Even though fries aren't included in the price, you can get chips added to any burger for free (though as a topping, not a side). The fries were under $5, and I think they stole the show. One order was big enough to share but I could see myself skipping the burger and just eating an order of these. The shake was also surprisingly good, like Shake Shack's but smoother and creamier with fresh whipped cream on top. I'd compare the flavor to Swiss Miss hot chocolate, but in a good way.

 For a mall restaurant, BBP impressed us both. The prices were decent (I generally figure $10 for a burger and fries is fair) and the service was very friendly. We ended up going pretty late at night, after the mall had closed, so it had kind of a ghost town feel, but I can imagine it's hopping during the day. There was a weird spill around the drink machine that the staff seemed to ignore. I think that was my only real negative on the place.

Overall, no one would call this the best burger place in the city (cough, R.F. O'Sullivan's, cough), but for mall food it's pretty good. It's filling a need for a mid-priced restaurant at the Burlington Mall where everything seems to be either food court disaster or Legal Seafood expensive. I'll say it's worth stopping in if you're hungry after a day of shopping, but probably not a place to drive out just to try.