Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular— Freddy’s Fish Sandwich

San Diego recently became the home of another beloved Midwest fast-food chain: Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. That name is a mouthful, and since I’d rather have a mouthful of their fish sandwich, from here on I’ll refer to them as Freddy’s.

freddyslogo

Freddy’s has two San Diego County locations at this writing— San Marcos and National City. I was recently in National City for another food-related pilgrimage (rhymes with “Blunkin’ Blonuts”) and spotted their seasonal, participation-may-vary window dressing for their fish & chips basket or sandwich. It’s my solemn duty and privilege to report on fish sandwiches for my better half, so $5.50 later I had me a new sandwich to try.

freddysplate

Their sandwich is a bit of an odd duck. Rather than the usual solitary breaded-and-deep-fried quadrangle slab of Alaskan cod, it’s actually two triangles (think elementary school lunch) with a melty slice of American cheese and some “Freddy’s Sauce” in a toasted bun. It comes with a couple of packets of Heinz tartar sauce, which I think is pretty low on the scale of tasty tartar sauces.

Overall it was OK, not really a standout either way. I didn’t mind the fish planks; they flaked apart easily so they weren’t over-fried or dry. I can’t determine what made the sandwich so sweet, though. Might have been the tartar sauce, or the Freddy’s sauce… maybe a combination of the two.

freddysinrestaurant

I wish I could give you a round-up of calories, sodium and fat grams, but Freddy’s doesn’t have any nutritional information for this sandwich or their basket on their website (the basket comes with shoestring fries).

Read other Friday fast food fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Arby’s Fish Sandwich Trio

Arbysx3

Closing off this season’s Friday Fast-Food Fishtaculars is a round up of Arby’s three fish sandwiches (the only chain I’m aware of that has three fish sandwiches on the menu simultaneously). I figured the best way to prevent redundant critiques on flavors, portions and prices was to go with a chart. Click on the image to maximize your experience.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Arctic Circle Halibut Sandwich

ArcticCircleLogo

Last year, I found myself driving through Utah on a road trip and somewhere south of Salt Lake City I got the hungries. I hadn’t eaten at an Arctic Circle before so I checked it out.

exterior

This wasn’t the first Arctic Circle I saw on the trip, but every one I did see was in Utah. Waiting for my turn in the drive-thru, I did a quick Wikipedia query and found out it’s a Utah-based chain with nearly 70 locations across seven Western states.

drivethru

From the menu, my takeaway is that Arctic Circle must be the offspring of Carl’s Jr. and Sonic Drive-In. Their burgers and other sandwiches look huge (and expensive) and they also have a head-spinning assortment of shakes and sundaes. I saw they had a fish sandwich and figured I better not pass up this opportunity.

inhand

As advertised, it’s Alaskan halibut all right… possibly even caught IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE! The breading (beer-batter?) was a nice change of pace from other fast-food chains, as was the egg bun. Its heft was comparable to the Carl’s Jr. Carl’s Catch Fish Sandwich I tried a few years back.

bite

They don’t skimp on the tartar sauce, as you can see from the two photos. They give it a smear on both side of the fish. In all, the sandwich experience was a good one. I don’t know if it was worth six-and-a-half-bucks but otherwise, no regrets.

The Halibut Sandwich rings up at $6.29— the most-expensive sandwich I’ve reviewed by far. According to their website, we’re looking at 451 calories, 16 grams of fat and a staggering 1029mg of sodium. Delicious as it may be, their bun accounts for 200 of those calories.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Green Burrito’s Fish Tacos

greenburrito

I shouldn’t even be writing this. Not because I don’t like doing fast-food fish sandwich reviews for Darlene, but because this will give Green Burrito a tiny amount of attention. More than it deserves, certainly, as its Beer-Battered Cod Fish Taco is one of the worst entries in my fishtacular roundups.

2191advertised“They’re back!” Is that an exclamation of joy or a dire warning?

Green Burrito — the Mexican fast-food chain found parasitically attached to the side of host burger chain Carl’s Jr. — is touting a “two fish tacos for $3.99” deal. Price-wise, that’s no deal (San Diegans can easily find any number of worthwhile fish tacos in the buck-to-buck-fifty range), but curiosity got the better of me. Perhaps it was visions of near-nude models erotically chowing on gigantic, sloppy fish tacos while washing their Ford Mustang in slo-mo or something.

2196inhand

Well, here’s the skinny (and I do mean skinny): Waiting for my order, I watched the Green Burrito taco-maker take a generous slab of deep-fried Atlantic cod to the open-faced tortillas, and I thought, “That’s a good-sized slab of—” AND THEN SHE CHOPPED IT IN HALF. So each taco got a skimpy, mutilated half-portion of fish.

2199pathetic

This picture shows the travesty better (sorry about the missing bites). Even if my fish taco was as loaded with fish as the advertisement showed, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no flavor outside of the corn tortillas and overpowering salsa. In fact, they could have forgotten the fish altogether and it would’ve tasted the same. When I singled out the fish for a solo bite, it was thin and bland. Not even their Santa Fe sauce could help it.

The Beer-Battered Fish Taco is two for $3.99, which puts it in the same price point as many other fast-food fish sandwiches. Each one clocks in at 340 calories, 19g of fat and 480mg of sodium… which also puts it in the running with other fish sandwiches. But when you double it, ugh. No bueno.

I’m a bad San Diegan for even considering Mexican fast food; let this experience serve as both punishment and a cautionary tale for others.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Fast Food Taste Testing: Burger King’s HA1loween Whopper

Halloween Whopper Wrapper

Note from Darlene: I’ve been busy so I wrangled Paul into eating this burger and writing a post for me. If there’s one lesson to be learned, lunch is never free with me.

Boo.

Not in a “Happy Halloween” way, but in an opposite of “yay!” way. Halloween Whopper Closeup

Burger King unveiled its HA1loween Whopper locally this week, and for those keep tabs on international fast food offerings, it seems to be a far cry from its Japanese model from 2014. Here’s my breakdown from the American version vs. its overseas counterpart.

Aside from the nifty packaging that resembles a mummy, the first and most obvious deviation from a regular Whopper is the light–diffusing, black bun. Advertisements claim it’s infused with A-1 steak sauce. Other than its color, it seemed to be the same regular-issue sesame seed variety that comes standard with any Whopper (I didn’t notice any pronounced A-1 flavor). The Japanese version didn’t have sesame seeds, so it had a much more pronounced blackness. (If I’d ordered mine without lettuce, tomato or onion, it would’ve been much less colorful.)

Halloween Whopper in Hand

The next deviation from its Japanese predecessor was the presence of A-1 steak sauce in place of ketchup. Apparently this was to echo the darkness of the bun (?) but it didn’t make the burger taste any better. I’m not sure if A-1 and mayo make good bedfellows. (Darlene reports when she ordered it, the fine young man behind the counter warned her that there was no ketchup and if she wanted steak sauce or ketchup. Customers had been complaining they didn’t like A-1 in their burger.)

The final deviation was the slice of American cheese. It was the standard yellow-orange you’ve always had, opposed to the Japanese version’s black cheese. Perhaps American focus groups just couldn’t handle that. I think seeing the words “squid ink” on a Burger King menu in Oklahoma or Indiana would incite panic, mass confusion and rioting. Burger King Menu

All in all, the burger tasted the same as any other Whopper, but for the A-1/ketchup swap. This is a good thing; I’m not sure if a radical departure in flavor would be a good idea for those curious in trying this novelty. The price was $4.99, which is the going rate as a regular Whopper a la carte or $7.39 for the combo meal.

Since it’s for Halloween, I would imagine this is one of those “only for a limited time at select Burger King locations” sort of deals, so if you need to get one, act sooner rather than later.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Burger King’s Spicy Big Fish

What happens when a ubiquitous fast-food chain swaps out tartar sauce for “spicy sauce” on their fish sandwich?

You get a happy customer.

BKlogo

Burger King‘s Spicy Big Fish Sandwich is their latest deep-fried ichthological offering. It appears to be roughly the same build as their Big Fish Sandwich (which I reviewed here), so for sake of brevity, I’ll just give the highlights.

BKFish

The slab of panko-crusted white Alaskan pollock comes with pickles, lettuce and a “spicy sauce,” all within a “brioche-style” bun. Not a true brioche, apparently. The sandwich experience is largely the same as their Big Fish, with one exception.

BKFish_inside

The “spicy sauce” replaces the tartar, and it’s a welcome change. Though not as spicy as their “Zesty Sauce” (the condiment-of-choice for their onion rings), it did change the overall flavor profile to something better — and more memorable — than tartar sauce. Which, in the world of fast-food fish sandwiches, is a good thing.

The Spicy Big Fish is $3.89. The Big Fish was $3.59 in 2013, so I don’t know if this is just a regular price increase or a $0.20 upsell for the spicy sauce. It also clocks in at 470 calories, 24g of fat and 1150mg of sodium — all lower than the Big Fish (and significantly lower than 2013’s Big Fish).

Not bad, Burger King — perhaps the tide is turning in your favor?

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — AM/PM’s Fish Sandwich

ampmlogo

It’s been a while since my last Friday Fast Food Fishtacular, mainly because I’ve exhausted all the fast-food fish sandwich offerings in the tri-county area. In fact, I was considering a series of critiques on fish tacos/fish burritos, but that could escalate into shrimp po’boys or tuna melts. No, fish sandwiches are my jam. Last week, I was completely taken off guard by a new fish sandwich from a most unlikely chain — AM/PM.

ampmbannerad

Actually it was Darlene who spotted the banner ad as we were waiting for a green light, and I was instantly intrigued. First: How did AM/PM crack the fish sandwich code that fast-food chains held in complete secrecy for half a century? Second: How fresh/tasty could these sandwiches possibly be, in the absence of a deep-fryer or skilled fishmonger? Third: Is AM/PM considered “fast food?” I figured $1.99 (+ tax) would give me some answers.

ampmexpiration

Of course the fish sandwich was served in a foil hotbag in their self-serve heatlamp box (where their burgers, dogs etc. reside). It had a cryptic expiration time on the bag, which said “Enjoy by 1:30” but “5:00” was circled on the clock. Seeing as how this was about half-past noon, I had no idea what any of this meant. I applaud that they try to make these as fresh as possible, but the problem is right in front of me: are we talking AM or PM? Was it made at 1:30 AM? Would I die if I ate it after 5:00 PM? And isn’t 5:00 PM technically before 1:30 AM the following day?? It’s the Gremlins Paradox: Don’t feed Gizmo after midnight… but isn’t 8:00 AM after midnight? WHAT DO I DO??

ampmbitebag

From the initial reveal, it certainly looked like a fish sandwich, probably not too far off from what you’d get at the university’s dining commons. According to the bag, it’s a deep-fried slab of Alaska pollock with a slice of processed cheddar cheese. What it DIDN’T have was a fat blanket of tartar sauce or a beautiful bed of lettuce (see banner ad photo up top for reference). Maybe I missed the lettuce bin and the tartar sauce pump bucket?

ampmpockets

What it DID have was a curious case of shrinkage. In the above photo I highlighted two areas of the fish patty where the fish actually shrunk within its deep-fried coat of breading. Weird. Your results may vary.

ampmcrispy

Onto the eating experience itself — it was not as horrible as I imagined. (AM/PM, if you’re reading this, feel free to use that sentence as a testimonial in future ad campaigns. You’re welcome.) The geometric fish slab was crispy and tasted fine, the bun was soft and not stale/dried out from the hotbag and the pasteurized and processed cheese tasted as you’d expect from its description on the back. A week later, I’d say the takeaway was a cheese-flavored sandwich with some fish essence. Certainly not worth two bucks or whatever regrets you’d have afterward.

The AM/PM Fish Sandwich has 357 calories and 8 grams of fat. Surprisingly, that’s fewer calories and fat than the Jack in the Box fish sandwich, but that apparently reflects the absence of tartar sauce.

The ball’s in your court, 7-Eleven.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Variety is the Pumpkin Spice of Life

Note from Darlene: A trip to any big box retailer isn’t complete without stopping by the chip/candy/cookie aisle. The choices of overwhelming. Here’s Paul’s take on the trend.

I have a pretty good memory when it comes to random consumerism, especially from my youth. I can still recite commercial jingles long-since mothballed and recall packaging and product design from the days of Ford, Carter and Reagan. I guess I’m a living testament to the ad execs (who’ve all likely retired by now) who put their faith in hooking kids with their products. As I think back 30-40 years, I kind of long for the days when you had one or two choices for a particular product. Now there are so many choices — TOO many choices — that it makes my head spin.

Cheerios

cheerios

When I was growing up, there was exactly one variety of Cheerios. It was called “Cheerios” and it was Cheerios-flavored.

I witnessed the arrival of Honey Nut Cheerios and that was the status quo for decades. Now, there are so many varieties of Cheerios that even with a wide-angle lens I cannot get them all into frame. Flavors include (but are not limited to):

  • Regular
  • Honey Nut
  • Honey Nut Medley Crunch
  • Yogurt Blast
  • Apple Cinnamon
  • Cinnamon Burst
  • Fruity
  • Frosted
  • MultiGrain
  • Peanut Butter
  • Dulce de Leche
  • Banana Nut
  • Chocolate

Mini Wheats miniwheats

This nonsense isn’t limited to Cheerios.

Cap’n Crunch used to have three flavors: Cap’n Crunch, Crunch Berries and Peanut Butter Crunch. In the 1980s they came up with Choco Crunch, and it was largely inedible. A recent pass through the cereal aisle rewarded me with “Oops! All-Berries!” (not especially new), Cinnamon Roll Crunch, Chocolately Crunch and Halloween Crunch. Life cereal has several varieties now (besides original and Cinnamon), as do Frosted Mini-Wheats.

Doritos

doritos

Doritos had two flavors: Nacho Cheese and Taco. Cool Ranch was a welcome addition (actually, didn’t it replace the Taco flavor?), but now Doritos is becoming dangerously close to being absurd. Do we really need “Spicy Chipotle,” “Salsa Verde” and “Enchillada Supreme” Doritos? And don’t even get me started on Lay’s, who have made a contest out of expanding their flavor catalog. I noticed that it’s become somewhat of a thing to search, collect and consume the limited edition flavors. Damn you, Lay’s.

Toothpaste

colgate

We had three or four choices for toothpaste when I was growing up.

You got Colgate, Crest, Aqua-Fresh or one of those other brands. Have you tried to pick out a Colgate lately? I crap you not, there has to be two dozen subtle variations, each custom-tailored to your exact dental needs. I think I want *let me see here, reading my list* Sparkling white, Pro-shield, Total, Total Advanced, Max Clean, Max Fresh, Optic White, Sensitive, prevents enamel erosion, reduces gingivitis, triple-action, promotes shine, has stain defense, is anti-cavity, strengthens dentine, has scrubbing bubbles…. Apparently you can only get any three of these in one toothpaste, so choose well.

Oreos

oreos

Oreos might be the biggest offender in the cookie aisle. When I was short, we had Oreos and — eventually — Oreos with Double Stuff. Recent flavor remixes include watermelon, candy corn and — you guessed it — pumpkin spice. There’s not enough time or room to list variations here.

Some products have always had a wide selection of flavors and varieties at least for as long as I can remember. Pop-Tarts. Campbell’s soups. Ice cream. Jelly beans. Instant oatmeal. Off-brand soda. And that’s fine. Actually, that’s to be expected. It’d be a sad day if there were only Strawberry Pop-Tarts.

I give props to the General Mills. Their line of three Monster Cereals — Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo-Berry — ballooned up to five in the 1970s with the addition of Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy, and have since scaled back their line to be seasonally active around Halloween.

I get it. Market saturation. Shelf dominance. Brand warfare. Squeeze out your competitors. And I guess it works. I’ve tried many a variant. Some are pretty good, but most are awful.

Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” rings true when you consider all the options today.

So I hope you enjoy your frosted chipotle and pumpkin-spiced everything. I’ve hit overload and I’m gonna start brushing my teeth with a stick.

A Welcome Addition: Firehouse Subs

A note from Darlene: Paul loves subs. His favorite sub place is Nevada-based Port of Subs. This is his post on Firehouse Subs.

Firehouse exterior

If there’s one thing San Diego isn’t lacking, it’s sandwich chains. We have more than enough mom & pop taco shops, too… but you can’t swing a dead cat fish burrito without hitting a Submarina, Jersey Mike’s, Capriotti’s, Quiznos, Grab N Go Subs, Rubicon, Gourmet Bagger, Port of Subs (North County only, sadly) or a Subway. Now we can add Florida-based Firehouse Subs to the landscape.

Firehouse Subs on Midway (in the same shopping cluster as Vons and 24 Hr. Fitness) has been open since December, so it’s not especially “new” here. Its unfortunate placement and diminuative signage are a couple reasons why I haven’t noticed it before now.

Firehouse decor 2

FIrehouse Decor

The first thing you notice about Firehouse Subs upon entering the shop is their attention to “keeping the theme.” Short of claxons going off and a dalmatian greeting you at the door, you’d think you were in a fire station. And that’s the exact point— Firehouse Subs bonds with the local first-responders wherever they set up shop. In San Diego’s case, that includes the Harbor Police (they have a large mural of San Diego’s waterfront skyline in the dining area). Firemen gear and historic photos adorn the walls and everything is spic and span, shiny and tidy. But this is a restaurant, after all. Let’s get to the food.

Firehouse menu

Firehouse Lime-Ade recipe

Firehouse Subs have an extensive menu of hot subs, including their 10 most-popular signature sandwiches. Some of these include the New York Steamer Sub (corned beef brisket), the Turkey Bacon Ranch and the Engineer Sub (turkey, swiss and sautéed mushrooms). Prices for sandwiches range from $5.89 to $6.29 (sub only), or a combo with a drink and chips for $8.28-$8.68. Their sandwich ingredients are listed on the board, but they’re merely suggestions. I was encouraged to add or remove items. I tried their Firehouse Steak & Cheese (with mushrooms, peppers and onions on the side) and the Firehouse Meatball. Firehouse Subs is also the only national chain with a Coca-Cola Freestyle soda machine in every store. I tried their exclusive Cherry Lime-Ade following the directions posted by the soda machine.

Firehouse steak and cheese

Steak and cheese closeup

The steak, mushroom and cheese sandwich arrived hot on white artisian bread, roughly 8″ long, cut in half. Sure enough, the onions and peppers were on the side, next to a pickle spear. The sandwich was tremendous. The steak was excellent quality and sliced nearly deli thin, the provolone was melted just right. It was warm but not hot. The roll was the right texture and was toasted on the inside.

Firehouse Meatball sub

The meatball sub was probably a full 25% larger than the steak and cheese. It was exactly as advertised — tender, marinara-covered meatballs and melted provolone wedged into a soft split-top roll. It was also served warm so I could dig in immediately. They don’t skimp on ingredients, either. My first bite started with meatball and the last bite ended with meatball.

Firehouse Hot Sauces

Besides sandwiches, they also serve salad and an award-winning chili (served mild so you can go to town on their myriad hot sauces). Their chip selection is robust and they have cookies and brownies at the counter.

Firehouse Decor 3

While eating, you might notice people dropping change into some empty pickle buckets on the counter. Firehouse Subs gives back to the community via their Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, where donations (via these pickle buckets, tip jars or by “rounding up” your order) go to help emergency service personnel and first-responders with equipment, preparedness education to the public and other programs.

There are three locations in San Diego County (the other two in Encinitas and Oceanside), with imminent plans to expand into Orange and Los Angeles counties.

A side note: I met the manager of the Midway location, Charlie and he seemed to know most every customer by name. He takes pride in his shop and its community involvement and it shows in his — and his customers’ — enthusiasm. It also dawned on me that they’re located just a two-minute walk from San Diego Fire Department Station 20. Clever!

Firehouse Subs
3625 Midway Dr.
San Diego, CA 92110
619.925.3473

*The meal is courtesy of Firehouse Subs. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for the review.

Los Angeles Soda Heaven: Galco’s Soda Pop Stop

A note from Darlene: Some women marry men who love beer. I married one who loves soda pop. Instead of doing a write-up on fast food, I had Paul write about Galco’s. 

Galco's shop

Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Highland Park was one of my first “foodie” destinations. I can’t quite recall what led Darlene and me there for the first time— was it a feature on Food Network? A food blog? Whispered rumors in a back alley? Whatever the origin, we ended up making Galco’s a “must-visit” spot any time we headed up to Los Angeles.

Galco's inventory

To say Galco’s has a robust soda selection is like saying Kim Kardashian might be a little bottom-heavy. Galco’s is packed to capacity with more than 500 varieties of soda, tonics, pop and fizzy soft drinks, all of which are in glass bottles. There you will likely find any regional soda you can think of, plus scores of new discoveries. Faygo, Thomas Kemper, Moxie, Nehi, Henry Weinhard’s, Nesbitt’s, Boylan, Dry, Jarritos, Hank’s, Fitz’s… plus more varieties of root beer, ginger beer, cream soda and sarsaparilla than my poor fingers can type.

Galco's Faygo

Galco's selection 2

Galco's selection 1

Galco's selection 3

Sure, they also have uncommon national brands, like RC Cola, Bubble Up and Jones. Check the labels on the bottles: many varieties are made with cane sugar instead of the more common and cheaper high-fructose corn syrup. Does that make a difference? Hell yes. Just try a bottle of Dr Pepper original formula (aka “Dublin Dr Pepper” — soda snobs know what I’m talking about). They usually carry it though I didn’t see it this time. Best to call ahead before you clear out the trunk and make the road trip.

I encourage you get a shopping cart and buy by the case. You can mix and match; sodas are priced per bottle, and prices vary by soda. A Faygo Grape will run $2.09 while a Cheerwine costs $1.69. The prices online are more expensive than in the store, but reasonable if you factor in cost to travel here (if you’re more than a couple hours’ drive away). Check out the cooler along the wall for icy cold singles (if you need a soda fix that very moment)!  It’s the place to try new sodas or find long lost favorites.

Galco's Candy

Galco's guy

Galco’s also has beer and wine, candy and a deli sandwich counter. Be sure to look for the graying, cherubic guy in the big red apron— that’s John Nese, the owner.

Galco’s Old World Grocery
aka Galco’s Soda Pop Stop
5702 York Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90042
323.255.7115