Sunday, May 29, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Turkey Hill Ice Cream

I've mentioned Turkey Hill in a few other reviews, but decided that it's deserving of its own, full review.

What do you want when you get ice cream? For me, ice cream is simple. It needs only three things: smooth, creamy, mouth-coating texture; strong, natural flavorings; and fillings that are larger than five molecules across. Even in ice cream that pretends to be high-quality, Edy's/Dreyer's for example, fillings are pitiful, flavor is artificial and weak, and there's so much air whipped in that the you get only marginally more calories than by simply breathing.

Turkey Hill isn't that ice cream. It gets everything right. The texture is perfect, the flavor is strong, and the fillings are large and delicious. Their cookies & cream, my favorite flavor, is the best that I have found in the grocery freezer. The peanut butter cup, which is actually sweetened peanut butter swirled into the ice cream, is beyond good. It is hands-down the best peanut butter ice cream in Turkey Hill's segment.

I used to refer to this segment as the half-gallon segment, but, compliments of increasing food costs and a marketing belief that people are stupid and won't notice smaller packages, half-gallons no longer exist.

If you want ridiculous fillings, Turkey Hill is not your brand. They produce the standard flavors with standard fillings. But in that arena, they best even many of the premium brands. And in the brands that are better flavor-to-flavor, like Ben & Jerry's, the differences are usually small. But compare Turkey Hill to other half-gallon brands, and the differences are stark. Turkey Hill is vastly superior to Blue Bunny, Hood, and Breyer's.

In the world of wacky fillings, Turkey Hill doesn't perform as well. While they produce their fair share of CRAZY ice cream, it really doesn't hold up to the premium brands. The kind to which I'm referring when I describe their excellence is their, um, standard(?) brand like the kind pictured in my image. If you stick with that, you'll never be let down.

In the world of non-premium ice cream, Turkey Hill is the bar by which others are measured. It's that good.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

A New Not Food Pyramid

The USDA's redesigned food pyramid, produced in 2005, was widely panned as somehow worse than the original one, which was itself widely criticized. Don't worry, the government is on the job. These guys know how to do shit right.

And by that, they are going to release a completely new food pyramid. So new, in fact, that it won't be a pyramid at all. It's going to be some "plate" design. I'm sure it will make complete sense.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but the government spent years on the 2005 pyramid, and it was ridiculous. It made no sense, provided no help whatsoever, and managed to ignore almost all of the developments in dietary science from the previous two decades. It was an absolute clusterfuck.

I really, truly, deeply hope that they don't make the situation worse. People NEED guidance. There is so much contradictory evidence out there, and so much of it is wrapped up in ideological baggage, it eventually just drives people away. They throw their arms up, stop their inquiry, and keep doing whatever it is that they're doing. And as we've moved further away from Grandma's "everything in moderation" motto, what people are doing is getting increasingly worse.

Please, please, pleeeeaaaase, government people. Do right by the populace. Don't bend to lobbyists from whatever-the-fuck industry has its finger up your butt. Produce a simple graphic that gets it right. It can't be that hard.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pinkberry in Rhode Island

For those in the know, they've been long able to get a froyo fix in the form of Juniper on Thayer Street (who recently launched a new website). But if you absolutely must have genuine Pinkberry, I have good news. According to the Pinkberry website, a location will be "swirling" (cute) soon in Garden City in Cranston. No information has been given on the opening date, but I'd assume that they're hoping to open for the summer season, which means soon.

For those interested, the major difference between Pinkberry and Juniper is the yogurt. Juniper tastes more like yogurt. That's not a good or a bad thing, it simply isn't as icy and tart as Pinkberry. I like them both a great deal. And after having Juniper for a couple of years, now, and having tried Pinkberry again, I actually like Juniper more. But I'm splitting hairs at that point.

UPDATE: I found the location. It's across from Anthropologie and directly next to Sunglass Hut.

View Larger Map

UPDATE 2: The opening date has been set at July 9th, so make sure to mark your calendars!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Starbucks Three Regions Blend

Starbucks is back. Last month they released their Tribute Blend, which was a disaster. It was a blasted mess of a bean, with nearly all of the terroir charred from the bean by an aggressive roast. I was doubly disappointed because I had just had Casi Cielo for the very first time, which was a fantastic blend. Starbucks has completely made up for it, though, with Three Regions Blend.

Open the bag and you're hit with a very strong bouquet of fudge and brownies. It's funny, since very little of this initial smell gets to the palate. Also nice, Starbucks' description of the coffee is rather accurate. It's a very toasty coffee, with a lot of bread, mellow roast, and just a small amount of spice. It does better the lighter your serving. A heavy espresso double was blowing out the flavors and delivering too much roast. A light double was good, and an espresso single was very good. Moreover, this isn't a very cremariffic coffee, so there's no real reason to use a double.

I'd imagine that drip coffee will simply blast the beans, since I found that they tasted best with a cooler brew. In this quest, pour-over, or my chosen brewing method, Aeropress are ideal. My favorite method was far and away the espresso single, which drew out all of the best flavors. There was a lot more terroir than in many other Starbucks blends and beans, which was probably helped by a comparably light roast. As I always mention, Starbucks usually needs a low grind on my Rancilio Rocky, sometimes as low as 3, with most good espresso blends needing a 9 or 10.

As far as Starbucks beans go, Three Regions blend is visibly lighter. There's a smaller amount of oil on the surface, and the color has more brown to it. Casi Cielo, still Starbucks' only legitimately impressive blend, required a 9. Three Regions needs around an 8. Still, the roast is more than light enough to give the beans character.

Three Regions Blend is a definite buy. It tastes fresh, and does very well in an Aeropress and a single. Just avoid making any doubles with it.

Starbucks Three Regions Blend: RECOMMENDED

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

McDonald's Goes Upmarket. Analysts Get It Wrong.

McDonald's is at it again, with a multi-billion dollar renovation of locations, with new furniture, colors, and amenities. Analysts see this as McDonald's trying to move into Starbucks' territory, or differentiate themselves from the other fast food stand-by's. Both of these perspectives are only partly true. The underlying motivation is much grander and has been on McDonald's mind for two decades.

In my review of Five Guys Burger and Fries, I discussed something that I've been mulling for time. Namely, the stratification of dietary classes in America. As time goes on, and scale drives the price and quality of certain foods ever lower, we'll have the lower class eating total garbage that costs almost nothing, and anyone who can afford it will be eating better and better.

As with the Arch Deluxe so many years ago, this is McDonald's trying to prevent that future from becoming reality. Because in this economic mechanism, anyone who competes on price will be actively pushed downmarket, resulting in ever-thinner profits, and lower-SES customers. When fast food was simply fast food, something everyone ate now and then, this future wasn't a threat. But now, with fast food being further segmented into high and low-quality, it's a game of musical chairs to see who can get away from the low-end more quickly.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Onward: How Starbucks Didn't Change Much At All

I'm sure by now that many of you are aware that Howard (I keep wanting to call him Charles) Schultz has written a book. It's hard to miss; it's prominently displayed in every Starbucks on the planet. It's supposedly about how Starbucks realized that it had lost its way, found its "soul" once more and has since enjoyed success. Umm, ok. I'll play along.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of the internal Cliff's Notes passed out to employees, which included a a synopsis of the book and some, hehe, talking points. Now, before I go any further, I want to stress that I enjoy going to Starbucks, and among fast food, the service is, without doubt, the best.

The first, third, and fourth talking points are all pretty standard fare. It's the second point that I find almost laugh-out-loud ridiculous? Not your standard business book? You don't read many business books, do you? That's, like, the formula for business books. Not only that, it's the formula for any interview on any news program of anyone who has ever been associated with business at some point in their life. Either that or it's an incredibly truncated essay on To Kill a Mockingbird.

And on that first point, I find Starbucks' rediscovering of their soul to be almost entirely semantic. All of their actions are couched in quasi-spiritual terms, but strip those away, and everything that Starbucks did is standard operating procedure for a food service company trying to reinvigorate sales. They beefed up their marketing and drastically revamped their food selection. Their "re-training" of baristi did nothing. Truly, multiple coffee comparisons came out after the training sessions declaring Starbucks to be far from #1. Moreover, I had lattes from two separate locations the day after training. One was from an anchored location inside of a supermarket, which did not receive training, and another full location that did receive training. This was as direct a comparison as could be hoped for. The post-training latte was terrible. The milk foam was coarse and overly hot and the espresso tasted burnt. I'm assuming that the machine was simply not calibrated, but you'd think they would have made a point to do this right after the much-ballyhooed event.

The ordeal seems to me like they conjured up good-sounding words to describe what they were doing, then handed the entire thing over to people who couldn't have given less of a shit about soul or mission, and simply did what they knew would work, because their "food service 101" text book from business school had an entire section on it.

Oh, and if you're thinking that My Starbucks Idea is somehow an example of Starbucks bucking standard business practices, you're quite mistaken. I submitted ideas to that website and read hundreds more. Any ideas that could have been truly revolutionary, inventive, or otherwise disruptive never made it anywhere, regardless of the number of votes that it received. It's not just me saying this, Brand Autopsy, which is run by a guy who used to work for Starbucks, analyzed the "success" early last year. It's not pretty. Starbucks didn't even offer free WiFi when that article was written, even though customers demanded it, and it had already been offered at local cafes since sometime in the High Middle Ages. Oh yeah. Really rocking the boat there, Starbucks.

Again, Starbucks should ditch its high-falutin' language, it does no one any good, and recognize what they are. They are fast food for people who don't want to be seen with a bag from McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts. That's obviously a big market. And I would know. I'm frequently seen with a Starbucks bag.