I Paid: $7.99 per 24-ounce bag (prices may vary by region)
The idea that many modern, industrial food products contain (in addition to salt, preservatives, and flavor-enhancing chemicals) a full daily dose of sadness and regret is not exactly breaking news. But T.G.I. Friday's Sizzling Chicken and Sizzling Steak Fajitas collectively contain enough sorrow to keep a midlevel 19th-century Russian novelist creatively productive for the better part of his career.
The sads start before you've even bought the product, which comes frozen in a plastic bag. Next time you get the chance, carefully watch the ad for these things—it falls neatly in with the most depressing aimed-at-drones stuff on TV, such as: commercials that show people desperately escaping cubicle life by eating microwaveable brownies. Or commercials that show a trail of discarded clothes leading to a bedroom before dropping a sales pitch for diamond jewelry, all but saying, "Diamonds: She'll Pretty Much Have To."
Or, in this case: a man, left home alone during dinnertime by his wife, enjoying an exciting T.G.I. Friday's "party" (the whole kitchen is blinged out with T.G.I. Friday's branding! woo!) as he prepares his T.G.I. Friday's meal in a bag. You don't have to be a genius to know that if you're eating frozen T.G.I. Friday's food out of a bag, you may not be the world's most fulfilled human being.
If that seems unnecessarily classist, or snarky or condescending, I throw down this challenge: Try the stuff yourself, and then let me know what you think. The number one question raised by sinking your teeth into T.G.I. Friday's steak fajitas is, "How the devil did they find a cow that tastes like this?" The steak, it should be said, looks like steak. And it smells a bit like steak as it cooks. But, ultimately, it's kind of the Soylent Green of red meats: a bit of steak, yes, but also a bit of everything else including a great deal of unpleasant mystery.
I counted the ingredients that go into T.G.I. Friday's steak fajitas and found about 70, with a few repeats (salt shows up 5 or 6 times, it should be noted). When I make steak fajitas on my own, the number of ingredients is closer to a dozen, when you break out everything that goes into the locally made tortillas and include the sour cream and hot sauce I'll top them with. (Friday's fajitas, it should be noted, come with neither of those garnishes, nor guac.)
The "steak" itself includes little bonuses like beef tallow, soy protein, modified cornstarch, and tapioca dextrin, which explains why the stuff tastes fake. The chicken in the chicken fajitas is little better.
And the overall package is a sad mess: Beyond the mystery meat, both types of fajitas provide vegetables that you sauté in your frying pan, and that come out soggy and flavorless. The suckers smell quite good as they cook (the onions in particular), and the tortillas warm up beautifully in the microwave, but the finished product is enough of a downer to make you want to go find the nearest suicide booth and swipe your debit card.