A Plunge into Cheesy Lava Sauce

Egg White Flatbread Sandwiches

By: Dunkin’ Donuts

I Paid: $2.99 (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 4stars

It’s no secret that doughnuts aren’t the reason people stop by Dunkin’ Donuts. The Massachusetts-based chain serves up a syrupy and flat-out addictive morning-friendly coffee that keeps the Northeastern workweek hummin’. At this point, the doughnuts are an afterthought, and a badly executed one at that.

Still, as long as there are all those stores, they may as well sell food. Embracing an era of healthy fast-food eating, Dunkin’ Donuts has converted its not-entirely-healthy toasted flatbread breakfast sandwiches into two egg-white-based incarnations, offered in Turkey Sausage and Veggie versions. It’s an appealing idea: While picking up your liquid fix, you can also grab a breakfast sandwich that isn’t totally terrible for you.

At 290 calories, the egg-white sandwich trumps its nondiet peers, but not thumpingly; the Ham and Swiss Flatbread Sandwich is 350 calories, and the Turkey, Cheese, and Bacon Flatbread is 360.

As it turns out, you pay a lot for the privilege of getting below 300 calories. The nondiet sandwiches are quite tasty; the egg-white versions suffer from being served on an unpleasantly dry and whole-wheaty pita that overwhelms its contents. The filling (scrambled eggs, minus the yolks) also features either reasonably savory bits of turkey sausage or an assortment of veggies that includes mushrooms, green onions, and diced red and green peppers, but tastes only of the latter. The Egg White Flatbread Sandwiches are an admirable stab at healthy eating from a company known for anything but. That said, regulars are advised to keep drinking the addictive coffee, consume the extra 50 to 100 calories for the nondiet flatbreads, and walk up a few flights of stairs once in a while.

Volcano Taco

By: Taco Bell

I Paid: 99 cents (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 4stars

Sure, you can resist the typical new Taco Bell offering, whatever it may be. After all, it’s just melted cheese in a crunchy shell with lettuce. Or is it a burrito stuffed with ground beef and faux guacamole? Or a taco shell containing a burrito stuffed with sour cream and a second, crumbled taco shell? Bucking the “same ingredients, new combination” confidence swindle that normally defines a fresh Taco Bell offering, the restaurant is now peddling something at least slightly different called the Volcano Taco. The geothermically inspired entrée is contained within a bright red shell that practically shouts: “Danger!” And also: “Maybe this tastes a little different from everything else on the menu!”

The key to the Volcano Taco is its Cheesy Lava Sauce, the Cheez Whiz–meets-Tabasco gloop that separates the taco’s ground beef base from its shredded-lettuce-and-cheese stratosphere. Strikingly—and atypically for fare from a mainstream American fast-food restaurant—the taco packs some real heat. (The theory here is apparently that once you name something “Volcano” and color it bright red, anyone still annoyed or surprised by its spicy flavor can safely be written off as a meth head.)

The taco also packs a strange whiff of umami, hinting that the Cheesy Lava Sauce has gone subtly bad or contains a schmear of pungent surface-ripened cheese, neither of which is particularly likely. It’s not the tour de force promised by the alluring red exterior. Taco Bell addicts looking for a kick of true heat are best served by buying classic hard-shell tacos and dousing them thoroughly with some Frank’s RedHot—or, alternatively, eating some actual Mexican food.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.