So, having neglected to bring lunch to work last week, I was forced to venture out to the lunchroom and survey the offerings in the vending machine. I found a few cans of Chef Boy R Dee (seriously) and some Kellogg's cereal cups, and multiple instances of microwaveable sandwiches bearing the "Dale Jr." trademark so familiar to NASCAR fans.
You just know that with Dale Jr.'s name and likeness on the wrapper, millions of them are going to sell regardless of the quality. And, to tell the truth, they didn't look all that appetizing sitting in the dark little pockets of the machine. Some testing and reviewing was obviously in order here.
There were three varieties of DaleChow available for purchase, so I bought one of each and resigned myself to vending machine food for the next few days.
I found all of the sandwiches I bought to at least meet minimum standards of flavor and edibility. To be honest, I didn't have very high expectations for any of the three, so it was easy for them not to disappoint. I was, however, surprised that they actually tasted fairly decent considering what they were.
Chili dogs are one of my favorite lunches when they are made with high-quality natural casing franks and slow-cooked beef chili sauce. But vending machine food is more about maximizing profits than providing an optimal dining experience.
The hot dogs are really low-grade skinless franks mostly made of mechanically-separated chicken with some beef, and they taste like the cheapest generic bologna - even Vienna sausages have a better taste profile. The dogs are dressed with a line of standard yellow mustard and then covered with a thick layer of chili sauce made from spiced beef and TVP.
Surprisingly enough, though, the chili sauce has a fairly decent flavor. While spicy, it isn't too hot and on it's own (or on a better quality hot do) it wouldn't be too bad. Luckily, this halfway decent chili sauce masks the nasty bologna flavor of the hot dogs. The mustard is hardly noticeable, although I guess it's applied unevenly, because every now and then a bit of a hot dog provides a blast of mustard flavor, which isn't really compatible with the chili.
Overall, I give the Double-Dog Dare a grade of 5 on a 1-to-10 scale: Not entirely horrible, but not my first choice for lunch.
This is a big and substantial lunch, weighing in at over nine ounces (which is big for a vending machine sandwich.) It seems to be pretty standard - sesame seed bun, a patty which is advertised to be "made with 100% BEEF," cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles. The ingredient panel, though, reveals that the 100% beef is "seasoned" with hydrolyzed soy protein - a source of filler as well as MSG - and is flavored with beef broth.
That proved to be very entertaining. The pickles, which were hidden under the patty between the burger and the bun, were highly resistant to cutting. As I sliced through the sandwich, the blade (which was gliding effortlessly through the meat and bread) "caught" on the pickles and dragged them out against the blade. I popped one into my mouth and found that it seemed to be made of pale green plastic with a tougher, thicker green plastic rim. I could barely chew it
As you might imagine, this sandwich, like the hot dogs, was less than ideal. The cheese was lowest-common-denominator cheap American, and the burger tasted more like salt and cheap beef bouillon than it did like real beef. The complete flavor profile was something like what a food additive corporation would come up with if asked to make "cheeseburger flavor" for addition to other things. This product gets a 4 on a 1-to-ten scale. Edible, but it will never be a first choice.
It's basically a NASCAR-themed version of McDonald's McRib sandwich: a pork patty formed into a crude representation of a tiny rack of spare ribs, dressed with BBQ sauce and served on a club roll.
The sauce is thick and sweet and wet and makes the sandwich a little harder to handle than it might be, but it had a fairly good flavor which is similar to many inexpensive bottled barbecue sauces.
If you're hungry - really hungry - the BBQ Pork Sandwich will probably score a 4 on a 1-to10 scale. But since I have some standards (and a stash of Cup-A-Soup in my desk drawer for emergency lunchtime hunger) I can't give it more than a 3.