You know what goes really well with a classy dinner party? Wine and cheese. Unfortunately, wine costs money—sometimes as much as three or four bucks a bottle. And we at The A.V. Club know that not everyone has that kind of cash on hand. Which is why we periodically present this guide to the charming off-brand foodstuffs we found at dollar stores across the nation. In such places, cheese turns out to be an option (more or less), but unfortunately, dollar stores aren't big into wine. So instead, this installment of Dining For A Dollar focuses on the low-classy dinner-party snacks you can find at dollar stores: Sugar and cheese.
Hunt's Orange-Flavor Squeez 'N Go Pudding Tubes
Hunt's pudding doesn't taste all that bad—the orange flavor is creamy and convincingly orangey, like a semi-melted but mysteriously room-temperature Creamsicle. But there's something a little unnerving about a milk product emblazoned with the words "No preservatives" and "No refrigeration needed," and with a big visible blank after the "Expiration date:" stamp. There's something equally unnerving about pudding that comes in a squishy, foot-long foil tube. But those who think pudding in a tube sounds suspiciously down-market need only flip the box over to reveal a high-end French import: "Tubes de pouding, sans agents de conservation!" It's hoity-toity, just like éclairs and escargot, only slimier, fruitier, and in tube form.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate."
Worth the price? At eight tubes for a buck, it's a pretty good deal for parents who want their kids subjected to bilingual sugar goop.
Tiger Switzerland Gruyère
Speaking of milk products that proudly declare their lack of preservatives, Tiger brand gruyère cheese apparently fell victim to the bottoming-out of the Atkins craze; this little wheel of cheese wedges bears a proud sticker proclaiming that it contains no carbs, but somehow it wasn't purchased before its expiration date two months ago. No preservatives + expired food = yum! Question is, was it always this spongy and soggy? Not to judge from the optimistic "genuine quality firm texture" label. Just find some stale crackers and some flat beer, and you're in business.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Sodium citrate."
Worth the price? Really, how much is too much to pay for expired cheese? (Or, as we cut-rate consumables fans like to call it, "make-your-own gorgonzola.")
BubbaGum Candy Teeth
Has it occurred to anyone that there's a certain unpleasant irony in marketing candy versions of bloody-gummed, rotting, snaggly teeth to kids? No? Just checking. BubbaGum comes in several varieties, but all combine the excitement of ugly candy with the excitement of pallid, splintery bubble gum: Just chew the "cool delicious custom fitting gum" until it's moist (that may take a while, since it's rock-hard), then use it to stick the fake candy teeth over your own teeth. Then apply the enclosed temporary tattoo of a gap-toothed monster truck, just in case you don't enough like an inbred hick.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: The lengthy list of dyes.
Worth the price? Couldn't kids just get bad teeth by consuming some tastier candy and forgetting to brush?
Old Fashioned Foods Swiss Honey Nut Cheese Snack Spread
Old Fashioned Foods offers a variety of microwaveable cheese tubs, mostly in the conventional spicy and/or bacon flavors. "Swiss Honey Nut" seems like an odd direction for a cheese-dip purveyor—from a graphic-design perspective, if nothing else. "Nacho" can be summed up by a sombrero, and "Ranch" by a lariat, but what icon denotes "Swiss Honey Nut?" According to Old Fashioned Foods, it's a honey wand vomiting all over a pile of rat turds.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Enzymes."
Worth the price? If you're looking to do some spackling, maybe. If you'd like to eat some cheese, steer clear.
Bling Bling Candy Pops
So it's come to this: A dollar's worth of candy and plastic now constitutes bling-bling. Where's the ice? Where's the chrome? Where's the platinum plus? Presumably junior gangstas gotta start somewhere, and in this case, somewhere is a clunky, banana-yellow tube with a sticky, bulb-shaped lollipop lump on each end and a belt-clip in the middle. Press a button on the tube, and lights flash inside the thing, so you can hit tha club, light tha bitch up. Or, more likely, so Mr. Henderson the math teacher can take it away from you during fourth period and chide you in front of that ho you think is kinda cute.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Buffered lactic acid."
Worth the price? If it cost less than $20, it don't look right on you.
Nalley "Meals For Now" Cheeseburger Mac
According to Nalley's labels, the company has been producing "fine foods since 1918," and those fine foods are currently distributed by the respected Birds Eye corporation. So why the ironically fogey-ish "Meals For Now" designation on the canned-pasta line? Judging by the breathless copy on the back of the can, "Meals For Now" is intended to simultaneously connote modernity and speed—quick cuisine for today's active lifestyles. Instead, it sounds almost apologetic, as though Nalley knows its pasta is no substitute for the real food you'll be eating in an hour. Suggested alternate-yet-synonymic slogan: "This Will Do."
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Macaroni product."
Worth the price? Not so much. It's fairly easy to find cheap canned pasta that doesn't taste like chalk.
Alberts Candy Sport Fun
Wow, that's a lot of plasticine candy for a buck. Candy Sport Fun is a long "clip strip" of laminated treats, including two little plastic bottles of tart powder (reminiscent of Pixy Stix contents), a candy bracelet/watch, two plastic baseball bats also full of Pixy powder, a candy ring, and a candy lollipop in the shape of a tennis racket. Curiously, though, Candy Sport Fun includes almost the exact same items as the distinctly (gasp) girl-themed plain ol' Alberts Candy Fun. Writing "WINNER" across the pastel-pink ring and "BASEBALL" on the little sissy bracelet was clever, Albert, but we're on to you: You're trying to make our boys gay and get our girls interested in sports.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: It's a photo finish between "beet powder" and "carnauba wax."
Worth the price? Kids who consume all this will be the fastest, most jazzed-up runners on their soccer teams, at least until 10 minutes pass, the buzz wears off, and they need some more "performance enhancers."
Aww, it's cute little chocolate NASCAR vehicles. And just like their real-life counterparts, they're covered with cute little advertisements for the likes of Lowe's, Interstate Battery, Alltel, Mobil, DuPont, Pepsi, and Sony. But unlike their real-life counterparts, they're packed with crispy rice in order to save money on the crumbly, cheap, vaguely cocoa-ish product that substitutes for chocolate. Then again, if all NASCAR vehicles were packed with puffed rice, maybe the drivers wouldn't get so banged up. In fact, maybe they should just stay home and stuff themselves with little candy mini-cars. It's safer, and probably healthier: A dozen-plus of these vehicles collide in every bag, and yet no one dies.
Scariest-sounding ingredient: "Whey." (No curds? Poor Little Miss Muffet.)
Worth the price? Like bad pizza and bad sex, bad chocolate is still pretty okay, especially if you can't afford better.
Cookie Shop Maple Leaf Crème Cookies
These leaf-shaped sandwich cookies come packaged in a leaf-festooned bag which promises that the good people at Cookie Shop "have a long tradition of sourcing quality ingredients from all over the world," and that in fact these cookies "contain extra key flavor ingredients" that are "guaranteed to equal or surpass any other cookie available at similar prices." Hard to know which part of that spiel is more ominous: "extra key flavor ingredients" or "at similar prices."
Scariest-sounding extra key flavor ingredient: "Ammonium bicarbonate."
Worth the price? Depends. How do you feel about syrup? Do you like to be overwhelmed by the smell of syrup? Do you like syrup-flavored filling in a syrup-flavored pastry? If so, enjoy these cookies, either consumed straight or crumbled over your favorite pancake.
Six-Pack Bubble Gum Burstin' Bits
Everyone knows that Pop Rocks mixed into a bottle of Coke will produce a flavor explosion. (And if the resulting glop is subsequently poured into the stomach of a child actor, it'll produce an actual explosion.) But what about Pop Rocks mixed with bubble gum? What does that produce? Answer: mild consumer confusion. Are you supposed to chew it, or let it rest on your tongue and pop? And once the "bits" are done "burstin'," do you have to keep chewing the flavorless gum, which has the consistency of a spitball? Where's that bottle of Coke when you need it?
Scariest-sounding ingredient: Nothing too out of the ordinary, though "lactose" might frighten those with no tolerance for lactose.
Worth the price? Maybe, if you've got time to painstakingly separate the "burstin' bits" from the "gum."