Trying too hard: potato-chip edition

Trying too hard: potato-chip edition

When did the simple, classic potato chip stop being enough for us? How long after George Crum deep-fried some thin potatoes for the first time to appease a pissy customer, way back in 1853, did someone think, “You know what’d be good on these? A bunch of powders approximating the taste of Mexican layer dip.”

The food industry has spent the past 150 years, in particular the past 30 or so, basically reducing all manner of food into chip form. What would George Crum think, staring at the vast array of Pringles varieties? (Not to mention what he’d see gazing into the void of a Pringles can, whose “crisps” are forbidden by law to use the word “chip” without a qualifier.) Would he really want his legacy to be Mozzarella Sticks & Marinara-flavored “crisps” from Pringles new line of Restaurant Cravers? 

It doesn’t matter, because they’re here anyway. The Taste Test labs have a well-documented interest in freakish foodstuffs, especially chips, be they Asian, English, the deadly precipitating, alcoholic, make your own, and everything in between. So when we see Pringles unleash its Restaurant Cravers line—which includes the two varieties previously mentioned and Onion Blossom (basically Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion)—we see not only an abomination, but something we want to try. 

We’re not the only ones. AVC friends John and Jessica of Round Lake, Ill., came across three varieties of Herr’s chips at a Big K in their hometown and mailed them to us: Steak & Worcestershire, BabyBack Ribs, and Horseradish & Cheddar. “We were not brave enough to try them ourselves,” they wrote. If taking time during our hectic workday to stuff chips in our faces and make pithy comments is heroic, then that makes The A.V. Club better than the soldiers who raised the flag on Iwo Jima taking over United Flight 93 to go back in time and save Kennedy from being shot. 

Taste: Potato-chip flavoring is the Space Race of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, with companies trying to distill increasingly complex flavors into their chips. Guess what? It rarely works. Let The A.V. Club be the voice of non-proliferation here: Simple is best. For instance, Herr’s Horseradish & Cheddar chips were a big hit, providing a surprisingly satisfying punch of horseradish first then a mild cheddar flavor second. On the other end of the spectrum, Pringles’ Mexican Layered Dip—whose real-world counterpart is made with beans, taco seasoning, tomato, guacamole, sour cream, cheddar, onions, and other variables—failed outright, leaving most of us bewildered. That’s the case with most of these flavored chips. You get a vague sense of what they’re attempting—though sometimes not even that—and that’s about it. Mostly they all taste like various kinds of powder or the occasional bold spice.


Office reactions:

Herr’s Horseradish & Cheddar

  •  “Mmm, strong.”
  •  [Coughs.]
  • “Not good for people who don’t like horseradish.”
  • “How is this chip different from every other chip?”
  • “It has a hint of Styrofoam.”
  • “It smacks you up front, then lets you go.” 
  • “It’s more wasabi than horseradish.” “That’s how you know you got bullshit wasabi—if it tastes like horseradish.” “Okay, it’s more bullshit wasabi than horseradish.”
  • “That is exactly like a mouthful of wasabi. Pretty respectable.”
  • “I could eat about two of those before I was done. And Genevieve's face would be melting by now.”
  • “Wow, we need to get ZMF up on this shit. That is SPICY.”

Herr’s Steak & Worcestershire

  • “These are really bitter.”
  • “How would you explain this?”
  • “I can barely taste the flavor on these.” “That’s probably a good thing, though.”
  • [Inhales in bag.] “It just smells like potato. You’d think there would be a smell.”
  • “I wish the sauce taste was stronger. These just taste like beef bullion.”
  • “The best of the bunch by far. Barbecue and vinegar, not too overpowering. I'd sub these in at a barbecue, and people'd probably like them.”
  • “If you gave me 20 guesses on this one, I don't think I would have landed on Worcestershire. But then again I'm not an avid Worcestershire connoisseur.” 
  • “Very good, these and the Steak & Worcestershire tasted just like an Arby's sandwich.”

Herr’s BabyBack Ribs

  • “It’s more McRib than rib.”
  • “It tastes like babies.”
  • “It tastes like cheap barbecue sauce.” 
  • “It’s too sweet.” “Yeah, way too sweet.”
  • “There’s also not that much flavor on this, compared to the other one. The horseradish was like whoa, and this one doesn’t have as much power.” 
  • “I really have nothing to say about that.” 
  • “It’s like a weak ketchup chip.” 
  • “Just salty, nothing else really.”
  • “Very artificial, it basically tastes like cheap barbecue chips with too much liquid smoke.”

Pringles Restaurant Cravers Mozzarella Sticks & Marinara

  • “It tastes like cheap salsa.” 
  • [Mouthful of chips] “What flavor is this?”
  • “This does, in fact, taste like crappy mozzarella sticks.”
  • “I ate just one and am content with that.”
  • “It’s lacking in cheesiness, but it tastes exactly like the breading.”
  • “As far as marinara, it’s like watered-down tomato sauce.”
  • “Like when you cook a dozen of those frozen mozzarella sticks and every goddamn time there's one of them had all the cheese ooze out, so its just an empty cylindrical piece of breading. That's kinda the taste here.”

Pringles Restaurant Cravers Onion Blossom

  • “That’s unpleasant.”
  • “It doesn’t really taste like anything.”
  • “To be honest, if we laid these last five chips out, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which is which.”
  • “Again, it tastes like the breading. Not much flavor at all, actually.”
  • “I had to eat more than six at one time to really get any flavor.”
  • “These tastes pretty meh. Interchangeable with most other gimmicky potato chips.”

Pringles Restaurant Cravers Mexican Layered Dip

  • “This looks really flavor-y. It just looks like it’s going to taste like something.” 
  • “It’s not bad, then it tastes like cardboard.” “They hide the cardboard for a while, then there’s nothing they can do.” 
  • “Oh this is really bad.”
  • “I got the sour cream and the jalapeno.” 
  • "It’s very, very onion-y main taste.” “I think the onion is the worst part of it.”
  • “It’s pretty gross, except for I would like to eat more.”
  • “It's trying to do too much at once, though on some level I have to appreciate that one thing it's trying to do is taste like a tortilla chip when it's in fact a potato chip. (Or, being Pringles, a potato-like chip.) You eat one thing but taste another. It's like the snack food version of Magritte's ‘The Treachery Of Images.’ It should be subtitled, ‘This is not a potato chip.’”
  • “The grossest of the bunch. Too much of something/everything.”

Where to find them: Herr’s Chips are available in various locations across the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest. West of the Missouri/Kansas border, they get more difficult to find. (The company website has a map showing where to find them.) Curiously, Pringles has no information about Restaurant Cravers line on its website, though they seem to be available in stores now. We found them at Wal-Mart.

BONUS ROUND

With Internet Eating Sensation (and now occasional Taste Test guest) Dave Chang undoubtedly doing something illegal in Thailand, we turn to the finance department’s Brett Michael—whom we’ve nicknamed “Whang,” short for “White Chang”—to be our suicide man. Although Bret lacks Chang’s steely reserve—he’s prone to gagging and getting the shakes—he’s just as game as Chang. So we decided to mash up all of the chip varieties in an empty Pringles can, then pour in a Chang-brand beer, creating an A.V. Club microbrew I like to call Chipbrau. Here it is in a handsome Onion pint glass (available at store.theonion.com), and below that is video of Brett clearing a tube—of the Chipbrau, not that kind, pothead.

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