Cheesy Beefy Melt

By: Taco Bell

Suggested Retail Price: $1.99

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 3stars

If I want fried chicken or a hamburger, I’m more likely to get the real thing rather than resort to chains like KFC and McDonald’s. But somewhat to my chagrin, I actually enjoy the food at Taco Bell. The menu doesn’t closely resemble any real food south of the border … or north of the border for that matter. The fast-food chain has created its own distinct style of cooking—bland, often baby-food soft, and sinisterly homogeneous—that can only be described as tasting like Taco Bell. Even the packets of hot sauce lack anything but a unidimensional, generic sense of heat. Yet sometimes you just want bland, warm, and mushy, like a bowl of Cream of Wheat first thing in the morning.

If you appreciate the chain’s approach, get ready to love the new Cheesy Beefy Melt. Though not immediately clear from the name, it’s a burrito. It’s stuffed (or maybe “stuft,” as Taco Bell copywriters have described past items) with allegedly seasoned rice, ground beef, off-white/off-yellow taffylike cheese, and a touch of sour cream. Unlike the chain’s grilled quesadillas, which are wrapped in tortillas that boast a more robust texture and actual browning, the Melt’s steamed “tortilla” wrapper is white, velvety, and easily masticated. It’s a lot like a Kleenex.

The Cheesy Beefy Melt offers even less challenge and textural dimension than the chain’s other burritos. There are no cold or crunchy bits of lettuce, no morsels of chewy chicken chunks. If normal Taco Bell food is good for when you’ve got a garden-variety hangover, the Cheesy Beefy Melt is the Extra Strength Excedrin, to be consumed on days when you just can’t handle … anything.

Moreover, Taco Bell’s Cheesy Beefy Melt marketing campaign co-opts the classic Modern English hit “I Melt With You.” Not since “Crumbelievable” was coined by EMF to shill for Kraft Crumbles has our youth been strip-mined with such mercenary enthusiasm. The anger that we feel reminds us that we are alive.

Simple Harvest

By: Quaker

Suggested Retail Price: $4.39 per box

Taste: 4stars

Marketing: 5stars

Oatmeal seems to be just about the last commercial food item that needs rehabilitation and whole-foods sexification. It’s already generally acknowledged as a healthy way to start one’s day: a wiser choice than toaster pastries, sweet cereals, or McGriddles. But that didn’t stop Quaker from rolling out a premium multigrain instant hot cereal called Simple Harvest.

Simply put, this is flavored instant oatmeal for adults. Instead of Apples & Cinnamon, you get Apples with Cinnamon. Instead of Maple & Brown Sugar, you get Maple Brown Sugar with Pecans. In order to play up the “wholesome” theme, the website has an entire section celebrating the product’s sustainability, as well as a very detailed farmers’ market locator (in case you are just getting into the farmers’ market thing).

Regardless of the skillfully orchestrated hype, the cereals are actually quite delicious. Both varieties I sampled (Vanilla, Almond and Honey; Maple Brown Sugar with Pecans) generated a distinct and delicate aroma the moment they came into contact with hot water; the flavors were mildly sweet, but mostly tasted of their promised components. As a fan of smooth, creamy hot cereals, I was mildly irked by the crunchiness of the pecans in particular (the almonds were more retiring), but neither nut was particularly large: The pecan bits were an eighth of an inch or so, and the almond slices were exceedingly thin.

Best of all, it was incredibly appealing to eat something described as vanilla-, almond-, and honey-flavored multigrain cereal, and have it contain the following ingredients: whole-grain rolled oats, whole-grain rolled wheat, rolled barley, whole-grain rolled rye, sugar, almonds, whole flax seed, oat flour, natural flavors, salt, molasses.

And that’s it.

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