Monday, May 12, 2014

The Taco Bell Breakfast Menu REVIEWED!

It’s far and away the biggest fast food event of 2014, but is the new A.M. lineup really anything to get excited about?

People have been asking me when I was going to write about the Taco Bell breakfast menu. Indeed, some have even expressed outrage that I didn’t cover the items sooner. The thing is, to cover something as gargantuan as this, I needed to take my time -- indeed, whatever I write about the Taco Bell breakfast menu will be immortalized for future generations, and the same way Internet travelers still flock to webpages written in 2002 to learn about Pepsi Blue, it’s reasonable to assume that the peoples of 2024 may look back on my post as the proverbial Arc of the Covenant someday. The Taco Bell breakfast menu may not last forever, you know, and before I put finger to keyboard, I wanted to make sure I had ALL of my bases covered. I still have burning questions about pre-Internet proliferation artifacts like New Coke and the Arch Deluxe -- my prerogative here, of course, is to make sure I leave no Cinnabon Delight or Waffle Taco unturned for curious Web seekers of tomorrow to see, and to understand, what the Taco Bell breakfast menu was all about.

Before we even talk about this Taco Bell breakfast menu, we first have to talk about the chain’s previous attempts to enter the competitive fast food breakfast market. Indeed, the company tried their hand at regional breakfast items in 2009 , 2010 AND 2011...all of which, sadly, were marketing failures. In 2013, Taco Bell tried yet another breakfast lineup experiment, this time in three cities spread out across the country…and no, I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I thought about making a day trip to Chattanooga, Tenn. JUST to give the thing a taste test. Apparently, Taco Bell was so enthusiastic about their responses in the test markets this time around that they decided to go national with the breakfast lineup, and earlier this year, Taco Bell rolled out its nationwide AM foodstuffs, complete with an aggressive marketing campaign anchored, more or less, around finding various ways of saying “fuck you, Ronald McDonald.”

With all of that moolah generated by the Doritos Locos Tacos, Taco Bell is, financially, in a good place to shake up the fast food breakfast status quo. But even with the subversive commercials featuring Galaga machines and print hullabaloo galore, are the new breakfast foods at Taco Bell really worth rolling out of bed to experience, or would you just be better off slaking on a Starbucks cup instead?

To begin with, Taco Bell is REALLY pulling out all the stops in terms of in-house and even on-site marketing. Indeed, some chains in the Atlanta-area went as far as to WELD the word “BREAKFAST” underneath the actual Taco Bell signage, which is something I can’t recall the business EVER doing for any other promotion. Symbolically, the message is clear: Taco Bell expects its new breakfast menu to be a permanent fast food fixture from here on out.

Not merely content with switching out the paper menu boards over the cash register (which they still totally did), my locale eatery went as far as to break out a gigantic scroll welcoming patrons to this newfangled "breakfast" concept. And since I live in a college town: not only is this most likely the first time half of the patrons had eaten anything before noon, it may in fact be the first time they've been awake before noon in years.

And give the fellas' at Bell Headquarters some props, because they did WAY more with the menu than they really had to. I mean, shit, they could've rolled out one or two egg tacos and burritos and called it good, but they instead introduced three all new "combo quality" breakfast items -- all of which, can be ordered with steak, bacon or sausage -- as well as FIVE new additional "dollar menu" items. And oh yeah, you can buy Mountain Dew Kickstart there, too, but if you know anything about Mountain Dew Kickstart...yeah, you ain't missing too much here, I am afraid

The signage above gives you a preview of the "main event" menu offerings. The breakfast burrito and tacos were givens, but the A.M. Crunchwrap -- a tortilla loaded with what appears to be half of Huddle Houses's inventory -- and most certainly the GODDAMN WAFFLE TACO have to be considered huge wild cards. And also, they have "premium" hot coffee and cinnamon roll ball thingies, but we'll get to those when addressing the dollar menu as a whole just a little bit later. 

Item Number One:

The breakfast burrito is pretty much the only logical starting point for our whirlwind tour of the all new menu offerings. Pretty much every major fast food chain worth its salt (and pepper, and additional other spices) already have their own breakfast burrito variation on the market, so if the undisputed king of Big Chain Pseudo-Tex Mex wants to make an immediate impact here, they have GOT to deliver the goods on this one.

Although the wrapper encouraged me to vouch for the all bacon mix, I opted for the blend with sausage instead. Of course, you may be wondering why an alleged pescatarian such as myself would order such meat-filled items to begin with, to which I respond: THE ALL NEW TACO BELL BREAKFAST MENU IS ABOVE ANY AND ALL LAWS OF SEMI-VEGETARIANISM, YOU CRETINS. Besides, this is a social science experiment, after all: if I ordered this stuff sans the dead animal filling, it really wouldn't be a demonstrative example of the actual items, no?

I wasn't too impressed by the breakfast burrito, probably because the little sausage balls far too closely resembled those little pod nugget people from "Futurama." And also, upon closer inspection, nearly perfectly spherical balls of cat shit, too. Alas, it's pretty hefty, and quite filling, and it's probably worlds better than anything you'd get at a gas station in the morning. And yes, proving the company's mean-spirited commercials correct, this burrito indeed kicks the hell out of McDonald's rinky-dink breakfast tortilla thingy. 

Item Number Two:

The normal Crunchwraps are considered by most people worth caring about to be among the tastier Taco Bell standards, so my expectations for the breakfast remix were very high. From the get-go, I really dug the envelope packaging for A.M. Crunchwraps -- it's so basic, yet at the same time, so peculiarly fitting. Just staring at it, you want to rip it open with your teeth, and just mangle the contents therein like a starving jaguar or something. Or, uh, maybe that's just how you feel, when you're really, really hungry and stuff, like I was when I initially bought them.

The first thing you'll probably notice about the item is that it's heavy. Like, a pound, at least. And despite the tight tortilla weaving, the inherent greasiness of the underlying sausage, egg, special sauce and hashbrown grease not only bled through the outer shell, but made the exterior of the bag pretty damp itself.

You know, I could've ordered steak or bacon, but I figured that by sticking with sausage, I had a neat little constant variable so I could adequately measure the products up against one another. And out of all of the main event items, the A.M. Crunchwrap was definitely my favorite. Shit, just ordering one of these things with egg and hashbrown would have been filling enough on its own, and the chipotle-esque in house sauce squeezed on the item may very well be the most tantalizing goop currently being offered at the franchise. Oh, and did I mention that this thing is just scrumptiously cheesy? Because it is, and stuff.

I mean, goddamn, just look at that. If my autopsy reveals contents that look even half as delicious as this, I may just come back alive to eat myself. And trust me: there is no higher honor a fast food menu item can receive than praise from someone that they may indeed engage in self-cannibalism for the products' sake. None higher, whatsoever

Item Number Three:

Of the big three breakfast items, the Waffle Taco is clearly the most experimental, and without question, the riskiest in terms of marketing among the trio. I mean, sure, it is a waffle and all, and since we Americans psychosocially equate waffles with "good times breakfast experience," I suppose its understandable why 'Bell made the call here, but at the same time? Dude, it's sausage, egg and cheese on top of a waffle. At any other chain, that would mean the waitress dropped your box or something.

In case you're wondering, we're working with a sole waffle here, so basically, we're dealing with a waffle as tortilla as opposed to waffle as sandwich. Honestly, what you see is what you get here: it's a cardboard box, filled with a really sugary waffle (this, despite the fact that I don't think the waffle I picked up was drenched in syrup) with various forms of animal meats atop it.

Of the three primary breakfast offerings, I suppose this was my least favorite. As much as I love sugary and cheesy things, I tend to enjoy them in different capacities, so this combination of saccharine and melted cheddar really didn't rev my motor too much. I reckon some folks out there have a taste for that kind of thing, so if you're good with syrupy fondue -- complemented by a nice jumble of grilled, sage-sauteed pork and greasy yolk -- you might enjoy this one. For everyone else, though? Yeah, this is one bizarro breakfast offering you're probably best steering away from, amigo. 

Of course, the big three menu items are less than half the story here. In addition to the combination items, Taco Bell has also rolled out a special breakfast-time menu, with five extra foodstuffs morning munchers can cram into their respective craws. Clearly, these items are also worth exploring, in depth...

Item Number Four:

In some ways, the Taco Bell coffee is both the most mundane and most interesting breakfast lineup item. Obviously, it's pretty boring because every breakfast-serving fast food chain in the U.S. serves coffee, but since Taco Bell has never really been associated with breakfast -- and hence, never really had coffee as a lineup staple -- its inclusion in the new breakfast menu is something of a symbolic offering. It's like the chain is saying "yeah, we're serious about breakfast and shit now. See, we have coffee."

As far as what kind of coffee we're dealing with here -- Seattle's Best? Folgers? The same shit at Arby's? -- I have nary a clue. All I know is that the snazzy, not-at-all-inspired-by-Starbucks cup prides itself on being 30 percent certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which, to me, is sort of like bragging about paying 30 percent of your meal's asking price, but whatever.

Well, uh, I guess it's kinda' hard to say too much about their coffee. Clearly, we're not dealing with Dunkin' Donuts levels of quality here, but I suppose the blend is better than most gas station offerings. It's not as good as McDonalds' mix, but it probably trumps BK's brew. The important thing, I suppose, is that it's an all day menu item, which means, yes, you can finally show up at Taco Bell at three in the morning and order yourself a nice cup of Joe to complement your order of six potato soft tacos. Such a scenario, I must say, has been a dream of mine for at least half a decade now...

Item Number Five:

Hashbrowns have been a breakfast staple since the Paleolithic Era (probably), so it's not all that surprising that Taco Bell decided to break out their own potato-thingies for the new morning lineup. So now, for one paltry American dollar, you too, can drive through a Taco Bell lane and order the same stuff you've been buying at McDonalds since the Gerald Ford Administration. If that shit ain't progress, I don't know what progress is supposed to be, man.

While the menu offering itself tasted rather nice, I do have a complaint. The menu clearly promised me "hashbrowns," thus indicating the presence of a plurality of hashbrowns. Now, I'm not sure how many hashbrowns that nondescript wording may have been alluding to, but you've got to figure that means at least two of 'em. As you can clearly see for yourself, my bag of "hashbrowns"contained a solitary hashbrown, which makes the entire product a big, fat, fast food fib. My advice, would be breakfast eaters? Just stand there after you get your hashbrowns, and look real sad for a couple of minutes until they give you a secondary hashbrown out of pity.

Item Number Six:

Admittedly, I didn't have the highest hopes for these things. For one, I've never been the world's biggest fan of cinnamon rolls, despite kinda' looking like manifestations of the Sega Dreamcast logo you can eat sometimes. However, since you're promised two of them (unlike the hashbrowns -- cue really, really bitchy stare), I figured why not? And folks, let me tell you: this may very well be the best damn thing about the new Taco Bell breakfast menu altogether. 

Despite looking like hushpuppies, I assure you these cinnamon-sprinkled dough balls are among the most delicious things you'll ever eat, ever, in history. As soon as the gooey, molten vanilla frosting exploded in my mouth, I just knew it was true love -- and since it's an all-day menu offering, you too can enjoy the same kinda' homoerotic thrill all day and night, as well. I'm not joking when I say I could probably eat 96 of these in a row -- and at just $43 plus tax, that's a damned discount for deliciousness in bulk, too. 

Item Number Seven:

The A.M. Grilled Taco, as the name suggests, is really just a miniature version of the main line-up Breakfast Burrito. I'm pretty sure you can get it with chunks of bacon or steak as well, but I opted for the sausage mix -- primarily,  because I sure do enjoy looking at sausage balls that so closely resemble rabbit pellets.

As you can see above, you're getting the basics here: egg, cheese, pork and tortilla. As stated earlier, I can't say I was too big a fan of the offering, but at just one buck, it's probably worth your moolah, pending you're really hungry and you want to nom on something value-priced.

Strangely enough, I'd have to give the nod to McDonalds' breakfast burrito over this one -- not only does Ronald McDonald give you the picante sauce, the general taste and texture of his value burrito is just richer, zestier and spicier than Taco Bell's. It's good, but for your time and money, it most certainly ain't the best around, I am afraid.

Item Number Eight:

The final menu item is basically the little brother of the A.M. Crunchwrap. Fundamentally, it's the same offering, just sans the hashbrown and minus the scrambled egg filling. And although the outer shell may LOOK like a pancake, I assure you we're working with your standard tortilla here...unfortunately.

Well, uh, it's a piece of sausage, with cheese melted on top of it, inside a flimsy pita. I really don't know what else to add here, but the fact that I was able to put this many words into an overview of a fast food breakfast menu lineup probably merits a Pulitzer nomination or something. Most people just would've stopped at "Waffle Taco," but we here at The Internet Is In America? We always go that extra mile, even when it's a mile that genuinely, truly never needed to be traversed in the first place.

And that, folks, concludes our whirlwind, needlessly in-depth, super-exhaustive round-up of Taco Bell's newfangled breakfast foodstuffs. Seeing as how the company has stuck to its guns with the Doritos Locos Tacos family -- to some mighty hefty profits, I might add -- it's pretty damn likely that Taco Bell will keep this thing rolling for a few years, at least. Really, it's the lineup itself I see constantly changing and being reshaped; there's nothing really in the line-up that I would consider a fast food killer app at this point, but ever the chain to get out there and experiment, it's probably not long before Taco Bell unveils its McGriddle equivalent. As is, though, I would highly recommend the A.M. Crunchwrap and the Cinnabon Delights, and maybe the breakfast burrito, if you're all about the meats and whatnot. The dollar menu items are good for what they are, although the hashbrowns are probably a bit overpriced; and no matter what the Internet may tell you, the waffle tacos are goddamn gross, and not worth your shekels one iota. 

So to conclude? In the year of our Lord 2014, Taco Bell unveiled eight newfangled breakfast products -- some were really good, some were just OK, and some were not really good at all. The important thing to remember? I was there, I took pictures, and like any good historian, I did way more than I had to (or should've done) to immortalize the moment: enjoy your Taco Bell Breakfast, contemporary readers, and to readers in the not-too-distant future? 

That's all the stuff you missed out on, in something resembling a cheesy, saucy, tortilla wrapped nutshell, of sorts...

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