Sunday, April 5, 2015

Taco Bell's All-New CHICKSTARS!

The age-old question has finally been answered: can Taco Bell do fried chicken?

I have it on good authority that the suits at YUM! Brands, Inc. are faithful readers of this blog. The all new Crispy Chicken Chickstars from Taco Bell conclusively proves this.

Last month, I reviewed the fast food franchise's latest and greatest product, the Sriracha Quesarito. I was none too impressed by said product, stating that I felt it was effortless and nowhere near as innovative as some of the brand's most recent offerings.

Well, fast forward a few weeks later, and look what we have here -- not just one, BUT THREE all-new, crispy-chicken-centric Taco Bell product lines.

Note, folks, that I didn't say "products," I meant three full-fledged mini-menus, including a new chicken quesadilla thingy and FOUR different chicken tender grillers. The belle of the proverbial ball, however, is clearly the trifecta of Chickstar Crunch Wraps, which are among the most unique foodstuffs the Bell has pushed out in quite awhile. And this, mind you, is from a company that actually thought people wanted to eat a waffle taco.

Now, these things are important for several reasons. First and foremost, unless I am terribly mistaken, this is the restaurant's first-ever foray into breaded poultry products. Sure, they've been handing out grilled-chicken strip-embedded products for decades, but this is a pretty considerable jump into uncharted territory -- I mean, these dudes be fucking with Chick-Fil-A's bread and butter, and as we all know, theirs is a most wrathful god.

Secondly, the products are a bit more expensive than the usual Taco Bell offering. Granted, it's not Chipotle-priced yet, but at $4.00 USD plus state and local taxes, it's definitely a heftier investment than the trusty uno dinero cheesy bean and rice burrito. Clearly, this things are being used to test the waters for greater portfolio diversity: if successful, expect to see LOTS more non-traditional Tex-Mex fare at the restaurant (the return of the Bell Beefer, we can only pray, is right around the corner.)

Oh, and as for the Crunch Wraps themselves? Well, we've got three to consider. Here are my quick and dirty reviews of each item ...
The Bacon Ranch ChickStar Crunch Wrap!

It's a bit hard to tell, but the Thousand Island dressing-hued sauce is actually some kind of auburn-tinged, smoky ranch sauce. And, if you stare real hard enough, you might even notice a couple of teensy-weensy chunks of bacon in there, too. 

As far as the overall product, I liked it. It had a nice, savory texture, and the chicken strips themselves were a.) very crunchy and flavorful and b.) huge as fuck. Admittedly, it's a bit of a challenge figuring out how to eat the thing at first (you have to be selective with which corner you nibble on, or else you'll wind up with a big ol' perforation for your veggies and chicken chunks to fall out of), but once you pinpoint the structural weak point of the wrap, you'll do just fine. 

The Mango BBQ ChickStar Crunch Wrap!

Now this was a real treat. Ranch dressing and chipotle sauce flavored products are a dime a dozen at the Bell, but when was the last time you chowed down on something there that had a profound BBQ sauce zing to it?

This was far and away my favorite of the triad. It had a very unique texture, and the mouthfeel of the product was really unlike anything you'd find at the restaurant. The salty-lettuce-and-tomato flavor, however, reminded you that you were still eating there, so it  also had a subtle familiarity. This is precisely the kind of item I want to see more of -- a menu offering that legitimately thinks outside the box.
The  Chipotle ChickStar Crunch Wrap

This was probably the most predictable of the menu items. That doesn't necessarily mean it was bad -- actually, I found it quite delectable -- but compared to the other two products, it just felt a bit formulaic.

As with the other two items, you get two salty fried-chicken tenders, cheese, lettuce, tomato and a whole hell of a lot of tortilla to chew through. For whatever reason, I don't think the sauce on this one really gelled as well as it did with the other two -- I mean, it was there, but it just didn't seem to come together as harmoniously as it could've. Overall, it is good, but not exactly something I would consider good enough to drop nearly five bucks on, though.

At the end of the day, I think the Chickstars (a name I can only imagine will somehow draw the ire of womens groups, eventually) is a step in the right direction. Clearly, the products are experimental, but I like the possibilities here. I mean, Taco Bell and KFC are fighting under the same corporate banner, so why not just go ahead and start releasing fusion offerings? You know as well as I do that if they ever made a Colonel's original burrito, people would eat the fuck out of that. If they announced a Double Down Quesarito tomorrow, I'd probably be lining up right now.

But why stop at chicken, guys? Last time I checked, Long John Silvers is a company stablemate, too. Who wouldn't want to be able to waltz into Taco Bell and order a shrimp taco, or a chimichanga loaded with Alaskan salmon? Or, why not take it a step further and start selling a Cantina Bowl burrito featuring Taco Bell beef, KFC chicken and LJS fish inside the same dadgum product? It's the most obvious thing in the world -- crossbranded crossfood. I can't be the only person out there with the occasional hankering for some nachos and mashed potatoes or hush puppies and chalupas, am I?

That's a little something called corporate synergy, fellas. Take it from someone in that coveted (and market-research-mystifying) Millennial target audience ... such is indeed the wave of the fast food future.


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