Lay’s has gotten a little out of hand with this summer’s Taste of America promotion, featuring eight new flavors inspired by regional cuisine. (Last summer’s “Beer & Brats” flavor would have been a perfect Wisconsin contribution to this, but was released independently.)
But the wrinkle this time is that Lay’s is only making the regional flavors available in the region in which it came from. So you can find Deep Dish Pizza, inspired by Chicago’s Giordano’s pizza restaurants, all over Wisconsin stores. But Crab Spice? Chile Con Queso? Unless you can afford a plane ticket to North Carolina or New Mexico, respectively, you’re out of luck.
This seems like a shortsighted strategy to me, especially in 2018. We are a deeply divided nation – at war over politics, over culture. Do we need to be divided over our potato chips as well? Wouldn’t it have been better if Red America could sample Blue America’s chip flavors, and vice versa? We could have built a national consensus at last, forged in potatoes and vegetable oil.
You can go online and Amazon and buy a variety pack of all eight flavors, plus four previously released flavors being brought back for a limited time. In addition, there even more flavors that are only available in stores, not online. It kind of feels like this project has gotten away from Lay’s a little bit, when they might be better off focusing on just four new flavors a summer like they used to.
Anyway, I sent away for the 12-pack, but they’re on back order, so I may visit some of those flavors in a future column. But for now, I picked up the three flavors most readily available in Wisconsin stores – Ketchup, Deep Dish Pizza, and Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Popper.
I brought the chips with me last week when I gave a talk before some talented young writers at Olbrich Young Writers’ Camp at Olbrich Gardens. I believe kids need guidance, inspiration and wisdom from adults. But instead I talked to them about my job reviewing potato chips. They tried them all and weighed in, using their descriptive powers.
As someone born in Canada, ketchup-flavored chips are nothing new. Old Dutch has had them as a staple of their flavor rotation since I was a kid, and they’re as ubiquitous in the Great White North as salt-and-vinegar chips. The trick to good ketchup chips is that they’re not just “tomato” chips. They have to also capture the sweetness of ketchup.
Lay’s variety certainly does that — it’s like a French fry dipped in ketchup in a chip. But, again, ketchup chips aren’t hard to find in North America, so Lay’s isn’t adding a whole lot to the mix here. They were a clear favorite of the majority of the kids at the writers’ camp, and I went home empty-bagged afterwards.
Deep Dish Pizza potato chips sounds more exotic. Although I’m not sure why these are “deep dish,” other than they are inspired by the manhole-cover pizzas (that’s a compliment) at Giordano’s. It seems like in order to be “deep dish” each chip should basically be a whole potato.
Aside from that, the chip is a pretty good balance of tomato sauce and cheese flavors, with spices and even a little bit of a doughy flavor in there. And unlike the real thing, you can eat a lot of them before you get that overly full feeling that even a modest slice of deep-dish Giordano’s will give you.
Finally, there’s Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers, based on a popular appetizer originating in Texas, where they are also called “armadillo eggs.” And, man, do I wish Lay’s had just put out “Armadillo Egg Potato Chips” without any explanation whatsoever.
I was leery about giving the kids this one, just because I assumed they were so spicy that it would all end in tears. But it turns out they’re not any spicer than the Deep Dish Pizza chips (although a couple of teachers who were spice-averse said they felt the burn).
They were surprisingly mild — I could only taste a little of the jalapeno and couldn’t taste the bacon at all. What dominated, surprisingly was the cream cheese flavor that forms the filling of the popper. They were actually my favorite of the three, but did they “pop”? Not hardly.