Last summer Frito-Lay tapped into the power of social media to give fans of the company's signature potato chip brand a chance to choose the next exciting flavor to grace store shelves. Millions of flavor combinations were submitted. Some, like Spinach and Sour Cream, were relatively uninteresting. Others, like my own Ground Glass and Your Mom, were unceremoniously removed from the running.
In the end only three user-created varieties were left standing—Chicken and Waffles, Sriracha and Cheesy Garlic Bread. Now it's time for America to decide which flavor reigns supreme. I have tasted all three, and there is a clear winner.
In all honesty, there was a clear winner before I even tasted the chips. Look at those three entries and tell me that one doesn't jump out at you more than the others. If you saw this trio at your local convenience store and only had enough money for one, which would you pick?
Don't answer that, I've got pictures and reviews and everything to get through. You can talk at the end.
Note: As several have commented, the promo photo for the chips gives last names to both Karen and Christina. I am working strictly off bag continuity, however, and this is how the names are listed on the packaging. Marketing materials are not canon.
Creator: Tyler Raineri, Lake Zurich, IL
Pairing suggestion: Red Wine
Inspiration: "Grandma's homemade chips were always accompanied by a dab of our favorite sriracha hot sauce. There's nothing better than old memories."
Right off the bat we have a problem. Lay's Potato Chips have been around since 1932. Judging by his picture on the bag of Sriracha Lay's, Tyler can't be older than 30. That means that his grandmother felt she was too good for Lay's brand chips and felt she had to make her own. One might assume she was too poor to purchase Lay's, but she certainly wasn't too poor to purchase sriracha. Why didn't she make her own sauce if she's so damn fancy?
Inconsiderate ancestors aside, I've never been much of a sriracha man. I appreciate the flavor, but it's not one I actively seek out. I'm more of a Frank's Hot Sauce kind of guy. Frank just seems nice.
Lay's Sriracha chips do embody the flavor of the currently-trendy hot sauce, but they do it in a sort of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey way. Actual sriracha hits you like this: vinegar/sweet/fire. These chips hit you like this: vinegar...sweet...fire. There's a jarring delay between sensations that make the chips feel like sriracha in slow motion. They are time-displaced.
Finally, the true joy of sriracha is putting it on things. This sriracha is already on things. It might seem like an inconvenience, but I'd rather grab a bag of completely non-homemade Lay's and a bottle of my favorite sriracha and do it myself.
Cheesy Garlic Bread
Creator: Karen. Just Karen. Like Cher, only not as fancy.
Pairing suggestion: Spaghetti
Inspiration: "You're at your favorite Italian restaurant, you're starving and WAITING FOREVER. Finally, the breadsticks come and they save your life!"
I think we can all agree that Karen has made some bad eating decisions in the past, starting with waiting until she's at the brink of death before eating. Then she goes to an Italian restaurant with completely shitty service instead of dropping by the 7-Eleven for a hot dog or something. They just hand them to you. Here you go, Karen. Live. LIVE!
There's nothing better than warm garlic-infused, parmigiana-sprinkled bread sticks. Sadly, that includes chips that taste like garlic-infused, parmigiana-sprinkled bread sticks. It's not the same. Without the soft and warm you just have incredibly thin, cold and stale breadsticks, with a hint of potato.
The Cheesy Garlic Bread Lay's try to be more than your average garlic chips. There is a distinct cheese flavor, much more powerful than similarly-flavored affairs. And let's face it, the fact that there are other chips that taste like this on the market should remove this one from the running.
I wish Karen the best of luck in reaching level 20 and earning a last name.
Chicken and Waffles
Creator: Christina. Also has no last name, but her first is two names in one so she gets a pass.
Pairing suggestion: Denny's, Waffle House, iHOP
Inspiration: "One of my family favorites. I dedicate this to my nephew who will never let me live down the bite I stole from his waffle one day..."
I worry about Chris Tina—her nephew sounds like the vengeful sort, and the way her bag blurb just trails off has me concerned for her safety. "Who will never let me live down" is obviously code for "he's trying to kill me." I hope she lives long enough to see her creation crowned king of the fan-made Lay's.
Chicken and waffles, particularly fried chicken and waffles, is an amazing combination. It's a Southern favorite, and I am a transplanted Southerner, so anything that has those two words on the label automatically has an unfair advantage.
That having been said, Chicken and Waffles Lay's do not taste like fried chicken and waffles. That sounds like a negative thing, but it's not.
Here's how to experience the flavor of Lay's Chicken and Waffles without actually eating the chips. Go to your favorite breakfast restaurant—I fancy the International House of Pancakes. Order a stack of pancakes and some sausage. Cover both in syrup, and consume. Then lick the plate. That's exactly what these chips taste like.
It's the sage, you see. A savory culinary herb, sage is often used to make fried chicken, but it's even more pronounced in your average breakfast sausage. Add in maple and a little grease, and you've got the most delicious plate leavings ever.
And that's exactly what Lay's Chicken and Waffles taste like, but I see why Lay's went with the more flavorful name rather than just calling these Lay's Sage, Maple and Grease. No one would buy those, except for me.
The tasting is done, and my vote has been cast. I seem to be in good company thus far.
I have every confidence that Chicken and Waffles will carry the day, but a couple more votes wouldn't hurt. Join me in combating the boring Cheesy Garlic Bread and lazy Sriracha contingent. There can be only one.