An array of frozen appetizers beckons from the freezer case of your local grocery store.
Whatever your taste, from dips to dumplings, from pizzas to pirogue, there's something for just about everyone. Of course, there's also a yawning chasm between the ones that are actually edible and the ones that come out of the oven or microwave primed and ready to ruin your party -- and your taste buds.
So how do you tell them apart? Lucky you, we took a look at some of the old appetizer standbys, the little bits of this and that that probably fueled at least a portion of your adolescent munchie cravings. We're not talking about the cutting-edge, goat cheese-flavored, organically grown and sustainably prepared gourmet chow. These are goodies you can get not only at your local grocer, but quite likely in that one-door freezer case at the gas station food mart.
In short, it's food of the masses. So, fellow masses, let's find out which of these popular brands stands up to the taste test. A panel of five tasters evaluated each entry for flavor, appearance and overall impression. Where the entry bore a similarity to a common restaurant dish, every effort was made to judge without comparison. Each tester could award a maximum of 20 points per entry, for a possible perfect score of 100.Nutritional information and serving sizes are given for each entry.
Bagel Bites (4 pieces): 210 calories, 7 grams fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, 30 grams carbs. The cheese, sausage and pepperoni flavor was tested, and it quickly became apparent why some people are almost fanatically devoted to these snacks. The mini-bagels have a great mixture of tender middle and crispy outside, and the toppings are very generous. However, the meats had very little flavor. Final score: 84.
T.G.I. Friday's Potato Skins (3 pieces): 210 calories, 20 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 17 grams carbs. From the crispy skin to the tender potato to the tasty bacon and cheese, this is one class munchie. Differences in size among items in the same package can make for a bit of difficulty in baking, but your patience will be rewarded. Final score: 87.
Totino's Pizza Rolls (6 pieces): 220 calories, 11 grams fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 530 mg sodium, 24 grams carbs. If you grew up during the 1970s, there's little doubt that these were a mainstay of movie nights and other get-togethers. The idea of pizza toppings rolled up in a handy pouch which could be ready to eat from the freezer in 10 minutes or less was an instant hit. They haven't changed much; Given the advances in taste and texture in other frozen products, that isn't necessarily a good thing. The triple pepperoni variety was tested, and one tester remarked that "triple salty" might be more appropriate. Final score: 73.
T.G.I. Friday's Buffalo Mozzarella Sticks (1 piece): 80 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 7 grams carbs. Fried cheese is frequently one of the most poorly done appetizers around. Either the wrong cheese is used, the wrong breading is applied or the cooking process is flawed. In one fell swoop, Friday's has somehow overcome all those pitfalls to deliver a product that's nicely crispy on the outside and smooth and buttery in the middle. A buffalo wing sauce packet is included, which adds a nice flavor kick. Final grade: 95.
La Choy Chicken Mini Egg Rolls(6 pieces): 140 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 460 mg sodium, 18 grams carbs. The back of the box says these are "inspired by traditional Asian cuisine." That's somewhat like saying your pizza-flavored potato chip is "inspired by traditional Italian cuisine." That doesn't mean they didn't taste good, though. The outer shell was a bit soggy, but the filling had a mellow flavor with a hint of onion. Final score: 91.While Friday's may not be the oldest brand out there -- in fact, it's a total newcomer compared to warhorses like La Choy and Totino's -- the mozzarella sticks are an excellent version of an old favorite. However, like other items in the Friday's line, their price per serving is pretty high. The best buy of this group is easily the mini egg rolls, which come in vast quantities for a relative pittance.