Totino's New Chicken Parmesan Rolls Let Me Down


[Photographs: Will Gordon]

Remember when President Reagan was shot and Alexander Haig announced he was taking over the White House? And everyone was sort of confused, because wasn't Reagan still alive, and didn't we keep a perfectly good vice president under glass for just such occasions, and who the hell was Alexander Haig?

But on the other hand, who among us had memorized the specifics of executive branch chain of command? All any of us really recalled was that the Postmaster General ranked surprisingly high on the list, which meant anything was possible. Maybe Haig was president?

I bring this up because last week I perpetrated a similar temporary coup at Serious Eats World Headquarters. No, no, I didn't make a play for the Overlordship. Despite his advancing age, Ed's blog hand remains strong. I set my sights on a far cheesier prize. As I'm sure you know, there was a changing of the Slice guard last week: Out with cool-ass Meredith, in with cool-ass Niki. It's a testament to the rest of the royal court that the transition appeared seamless when, in fact, Kenji's recklessness threatened to set the whole operation aflame.

Here's how it went down. After Meredith's final review of the troops, Niki was supposed to helicopter in for the formal transition of power, a gala ceremony at which she would take possession of the jewel-encornicioned pizza peel and the titanium takeout box containing Adam's home phone number. But it turns out the entire SE aerial fleet was being serviced that day, so Ed dispatched Kenji in the emergency Food Lab pedicab. As anyone who endures regular photos of his naked foot flesh in the "This Week at Serious Eats" feature knows, the man wears flip-flops year-round.

Well wouldn't you know that on the most important errand of his career one of the rubber toe-thongs snapped, causing him to lose control of the pedicab and go careening into a row of dumpling trucks. He quickly repaired the damages to both flop and cab with a poultice of fish sauce and raisins, but the delay left a brief window during which there was no official editor of Slice.

I took advantage of this power vacuum to declare myself the temporary head of all Totino's Pizza Roll-related matters, which is how I, the erstwhile Secretary of Fast Food, am able to present unto you this review of Totino's new Chicken Parmesan Rolls.


I love the original Totino's Pizza Rolls, because everyone does. Adam professed his adoration back in 2010, and ever since it's been burning me up that I have nothing to add ... until now! Because Totino's has begun running television ads for three new flavors: Meatball Marinara, Cheesy Garlic, and Chicken Parmesan. I've only been able to track down the Chicken Parm, which is a scathing indictment of this culinary backwater's grocery stores, but which is also plenty more than good enough to get the ball rolling.


And now, after way too much ado, I must admit the dirty truth. The Chicken Parm rolls aren't very tasty. They have the good sense to employ the legacy crust, which is still spectacular—neither too thick nor too thin, crisp on the outside and just the right touch of gummy underneath. As indicated in the photo, I managed to go a perfect 12 for 12 in blowouts, but that's part of the charm. The pizza roll crust is a delicate, high-pressure situation and leakage is, if not part of the magic, at least evidence of the magic. Stuff's going on in there, man!

Alas, the stuff doesn't amount to much in the Chicken Parmesan rendition. There's a decided lack of spunk to the guts, from the 1/8th-inch cubes of chicken to the slightly larger cheese chunks to the pasty and flavorless sauce. You know you've got a limp frozen pizza treat when you catch yourself thinking, "You know what would really help here? Some dried oregano, or maybe American cheese." And I'd have given my temporary kingdom for a bit of sausage or pepperoni. It turns out that without the spicy meats from the Combination flavor, or at least the extra goo from the Cheese model, there's just not enough going on inside that delightful shell.