My thin and persnickety wife has two major food prohibitions that keep her from eating life to its fullest. The first and less harmful is her aversion to mushrooms. I'm not a fungus lover myself, but I am an accepter, a respecter, and more to the point, a soup-maker. The first thousand times I substituted zucchini and a shot of soy sauce when a recipe called for mushrooms, I felt like a genius. The last thousand times, however, I've felt like a guy who eats too much zucchini.
But even a matter as grave as a kitchen-wide mushroom ban is trivial compared to her other major dietary restriction: I have married a woman who refuses to eat while walking. When I saw "I believe in always eating while stationary and preferably seated" as the sole entry under the "Beliefs" section of her online dating profile, I assumed I'd found a kindred spirit: Here was a woman so committed to eating at all times that she refused to walk and tried not to stand! But it turns out that she eats very rarely—three, four times a day max—and walks all the damn time.
I suspect this is why she'd never eaten a Hot Pocket (or any of its competitors) before we met. She's not averse to junk food, but she'd never been tempted to buy a frozen pocket sandwich because nutritionally dubious portable foods are all marketed as if they're apples or bananas or those fortified rock-climber candy bars. She'd never bothered with a Hot Pocket because she'd never been a healthy, happy, busy, hungry woman on the move, since she schedules all her eating for the couple of minutes a day when she's off the move. So she's never identified with the Hot Pocket eater presented by the advertisers, and since she's also never been a chubby stoner kid subsisting on frozen food, Mountain Dew, and video games, she's also never identified with the Hot Pocket eater presented by reality.
But I was able to break her down last week when I showed her Snoop Dogg's new Hot Pocket tribute video. See, darling, here is a thin, ambitious, successful man who eats them! She's not ready to adopt the full Dogg lifestyle, but she did concede that his endorsement disproves any causal link between Hot Pockets and obesity or laziness.
When I finally got her to the Hot Pocket altar, I was pleased to discover that a couple of challengers have been introduced since my frozen food heyday. She's of a scientific bent, and the only way I can coax her into overindulging is to appeal to her research fetish. How can she properly evaluate her maiden Hot Pocket voyage if she doesn't have any basis for comparison? Totino's Pepperoni Pizza Stuffers and Tony's Pepperoni Pouches would serve as our control group.
We cooked Tony's and Totino's offerings together in a conventional oven along with the over-named Hot Pockets Pizzeria Pepperoni Pizza model, and then tasted all three to determine which would become our house brand of frozen pepperoni sandwich pocket. I had high hopes for Totino's, makers of Slice's favorite pizza roll. Emily had high hopes that I would discover I've outgrown this category. It was a hopeful kitchen that fine morning.
The three brands are similar in terms of price (cheap!), nutrition statistics (ghastly!), and ingredients (most of them!). Two-packs of Hot Pockets and Tony's Pouches run about $2.50; I paid $3.69 for four smaller Totino's Stuffers, which makes them roughly the same price per ounce. Another similarity: They all look gorgeous straight out of the oven. In the photo below, you'll notice that the Hot Pocket looks like a Hot Pocket, Tony's Pouch looks like a burrito, and the Totino's Stuffer looks like an empanada.
When you hack them open, however, you realize that beauty only runs crust deep for Tony and Totino. I rearranged them for the interior photos by putting the Hot Pocket in the middle, the better to demonstrate its clear aesthetic superiority. Whereas the Pocket is plump and domed and shows good separation between crust and filling, the others are squashed, thin, and dense, with ominous bands of gray dough where the crust meets the stuffing.
The Hot Pocket was also the clear winner when chewing time finally came around. It had thick half-moons of gamy-but-good pepperoni surrounded by the proper dosage of melted mozzarella. The cheese didn't taste like much other than salt, but it held things together and provided a welcome textural contrast to the crispy crust, which was where the Pocket really distinguished itself from the Pouch and the Stuffer. Whereas the latter two were marred by thick, ponderous exoskeletons that turned gummy by the time they gave way to the filling, the Hot Pocket crust was light and crisp.
Tony's bland, slightly sour crust seemed to be aspiring toward flaky but ended up pasty. Totino fared a little better but still couldn't come close to matching the Hot Pocket. Both barns did fine in the filling department—in fact, Totino's spicy chunks of pepperoni were the best of the bunch—but not well enough to counter Hot Pockets' overwhelming crust advantage.