As we reported earlier, the Hobbit menu landed nationwide earlier this week. Given that the movie comes out in a month and that there's going to be plethora of midnight showings, it seemed prudent to check to see if Denny's was really serving up something that fulfill your late-night eating post-The Hobbit needs This job required not one, but two Chow Bella writers.
JK Grence: Ando, you had to open your mouth. With the two of us as arguably the biggest nerds who write for Chow Bella (and me as the Guilty Pleasures guy), all it took was your quick mention of the new limited-time-only Hobbit menu at Denny's, and we found ourselves on a quest two write about the new limited-time-only The Hobbit-inspired menu at Denny's. This is one of the more inspired promotional ideas I've seen in a while. Hobbits are known to eat meat-and-potatoes comfort food and plenty of it. It stands to reason that if Hobbits existed in modern-day America, they would eat at Denny's on a pretty regular basis.
JK:The first things to arrive at the table were the breakfast appetizer, Radagast's Red Velvet Pancake Puppies. Judging by a number of the items on the menu, the main connection of most items to something in the movie is that they share the same first letter. These reminded me of the red velvet funnel cake I sampled out at the Arizona State Fair; it sounds like a good idea, but the red velvet richness is lost once it gets deep-fried. There was a little hit of sweet from white chocolate chips mixed in, but not enough to channel red velvet cake in any way. To me, they largely served as a neutral vehicle for the accompanying cream cheese icing. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Ando Muneno: JK is absolutely correct in his assertion that the red velvet cake portion of the red velvet hushpuppies never really came through. But they're deep fried sweet batter dipped in sauce in studded with buttery white chocolate chips, that's a pretty hard formula to screw up. It's telling that this is the only dish that we actually completely finished, with some gusto I might add.
Ando: Onward to, entrees. I tried to pick the most thematically accurate dish I could. I skipped over the luridly named Gandalf's Gobble Melt. Mostly because it sounded like a post-Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. Instead, I went for the slightly less luridly named Hobbit Hole breakfast with a Shire Sausage substituted for the pedestrian bacon. Hindsight being what it is, I regret this decision as it was only too late that I discovered my culinary adventure to Middle Earth was going to look an awful lot like a lazy Saturday morning at home. I had hoped that the cheddar buns would bring something new to the Eggy-In-A-Hole formula but this was not to the case. The cheddar bun was bland and not particularly cheddary, although it was suitably soft and functional as a yolk mop. The Shire Sausage though was pretty good, a definite cut above the tiny and sad typical Denny's breakfast sausage. It's reminiscent of a kielbasa but without the same level of spice or flavor. Overall, not bad but I couldn't help but yearn for one of the skillets.
JK: I'm trying to figure out how Hobbit Hole is the less lurid name. The sausage was indeed one of the better casual restaurant ones I've had. Someone correct me if I'm wrong (with commenters like ours, do I have to prompt such things?), but I think the prominent black pepper in the seasoning pegs it closest to a British banger sausage. I can't help but wonder why nobody thought to put very Hobbit-friendly bangers and mash on the menu.
JK: I had been craving a greasy spoon burger all day, so I went right for The Ring Burger. It's a hefty creation, topped with pepper jack cheese, bacon, and sautéed mushrooms. Crowning the burger are three onion rings, stacked on top of the top bun so the whole mess resembles a mountain.
I thought the burger was simply decent, about as good as one would expect for Denny's. The pepper jack got lost under all of the other toppings; I think a slice of cheddar would be a better substitute. The shredded iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato didn't stand a chance under the patty, but at least they took one for the team to keep the bottom bun intact for the whole burger. The accompanying fries were the crinkle-cut Denny's standard; perfectly serviceable and crispy, if otherwise unremarkable.
JK:That brings us to the drink/dessert shakes on offer. Since I figured I was doing enough guilty pleasure damage with the 1,400-calorie burger, I went with Bilbo's Berry Smoothie. The alliterative marketing department strikes again, as I'm pretty sure no Hobbit worth their salt would be seen within twenty feet of a smoothie.
I feel like the smoothie was a little unusual for a Denny's drink. I'm pretty sure actual fruit was involved in its production, even if it was pre-fab seedless purée. At only 230 calories for a 15-ounce glass, it's a good choice if you're in the mood for something shake-like but don't feel like sucking down two Big Macs' worth of calories in a single serving. Speaking of which, I believe Ando had a shake involving Mallomars-style cookies...
Ando: Ah yes, you had to bring up the little matter of calories didn't you? Fortunately/Sadly Denny's actually provides a helpful meal calculator that lets you know what you've eaten. The Lone-Lands Campfire Cookie milkshake tops out at 1100 calories which is roughly half of the total calories an active adult should eat in an entire day. One has to imagine that Type 2 diabetes is a major problem among harfoots, despite their consistently long lives.
Be that as it may, the shake is good, surprisingly good. It's basically a cookies and creme shake flavored with s'mores cookies and it works. While I had a difficult time identifying the exact s'mores-ness of the shake I do think I saw a marshmallow bobbing around in there. While I'm not sure I need another one anytime soon, it's entirely possible that graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows might be finding their way into a home brewed shake soon.
JK: A cookie made with graham crackers, marshmallow, and dark chocolate? That's totally a Mallomar. Throw a couple of those in the blender with ice cream and milk, and it should hit the nail right on the head.
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Ando: Overall I'd have to say that, as far as themed menus go, things could have certainly have gone worse. For your money you're definitely going to get a Hobbit friendly quantity of food. In other words, a lot, they do after all eat at least five times a day. I can't in good conscious urge you to rush out and eat your way through this menu. But if by some chance you find yourself in a Denny's after a 10-hour pre-Hobbit, Lord of the Rings marathon, you'll probably appreciate the mass produced imagining of Middle Earth.
JK:As far as movie tie-ins go, I'm tempted to say it's successful. While the food is no better or worse than your average Denny's meal (of course), it's nice to see a company put a little effort into a movie tie-in. Once word gets out in the gamer geek community, I have a feeling there may be more than a few late-night D&D sessions with the Middle-Earth menu involved during or after.
Ando: Actually, there was a full Lord of the Rings RPG released a couple years ago. Sadly, it looks like it's been out of print for awhile and the company that released it basically vanished. Maybe the fine people over at Imperial Outpost could point us in the right direction? I'm certain I have my dice bag around here somewhere...