Taste-Test

From Gushers to SpaghettiOs: Do our favorite childhood foods still taste good?

spaghettios
Adam Lapetina

Whether you grew up in the age of Pong or PaRappa the Rapper, your youth was marked with some sort of interesting and awesome food that dominated your lunchbox (which, let's face it, was Lisa Frank no matter what decade you call your childhood). But don't you ever wonder what happened to those foods after you grew up and started eating difficult cheese instead of the Easy variety?

We did, and that's why we decided to go back in time to our halcyon days and retry our favorite childhood treats. Turns out some still hold up. Others prove that kids sometimes have really dumb tongues.

snackwell's
Lee Breslouer

Snackwell's Devil's Food Cookie Cakes by Lee Breslouer
What they taste like: These are as delicious as they tasted in the '90s, and still fat free! You first bite into a pillowy chocolate cake cut with a tiny bit of marshmallow to make you feel real "naughty", because when you're a woman in her mid-40s who's been stuck in a loveless marriage for 15yrs, buying a box of these in the supermarket is what passes for naughty. What I'm saying is that I'm not the target audience for Snackwell's. But I still love them.
Are they as good as you remember?: Absolutely. It's like my taste buds got in a time machine to 1994.
How can they be adapted for adults?: Sign me up for a boozy chocolate cake milkshake made with these suckers.

ellio's pizza
Adam Lapetina

Ellio's Pizza by Ben Robinson
What it tastes like: Growing up in New York, I had abundant access to world-class pizza. Hell, the nothing joint named Jimmy’s Pizza at the top of the hill was (and still is) better than 99% of slices I’ve had anywhere since. But Jimmy’s was always there, and Ellio’s was something I had to have at, like, Trav’s house. Man has always lusted after the frozen pizza his mom refuses to buy him. 
Whatever the surrounding factors, I remember it being delicious. Poor me. After 12-15mins in the toaster oven, the unseparated triptych of rectangles actually looked fairly appealing. Then I bit in, and tasted… sameness. Somehow the cheese tasted the same as the sauce, which tasted the same as the crust. The homogeneity was a neat trick I suppose, but an undelicious one.
Is it as good as you remember?: No, unless my memory broke.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: Lobotomizing those adults’ tongues.

handi-snacks
Andy Kryza

Crackers 'N Cheese Handi-Snack by Andy Kryza
What it tastes like: Once a go-to snack that could score you anything in a trade -- pizza, nuggets, you name it -- Handi-Snacks have retained their "is it really cheese?" flavor, but the crackers are now made by Ritz, meaning they're more buttery than ever. That should be a good thing. But where they upped the ante on the cracker, the cheese is now soupier and somehow tastes even faker than before. And the new crackers totally prevent the cheese from seeping through the holes (they're sealed with butter) like a Play-Doh factory. They're actually kinda gross, but not the good gross I remember, and I can't figure out why I just stuck my tongue in the cheese reservoir and opened another pack.
Is it as good as you remember?: Not nearly.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: Toss the cheese and sub in some good old-fashioned Easy Cheese.

easy cheese mike barish
Adam Lapetina

Easy Cheese (w/ Ritz Crackers) by Mike Barish
What it tastes like: I expected it to have a horrible aftertaste, or for the texture to totally turn me off. But it's delicious. It tastes like the cheese in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, which, you know, is awesome. It doesn't taste like the cheese you'd get at a wine tasting, but, let's be honest, when was the last time you were at a wine tasting? If it was, however, served at a wine tasting, you'd sound pretty smart if you called it "infinitely eatable".
Is it as good as you remember?: Yes. Possibly better.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: Skip the Ritz Crackers and upgrade to something whole grain (maybe even with some sort of seeds). A crispier, crunchier cracker will prevent the Easy Cheese from forming a mortar in your mouth.

Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies by Kristin Hunt
What they taste like: A standard shortbread cookie with seriously legit fudge accents. The cookies themselves aren't that remarkable, but those elves weren't kidding around with the 100% cocoa fudge promise.
Are they as good as you remember?: I actually used to prefer Keeblers even to Oreos back in the day, so expectations were high here. But they're still great. I could easily eat a sleeve of these and then hate myself for it minutes later.
How can they be adapted for adults?: Psh, you're not too good for Keebler Fudge Stripes all of a sudden. Just eat them straight-up!

spaghettios
Adam Lapetina

SpaghettiOs w/ Meatballsby Kevin Alexander
What they taste like: If I had to guess how many times during my childhood I ate these things, my low-end theory would be somewhere around eleventy million. I think this was the food my parents fed me whenever they didn't feel like preventing me from ingesting ferrous sulfate. And now, as I'm eating it again, it tastes like hot, watery red sauce, as if someone heated up a kettle of tea, but instead of a English Breakfast tea bag, they used a tomato-with-a-hint-of-garlic tea bag. The pasta itself is small and slippery, and goes down my throat before I can really chew it and learn its meaning. On the other hand, the meatballs are marvelous. I think. They're also really small, and I can't distinguish what kind of meat is in them. I'm too afraid to look at the ingredients. I assume it's elk and lion. They kind of taste like secrets.
Are they as good as you remember?: No. Because I remember being the happiest person in the world eating SpaghettiOs, and now I'm merely kind of enthused that I'm almost finished.
How can they be adapted for an adult palate?: I have to admit something right here -- I only made it halfway through before I doused this sucker with a healthy dose of Sriracha. And that made it kind of glorious again. Vive la ferrous sulfate!

bagel bites
Wikipedia

Bagel Bites by Liz Childers
What they taste like: The sauce is oddly reminiscent of Chef Boyardee’s sweet red liquid. So spread that onto soft bagels and top with very meltable (probably fake) cheese and it’s a little bite of heaven.
Are they as good as you remember?: Yes, but they're also frustrating. I’d hoped in the last 15yrs, microwaves would’ve upgraded from my school cafeteria’s, or the shiny cardboard cooking tray would work better. Each bagel was stone-cold after the recommended cooking time, and only half had melted cheese after another minute. But the little bites were still a victor’s prize for a microwave well-used.
How can they be adapted for an adult palate?: Just upgrade to oven cooking, because adults deserve crisp bagels -- not the soft, microwaved variety.

Pillsbury Apple Toaster Strudel by Rachel Freeman
What it tastes like: At first I thought I put it in the toaster oven too long, but it turns out these are way better slightly burnt. That flaky crunch is unparalleled. As always, squeezing the icing on is both very fun and very frustrating. It's sweet, but surprisingly just sweet enough, and the strudel would definitely not be complete without it. As for the apple part, I think I remember it being more pie-y. There aren't even any tiny chunks of apple, just pretty good goop... which happens to work because of the crunchier exterior.
Is it as good as you remember?: For the most part, yes. I wouldn't want to eat it every day for breakfast like I used to want to, but a morning or two could definitely be made better by one of these guys.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: Make a very mature-looking design with the icing that proves you're not a kid anymore. GOD, MOM!

Drumstick by Kristin Hunt
What it tastes like: The first couple bites of this are just a lot of grunt work to get to the perfect ice cream-chocolate-nuts combo. Once you're in that sweet spot, it tastes like a highly-processed, compact sundae. But once you're outta nuts -- and then worse, outta ice cream -- it's a sad, sad day.
Is it as good as you remember?: I don't know if these things just seemed gigantic in my tiny child hands, or if Nestle has been secretly shrinking them over the years, but these are way smaller than I remember. Which is obviously a letdown. I feel cheated. As for the taste, they're just alright. I definitely wouldn't chase an ice cream truck for one of these anymore.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: Melt it down into an adapted mudslide, with the nuts along the rim. I'm not sure how they would stay put, but there's gotta be a way.

pizza rolls totino's
Dan Gentile

Totino's Pepperoni Pizza Rolls by Dan Gentile
What they taste like: These were my go-to microwave snack as a child and up into my teenage years. They accompanied many hours of network television. I don't really remember the rolls tasting like pizza -- rather just a bomb of tomato, cheese, and meat that had partially exploded through its shell. Today that stands true. If you close your eyes and don't think about what you're eating, the Totino's Pizza Roll remains a very satisfying experience.
Are they as good as you remember?: Yes, but with more heartburn.
How can they be adapted for an adult palate?: Douse 'em in adult ketchup, aka Sriracha.

gushers
Andy Kryza

Gushers by Andy Kryza
What they taste like: The word "gusher" still sounds like hospital slang, but that's not really what's gross about these things. The real grossness comes from the snotty blast of warm, mucus-y "juice" stuck in the middle of what is otherwise a really tasty fruit snack. It's a room-temperature, mouth-coating squirt of sugar that I can't believe I traded a Twinkie for once. Kids are idiots.
Are they as good as you remember?: No. Not at all.
How can they be adapted for an adult palate?: Toss them in the bottom of a glass of whiskey and hit them with a muddler.

ice cream soup
Adam Lapetina

"Mush", or Ice Cream Soupby Andrew Zimmer
What it tastes like: Ice cream soup is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I think I invented it, but I'm sure I probably didn't. I would mix a bunch of different ice creams together with as many toppings as my parents would allow, leave it out for a while, and then eat it like soup. It was amazing. I replicated it by grabbing rocky road and cookie dough ice creams, peanut M&M's, Hershey's chocolate sauce, and maraschino cherries. The most nostalgia-inducing aspect was being able to pick out the ice cream-soaked candy and cookie dough clusters to eat first.
Is it as good as you remember?: The melted ice cream and candy was just as delicious as I remembered. The cherries were the only thing that didn't hold up. They tasted like not-quite-chewy-enough bombs of non-carbonated soda. My stomach hurt more than I remembered though. Turns out two pints of ice cream in 15mins is a lot for an adult.
How can it be adapted for an adult palate?: I could see a smaller serving and fancier ice cream bases being served at a nice restaurant with a biscotti or something. Take out the cherries.

Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and was totally the person who introduced Pizza to Bagels back in the day. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.