1. What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store: Smashbar!

    WHEN I SAY “Smashbar” you think of that trendy bar in Silverlake, crowded wall to wall with hipster douchebags all reeking of clove cigarettes and sweat, right? No, no – wait. “Smashbar” – they’re that late 90s band that had that song “All Star” that’s been a staple of movie trailers since “Walking on Sunshine” overslept and missed the audition. Or, no, “Smashbar:” that overpriced line of cosmetics that you bought a Groupon for, figuring your girlfriend would be thrilled…but she didn’t redeem it and now you’re out forty bucks. Or maybe “Smashbar” is that studio near La Brea in Hollywood where you worked as a caterer for the wrap party for that Lifetime TV movie last summer and met Richard Karn from Home Improvement and Richard Thomas from The Waltons. No! No, wait – “Smashbar” is that so-called all-in-one website development software you paid $59 for and downloaded from Smith-Micro but never used and completely forgot about until now. Nope? Oh, of course – “Smashbar” – it’s the thick steel pipe that runs across the top of your Jeep Wrangler so even if you fly off a cliff careening down PCH drunk as Mel Gibson, you’ll still be able to walk away from the crash and hide among the rocks until you sober up.

    Wrong, sir! Wrong!

    You couldn’t be more wrong, but that certainly hasn’t kept you from trying!

    No, this is Smashbar…

    …and by Godfrey, it’s today’s What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store Item of the Week today.

    For 99¢ Only, you get a box of eight of these snack bars. Each is just 90 calories, has no high fructose corn syrup and is a good source of fiber and calcium – but don’t let that scare you off, pal: like me, you’ll be eating four or five of these in one sitting.  They’re just that good!

    What are these things?  As the back of the box says, they’re “lots of GREAT tasting ingredients…SMASHED TOGETHER!”

    “Specifics?” you demand with arched eyebrows, indicating dubiousness yet betraying mild interest.

    I’ll specifics you!  Pretzels! Berries! Oat cereal! Chocolate!  That specific enough for you?

    I saw these at the 99¢ Only Store last week and I wisely thought to myself, “Hm, these things look good.  I’d be smart to pick up two boxes.”

    Then I get home and try one, they turn out to be the best purchase I’ve made at the 99¢ Only Store since they had all that high-end but about-to-expire personal lubricant two years ago. And like an idiot, I only bought two goddamn boxes! I should have bought like ten!  Ah, the classic 99¢ Only Store shopper’s remorse. You and I, we know it all too well. Actually, I guess the true “classic 99¢ Only Store shopper’s remorse” comes about six hours after eating anything with dairy in it from their refrigerated case.

    I’m kidding!  I’m sure this stuff is wonderful.

    Back to Smashbar:  Like me, you’re wondering how such a fantastic new product from the good people at Quaker Oats ended up in the grocery landfill that is the 99¢ Only store.

    Here’s my theory: Whoever designed the package thought it might be fun to have a side panel featuring a cut-out arrow so you can see the product inside.

    But what they didn’t count on was the ongoing de-evolution of society where thieving shoppers have no qualms about sneaking out a Smashbar when no one’s looking, putting the box back on the shelf…and then whoever eventually buys the package gets seven bars instead of eight, probably!  See?

    Anyway, all that cut into supermarkets’ bottom line and Big Grocery was having none of that!  None of it! “Off to the 99¢ Only Store with you,” they ordered, probably! But Quaker taking a bath on this one is where you and I benefit; that is, if you’re able to find any of these at all, and if I’m able to find more. And brother, if I can find more, don’t expect me to leave any on the shelves for you. You’ve been warned.

    As to the variety, all they had was “Pretzel Berry,” but that was good enough for me, although it does bring up some bitter memories. (As you know, “Pretzelberry” was also the name of the boutique smoothie business I was trying to start up last year for which that stupid loan officer from Wells-Fargo foolishly OK’d a small business loan and now I’m still into them for $27K of that thirty grand. I’d be like Genarro Freaking Sbarro by now, franchising these places left and right, sure, if only I’d found a supplier that offered straws wide enough to accommodate the pretzel chunks.)

    Anyway, these Smashbars are delicious. Even better if you do like I do and head out into the garage, unplug the dryer, plug in your Star Manufacturing Co. restaurant grade humidified pretzel oven, and pop one in for twelve minutes.  If you have such an oven. (And if you want one, I’ve got six, hardly used, $1200 each or best offer.)

    Posted by on November 30, 2011, 6:00 AM.

  2. What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store: Duncan Hines Snack Size Brownies!

    AS YOU KNOW, I’ve been shopping at the 99¢ Only store since back when you and everyone else made fun of me for shopping at the 99¢ Only store. And also because my pants only came down to about three inches above my ankles. That’s the disadvantage of hand-me-downs and having an older sister who’s so short.

    And now who’s laughing? Me, because you shop there now, too, as does everyone else. Don’t deny it. Oh, sure, you drive waaay out to the one in Simi Valley figuring no one you know will see you there, and then you bump into Gretchen from your daughter’s “Hoofprints” riding class and you make up some bullshit excuse like, “Oh, I came out here because the Jo-Ann’s next door has a much better selection of print flannels, and since I was here anyway, and Sarah needed some posterboard for her science fair project, I figured I might as well run in.”

    Yeah, you’re fooling no one, especially since you’ve got a shopping cart full of cheap Argentinian breakfast cereal and White Rain shampoo. But then, so does she, plus she’s got a package of Julie maxipads. Believe me, brother, or in this case, sister, you’ve got the upper hand here; she’s telling no one who she saw slumming it.

    Where the hell was I?

    Oh yes! Here’s the thing: The 99¢ Only store is a game-changer now. What does that mean? Well, really, it’s just a hyphenated buzzword that you can plug in just about anywhere, and everyone does, but what I mean specifically is that Big Food finally realized that normal people, people like you and I, have begun shopping at the 99¢ Only store, sure. The 99¢ Only store: It’s not just for poor people anymore!™  So they realized this, and what they’ve started to do, see, is package their products in smaller sizes so they can be sold for a buck! Which pisses you and me off because we’re really not getting the deals we used to, but, aah, whaddayagonnado, right? …Well, at least I’m not getting the deals I used to, because I shopped here before you did, back before it was “cool.” Before the 99¢ Only store sold out, man.

    So about these Duncan Hines Snack Size Brownies, Chewy Fudge variety: “Makes 12 Brownies” the box says. Okay, that’s my first problem. Technically, it makes one big brownie. But it’s a smaller one big brownie than if you bought a box at your regular grocery store. See, that’s what they’re doing – they know people like you are shopping at the 99¢ Only store now, so while you may not bother picking up a box of brownie mix at A&P or Grand Union or your precious “Wegmans” because it’s too expensive, you see it at the 99¢ Only store, and like idiots, like sheep, you decide “Ooh, boy! Brownie mix – name brand brownie mix! – here at the 99¢ Only store! I’ll pick up a box here and really stick it to the man!” Like idiots you people do this, not realizing they’ve shrunken the package down specifically for the 99¢ Only store. You’re not saving a dime!

    Anyway, I know a bargain when I see one so I snatched this thing up right away!  Jesus, this is Duncan Hines brownie mix! This isn’t some off-brand crap! This is the real deal! And for a buck?! Of course I bought it!

    But once I got home and began the brownie-making process, I saw there was a second problem: The directions. (Or “instructions” for you East Coasters. Sheesh.)

    “Here it comes,” I hear you saying. “Here’s the part where Ted bitches about the fact that Duncan Hines hates America because they’ve decided to print the directions in English and Spanish!”

    No. Well, yes. I mean, yes, they’re in English and Spanish and, yes, it’s ridiculously short-sighted on the part of the Duncan Hines people because study after study after study shows (citation needed) that people who don’t bother to learn English can never succeed in this great country of ours, thus the Duncan Hines people are saying, “Sure, go ahead, don’t bother to learn English, we don’t care, we’ll still reward you with a plate of delicious, warm browñeros.” [Or, technically, a single browñero grande.]

    But no, my problem is not with the Spanish directions! After all, this feature is called “What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store,” right? My problem is this:

    Okay, do you see that asterisk after “coated pans”…?

    Yeah, well, there’s no corresponding asterisk, no footnote, if you will, ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE PACKAGE!

    325˚F for dark or coated pans…and then what?! I defy you to locate another asterisk on the entire box! You won’t find one – not even on the Spanish side! We’re left hanging, you and I. There’s evidently something they wanted us to be aware of, but then the goddamn technical writer who comes up with the copy for these boxes decided “Hell with it, lunch time! Buffalo Wild Wings?  I’m in!” and that was that. He never got back to it – and pity the poor Spanish-only readers, who didn’t even know about this asterisktastrophe! Or maybe they were the lucky ones – unable (or unwilling) to read English, they were never faced with the anxiety, the disquietude, even, of  a dangling asterisk.

    Well, as it happened, I used a coated pan and my one big brownie turned out great. Hell, it’s a brownie – how can it not be great, right? (Though it wasn’t nearly as thick as they appear on the package.) I was going to call Duncan Hines’ toll-free number and find out what was supposed to be on the other side of that missing asterisk, but my phone bill’s high enough as it is.

    So, in short, What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store? Duncan Hines Snack Size Brownies.*

    Posted by on November 15, 2011, 6:00 AM.

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