TNT Diner

Here’s what Costco’s newest food court item tastes like. Spoiler: It’s nothing like a Polish dog

I thought we’d have more time.

Like me, you might be mourning the loss of a longtime friend, the $1.50 Costco Polish hot dog combo, which The Seattle Times first reported two weeks ago would be axed from the food court menu.

By July 12, it appears every local Costco was out, although food court workers said I could still get the packaged Polish dogs in the grocery section (not the same).

Don’t fret, you hot dog lovers. The regular $1.50 hot dog combo is still available, but everyone understands the superiority of the Polish dog. It’s a horrifyingly sodium-laden fun fest of fat and garlic.

Last week, I did what every 21st century food journalist does. I complained about the loss on Facebook.

More than 200 responses later, I discovered readers, much like the rest of America, are spectacularly peeved about the Polish dog disappearing.

One local reader called it a “tragedy.” One said they can no longer justify a membership. Another urged my followers to sign the petition protesting the menu removal.

Another wondered whether an enterprising person could buy the Polish dogs from Costco and set up their own hot dog stand in the parking lot (somebody, please?)

Another pattern emerged from the comments. A majority dislike the new al pastor salad that bumped the Polish dog off the menu. A majority of the complaints I heard came from vegetarians, not meat eaters dismayed by the menu shift. Many vegetarians simply don’t like the salad.

Conclusion: The menu shift appears to be a conundrum for everyone.

Costco al pastor bowl.jpg
The al pastor salad from Costco. Sue Kidd

The $4.99 al pastor salad is a vegetarian Southwestern-meets-Vietnamese salad. It’s made with romaine lettuce, black beans, black olives, soy protein, pickled vegetables the style of which you’d get on a bahn mi sandwich, chopped bell peppers and a tangy dressing.

“The salad is a total miss,” said reader Celeste Ballentyne, who mostly eats vegetarian. “I feel like the protein they chose is a little too rubbery and the flavors are just not right.” She added, “The dressing was also missing the mark on so many levels. In a world full of fake meats and a company that basically has products at their fingertips, how did they manage to choose this salad over so many other options?”

Reader Molly Barry also was in the anti-salad camp.

“I am vegetarian,” she said “I have wanted them to add a veggie dog in addition to options for omnivores. I have never said, ‘I want some soy option of a pork dish with Vietnamese-ish vegetables in a salad.’ Not sure who they are trying to please with this, but they seem to be pleasing no one.”

Yet two local plant-based eaters whose palates I trust said they liked it.

Jen DiLoreto, who runs the excellent downtown Tacoma sandwich shop Diloreto’s Cafe with her husband Chris, said it was a hit.

“But I’m a plant-based eater and very happy for something I can eat on the menu,” she said. “I found it tasty.”

Marti Miller Hall, whose vegan food blog I follow, said, “I didn’t have any expectations or preconceived ideas, so, to me, it was just a really nice little fresh salad with chopped romaine, black beans, soy chorizo sorta thing, olives, and lightly pickled veggies. Yes, calling them ‘bahn mi style’ seemed weird, but I eat other pickled veggies on Tex-Mex food, so it actually went together really well.”

My verdict: It was inoffensive in the same way your Kansas grandma’s taco salad is. It was filling and mildly interesting.

It also was epically confusing in its merge of incongruous flavors. I’m no food purist. I appreciate Samoan tacos and Korean burgers, but I struggled to make sense of the flavor clash happening in the bowl and with the name.

An unspoken contract exists between diners and restaurants that when an item is advertised as al pastor, what shows up will be pineapple-spiked marinated pork.

The Costco salad’s name is a misnomer, as it’s a soy product fancied up with taco seasoning minus an iota of detectable pineapple. It did carry a modest punch of flavor and spice, but the soy protein tasted oddly rubbery and chalky. The Vietnamese banh mi veggies didn’t carry the exaggerated vinegar tang I’m used to tasting and didn’t act as a foil to the rich dressing, which I think is what they were intended to do, but didn’t.

The tangy, creamy dressing perplexed. Was that sesame, taco dust and Veganaise? Was it supposed to be Thousand Island? I’m not sure what I ate, but I’m going to take a guess that half the count of the 700-plus calorie salad comes from that dressing. Conversely, the Polish dog, with bun, My Fitness Pal reports, has about 550 calories.

Did Costco add it, really, to boost healthy options, as The Seattle Times reported in its story via chief executive Craig Jelinek?

Alternate theory: Ditching the Polish dog in favor of trendy, “healthy” food smacks to me of a corporation trying to modernize itself when it didn’t need to. Don’t even get me started on Costco’s shift to digital ordering kiosks in its food court in lieu of ordering from a real person.

The beauty of Costco always has been its low-tech simplicity: Towering aisles filled with bargains and food court offerings that satisfy, but do not challenge. The Polish dog was wonderfully simple in a world where food sometimes tries way too hard at being complicated.

Kind of like the al pastor salad.

I’m horrified to think what the $1.50 regular hot dog will be replaced with if Costco abandons its wonderfully boring and cheapest menu item. Seven dollar jackfruit tacos with cauliflower bacon and gojuchang boba, anyone? Ugh.

And now that I’ve said all of that, I stumbled onto a theory that might be even more plausible about the demise of the Polish dog.

“This is just a smokescreen for the even bigger issue: Tacoma Costco no longer carries the 1.75 liter Kirkland Tequila either,” said reader Michael Gruener.

Somebody start a petition?

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner