The pointyheads at Sonic Drive-In chose the middle of winter to roll out their new line of frozen treats—the ice-cream-plus-mix-ins concoctions called Master Blasts. At first, I thought the timing was crazy; with much of the nation still stuck in the polar vortex, who's lining up to sit in the front seat of their car and get their mittened hands on a bunch of gussied-up milkshakes?!? Well, this guy, as it turns out. And now that I've tried all six Master Blasts, I'm hoping that Sonic uses from now until summer to refine a few of the flavors... and maybe take one or two out before ice cream season begins in earnest.
First, the good news. Sonic makes a big deal about their use of real ice cream*, distancing themselves from "some competitors" who apparently don't. And you can taste the difference, for sure. The hand-mixed stuff is rich and full-bodied and creamy and encourages you take a nap afterward... all plusses in my book of desserts.
*You can tell because they capitalize Real Ice Cream every time it's mentioned in their official press release, kind of like the Way the Founding Fathers would just Capitalize random Letters for no apparent Reason in the Declaration of Independence.
But a glass (or a Styrofoam cup) of Real Ice Cream is just a milkshake; it's the mix-ins that supposedly make it a gourmet innovation. And that's where the Master Blasts either sink or swim.
The Cookie Dough Master Blast (all were $4.89 at my location, with a 70-cent upcharge to make it a large) was far and away my favorite of the bunch. Nothing crazy here, just vanilla ice cream with chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough dotting the whipped cream crown and mixed in throughout. But the cookie dough was soft and chewy, with just the right kind of sugar-gritty texture. There were enough pieces of dough that I never forgot what flavor I was eating, but not so many that they overpowered the ice cream. (Sorry... the Real Ice Cream.) I'll definitely be getting this one again.
The Caramel Brownie Master Blast was pretty darn good, too. Again, a vanilla base, but now it's blended with salted caramel and brownie pieces. I might have enjoyed a few more brownie pieces and think that caramel usually needs to be more pronounced in any dessert it's in, but those minor complaints could be by-products of throwing the kitchen into a tizzy by rolling up and ordering all six of these things at once. They're new enough that I saw more than one employee getting schooled on how to make them during my batch, and maybe a heavier hand was needed with that particular cup. Sonic does say that you can customize your Master Blast when you order, so try requesting "heavy on the brownies and caramel" and see what happens.
The Triple Chocolate Master Blast features those same brownie pieces, plus chocolate syrup and mini chocolate chips swimming in vanilla ice cream. Wait, vanilla ice cream? Yeah, seems Sonic uses only vanilla ice cream in their regular shakes and Blasts, and then turns it strawberry or peanut butter or chocolate or whatever with added flavorings. It didn't really matter, though; all I tasted was chocolate chips. They're such a distinct texture that whenever they hit my mouth, the rest of the flavor instantly goes away and my mind registers the entire thing as "chocolate chip flavored." So if you love chocolate chips, go for it, but true chocoholics looking for an overload might be underwhelmed.
The Turtle Pecan Master Blast suffers from the chocolate chip thing, too. Yes, there are pecan pieces in there. And the salted caramel syrup makes a valiant effort to be interesting (still too subtle, though). But this thing tastes like a Chocolate Chip Master Blast With Nuts to me. Not nearly turtle-y enough.
Sonic really starts to go off the rails for me, though, with their fruit mix-ins. The Banana Split Master Blast is perhaps the prettiest in the lineup, judging from the near-neon pink beauty shot supplied by the company. The reality, though, was dull and barely-rosy, tasting mostly like chocolate chips (again, dammit!**)... only sort of like strawberries... and not at all like bananas.... until I got to a giant chunk of one at the bottom that managed to escape the blender blades. I wouldn't liken this to a classic banana split at all: no nuts, no cherry on top, not enough banana, only one ice cream flavor rather than the vanilla-chocolate-strawberry trifecta, and chocolate chips doing a poor job of standing in for the more standard chocolate syrup.
**Oddly enough, the only variety with chocolate chips to NOT be overpowered by chocolate chips? The chocolate chip-laden Cookie Dough... which you might expect to feature chocolate chips most prominently, since... well... duh.
But if that was a weak interpretation of its namesake dessert, the Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast misses the mark by a country mile. A shame; it was the one I was most intrigued by—pineapple upside down cake just doesn't get around much anymore as a trendy treat or funky flavor.
Here, the noticeable lack of the word cake in the name turned out to be telling; there are pieces of pie crust inexplicably mixed in. A pineapple upside down PIE?!? Did I just miss that one growing up? The crunchy texture was off-putting and distracting to someone who was expecting light and fluffy bites of cake. My brain was actually leading me toward the Nilla Wafers of a classic banana pudding (hey... maybe THAT should be a Master Blast flavor) until I hit the bits of pineapple. And although Sonic says there's salted caramel in there, I couldn't find it. Overall, this one was just weird, a strange mix of flavors and textures (acidic pineapple, crunchy pie crust, salted caramel) that don't really go together in any dessert I know of, and definitely don't call to mind the dessert it's named for.
I applaud Sonic's use of real ice cream, unnecessary caps aside. The base of the Master Blasts did feel like a step up from the sometimes-artificial-tasting Blizzards of the world. But perhaps they need to rethink some of the mix-ins at work with this new supposedly-permanent line. I'm not sure how well they live up to the Master Blast title, or even what makes them markedly more masterful than their six existing Blast flavors (like Snickers, Oreo, and M&M's) or their 25 milkshake varieties, which can get pretty fancy on their own (Coconut Cream Pie, Cherry Cheesecake, Peanut Butter & Bacon, etc.).
Still, high-quality ice cream with tasty ingredients mixed in is a good thing. And once the mercury climbs back above freezing, I'll probably find myself back at Sonic at some point for a Master Blast... Cookie Dough, anyway. (But truth be told, I'm already thinking about "customizing" my way to a Peanut Butter Cookie Dough with Bacon. You're welcome, Sonic... but hold the chocolate chips.)