- Costco and Sam’s Club are extremely popular in the United States, and while memberships are needed to buy items, the food courts are open to all.
- After Costco’s recent decision to remove the much-loved Polish hot dog from its food-court menu, many loyal customers are vowing on Facebook to take their business to Sam’s Club.
- During a recent visit to both warehouse stores’ food courts, we found that both had nearly identical set-ups and price points, but Costco’s larger selection and shockingly good quality won out in the end.
Costco and Sam’s Club are shining basilicas of American bulk shopping.
Within their hallowed – and exclusive – corrugated-metal-and-concrete walls, shoppers grab pounds of pasta and peanut butter amid miles of aisles of marked-down goods. There is virtually nothing that isn’t offered by these warehouse giants – coffins, cars, even vacation packages can be purchased through their services.
And no matter which warehouse store you’re shopping in, you’re bound to get hungry. Luckily, both Costco and Sam’s Club have mini food courts to satiate hungry shoppers. While they may look rather bare-bones, make no mistake: under the right circumstances, the food can be shockingly good.
So good, in fact, that customers can become fanatics. Costco’s recent removal of the beloved Polish hot dog from the food-court menu has infuriated many shoppers who are now taking to Costco’s Facebook page to threaten to go to Sam’s Club instead. There’s even a Change.org petition to save the hallowed wiener – with over 500 signatures, and counting.
We visited a Costco food court and were floored by the quality and downright deliciousness of some of the options – it was suspiciously good. But is it good enough to stem the flow of disgruntled diners making the switch to Sam’s Club?
Here’s what we saw on a recent trip:
First, a recap of Costco’s highlights.
Costco has a fairly large amount on its menu considering it’s a tiny kitchen hidden within a bulk retailer.
This entire spread – cheese pizza, hot dog, three different sandwiches, a quasi-stromboli, a soda, and a churro – cost just over $US25. That’s pretty impressive.
The pizza is fine, but nothing astounding.
It’s a large, doughy, slice that’s similar in taste to Pizza Hut – salty, with a slightly sweet sauce. It’s nothing special, but for $US1.99, I wasn’t complaining.
There’s a strange “chicken bake” that resembles a thin stromboli or calzone.
It’s confusing yet delicious. It’s full of melty cheese, chicken, and bacon – what more could you want?
The hot dog is a sleeper hit.
For $US1.50 – it comes with a soda, even – it’s perhaps the best deal on the menu. And oddest of all, it’s delicious. I’ve never had a hot dog this satisfying anywhere, so to find this in a Costco in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is all the more astounding.
Though this standard hot dog will remain on Costco’s food-court menu, a variation of it, the Polish hot dog, is being phased out.
Customers have the option to add ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, and sauerkraut (upon request) to the supersized dog.
The bun is fluffy and sweet, but it holds up to even the juiciest assaults of relish, mustard, and ketchup without succumbing to sogginess.
When we visited, the rotating menu item was an Italian sausage sandwich.
It wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t awful either. The bun, which was perfect with the hot dog, couldn’t hold up to the super juicy onions and peppers, leaving a soggy mess. The sausage itself was cooked well, charred on the outside like a properly grilled sausage, but it lacked some spicy oomph.
Then, I stumbled upon the hidden gem of the Costco menu: the BBQ brisket sandwich.
Let me preface this. One walks into Costco not even expecting food; the fact that they serve food is a surprise unto itself. One doesn’t expect the food to be all that great, considering everything is under $US5 and it looks like a roadside hot dog shack dragged inside a warehouse. And that’s a fair assumption, frankly. But the food surprises you! It’s generally good.
In comes the BBQ brisket sandwich.
It’s enormous. It’s cheap. It’s one of the best sandwiches ever.
Its unassuming brioche-style bun is piled high with tender brisket and coleslaw. The meat literally tumbles out of the sandwich – it’s served with a cardboard belt around it to keep it in.
The meat is melt-in-your-mouth good. It’s velvety, fatty, and rich — I’m not a barbecue expert by any means, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think it’s purely divine.
The coleslaw adds a nice, crisp crunch and vinegary bite to help balance the savoury notes.
Overall, Costco’s food is weirdly impressive — the absence of the Polish hot dog withstanding.
There are a few odd moments – the pizza is lacklustre, the Italian sausage was so-so – but overall, it’s better than anyone initially expects. Not only that, most of the food is beyond acceptable, it’s good. And the brisket sandwich – well, that is great.
So how does Sam’s Club stack up?
The set-up is virtually the same – there’s not much room for innovation when it comes to warehouse-store food joints.
Sam’s Club has less food, but a similar price point.
These five items cost just under $US11 in total – not bad, considering just one item is a meal unto itself.
First, the pizza.
I went for pepperoni this time. It’s another enormous slice with enough real estate for 12 slices of pepperoni on it. That’s a veritable pizza estate.
The slice is floppy, and each bite feels kind of rubbery. The dough is chewy with no crispiness whatsoever.
And the grease — good lord, the grease. Pools and pools of grease.
It’s practically the sixth Great Lake. While the pepperoni is plentiful and decent, it’s not enough to save this pizza slice from sub-par mediocrity. Costco’s isn’t great, but it’s better than this.
The hot dog isn’t that bad at all, and just like Costco’s, it’s an amazing deal.
For $US1.50 – same as Costco – you get a hot dog and a soda. And while hot dogs on their own don’t amount to much, this is a pretty large dog. Not as large as Costco’s, but close.
But this all-beef dog doesn’t have as much flavour as Costco’s; it’s a rather bland dog, even with condiments added.
The bun is your run-of-the-mill hot dog bun; no more, no less.
The special this time was, by sheer coincidence, sausage, onion, and pepper sandwiches — the exact same thing Costco offered.
Plus, the comparison was easy. Costco’s version was messy but good; this version is easy but boring. The bun is extremely chewy bread, and it overwhelms everything within it.
There aren’t enough peppers or onions, and the pork sausage is salty and dense.
The whole thing is on the dry side – I needed a drink to help wash it down.
Then, something I didn’t see at Costco: a cheeseburger.
And not just any cheeseburger: a bacon cheeseburger, for $US2.99. My interest was immediately piqued.
It’s weird, but fairly good.
The weird bit that throws me is the circular piece of bacon. It seems too thin to be classified as Canadian bacon, so … what is it? Does bacon come in circular slices? Have I led such a sheltered life that I was unaware of its existence? What else didn’t I know?
While grappling with these questions, I put some ketchup and mustard on it.
The first bite is … shockingly good. The second bite is just as good.
By the third bite, I realised I had come across a pretty decent cheeseburger. The patty is thick and lightly charred, as though it was truly, honestly grilled. The cheese is classic American, and the bun is similarly simple. The condiment addition is necessary to add some acidic bite, but overall, it’s a very tasty burger.
Lastly, the warm churro, nearly as long as my forearm.
What can one say? A churro is a churro is a churro. They will always be delicious. The hard, crunchy twisted exterior, dusted in sugar and cinnamon, gives way to a soft, fluffy, eggy inside. It’s hard to mess up churros.
So, what’s the verdict?
Sam’s Club’s food offerings are, on first glance, nearly identical to Costco’s. And there are a lot of parallels, certainly: both are unsung, rough-around-the-edges food stands serving, more or less, basic American fare. Very basic.
And yet … Sam’s Club’s quality and selection just can’t hold a candle to Costco’s.
Costco’s menu is larger, and a bit more … well, fun. Brisket and chicken bakes and hot provolone sandwiches, galore! And its quality was shocking. Sam’s Club’s just seems on par for the course.
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