Review of Wendy's Berry Almond Chicken Salad: Decent, But With Two Big Objections
What the salad looks like before applying dressing
The food at Wendy's is generally agreed to be the best among the national burger chains. While the hamburgers are much better at such regionals as In-N-Out and Five Guys, Wendy's offers a few maverick items that are actually worth eating. In Fork in the Road's 10 Fast-Food Items That Don't Totally Suck, the chain garnered two slots, for their chili (No. 5) and baked potato (No. 1).
As salads have become a popular lunch choice among dieters and office workers, it was inevitable that the big burger chains would make yet another attempt to add them to their menus. Not only do they feel like they could sell them to diners who currently get their lunches from salad bars or bring them from home, they hope these new items will cover them in glory for providing the consumer with "healthy" choices.
But serving up salads provides formidable obstacles to the chains. For one thing, you can't freeze the ingredients forever; things like lettuce and tomatoes are fundamentally perishable, and they contain bugs and other nuisances inconsistent with the inoffensive, homogenized nature of fast food. They also don't conform well to the factory methods promulgated by fast-food giants. Lettuce must be washed and kept fluffed up, and even then it goes bad after a couple of days.
The salad with one envelope of the raspberry "vinaigrette" applied
Wendy's new entry in this increasingly crowded field is the Berry Almond Chicken Salad. It comes in two sizes, but is a clearly a marquee item, conceived of as an entrée and advertised across the country with the tagline, "Discover the berry best of summer." Why would an entrée salad have to contain berries?
My salad came with strawberries and blueberries, plus mixed lettuces, thin shards of gouda-like cow's milk cheese, grilled chicken breast, and two plastic envelopes of "Fat Free Raspberry Vinaigrette." Unaccountably, there are no almonds, despite the name of the salad. The entire thing comes in a big, thick plastic tub. No environmentalist ideas contaminated the thinking of whoever came up with the packaging.
Let's review the ingredients individually and assign letter grades.
Lettuces -- These are unimpeachably fresh and perfectly washed, but were probably purchased that way, making you wonder if there's a salmonella scare in the future. Nevertheless, the mixture is thoughtful, including romaine among the baby lettuces in various striking hues, like something you might buy at Whole Foods. There's no mention of organic, however. Grade: A
Strawberries -- There are only two, cut into quarters, making eight pieces. They're a bit woody and too tart, but, hey, they're real strawberries. Grade: B+
Blueberries -- The blueberries are sparse, too, which makes me kind of glad, because fruit in a savory salad is an iffy proposition to me. The flavor is OK, but not good enough to make me take them out of the salad before pouring on the "vinaigrette." Grade: B+
Two new selections at Wendy's aim to snare foodies and the health conscious.
Cheese -- The cheese is artfully cut into thin, thin slices, like they do it in fancy restaurants when it's put on a salad, and the cheese is good, but notably a hard, long-lasting cheese. Much better than the extruded curls of cheese food product you might find at, say, Taco Bell. Grade: A
Grilled Chicken Breast -- While you might like some skin and dark meat on your salad, the grilled chicken breast -- cut in strips and still warm -- is the best you're going to get in a fast-food chain. It has a slight smoky flavor, too. Grade: B
Almonds -- Since there were none evident, I have no idea how good or bad they might be. And, like the grade you receive if you fail to turn in an assignment, this merits the lowest possible mark. Grade: F
Raspberry Vinaigrette -- The salad so far has been fine, definitely worth eating with a few minor exceptions. But the dressing totally blows; it's one of the worst things I can imagine putting on a salad. For one thing, what's the "fat free" all about? A vinaigrette must contain oil; with no oil it can't be called vinaigrette. (The first four ingredients, by weight, are sugar, water, raspberries including dehydrated, and corn syrup.) The texture is gooey, almost gummy, sweet enough to make your teeth fall out just looking at it. Pouring soda pop on your salad would be more savory. Grade: F
The best entrée salads, unless served with rolls, breads, or lavash, should contain some carbs and some fat, and this salad has neither. It might be an all right meal choice if you bring your own dressing, even good bottled dressing might do, or little carafes of oil and vinegar, and a shake of salt. But then wouldn't you look stupid in the Wendy's with your own little bottled condiments?
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