Review: The W Burger from Wendy’s
I can count on two hands the amount of fast food cheeseburgers I have eaten over the past year. One was horrendous (McDonald’s BBQ Bacon Chipotle Angus), a few were above average (notably, the Double Angus Cheeseburger from Arctic Circle), and two were absolutely the best things I have ever put into my mouth.
Then again, that’s what you’d expect from a cult icon like In-N-Out’s Double Double Animal Style.
But something from Wendy’s? Meh, not so much. So pardon me if I wasn’t the first in line for Wendy’s new “W” Burger when it debuted recently. Lesser, more snarky writers might be quick to make a potentially insulting association between the burger and our former President, but there’s no mistaking the image Wendy’s marketing department was looking to conjure up with its description of their newest double cheeseburger.
When it comes to the new “W”, we’ve crammed in the best for less. We’re talkin’ two patties of 100% pure beef, two slices of American cheese, thick-sliced tomato, and our savory signature sauce — all on a buttered, toasted bun. And at $2.99*, big flavor doesn’t have to mean big bucks.
Sound familiar? Of course it does, right on down to that “signature” sauce which may or may not be akin to the special “spread” that In-N-Out has made so famous. Of course, I wasn’t expecting to be delivered anything close to what In-N-Out has perfected. The very epitome of a fast food burger, the Double Double “Animal Style” works because of scientifically proven factors that include its unique cooking preparation, ridiculously high fat content of the beef, and unmatched quality of ingredients (by the way, Kenji’s treatise is required reading on this subject). To ask Wendy’s to even ballpark that is a bit unrealistic, but given my East Coast exile and the plenitude of that freckled face girl, is making a better than average, hey-it’s-actually-kinda-good double cheeseburger unrealistic? Not at all.
Now, before you ask, you should know that when I went into my Wendy’s I began with the ubiquitous “weird question for ya,” to the manager. Looking at me like I was from another planet, she proceeded to allow me to continue.
“Can ya’ll, uh, grill the onions on the griddle with the meat?” I asked, hoping to cheat the system in a relatively empty dining room at 10:45 in the morning.
“No,” she responded promptly and without sympathy, as if warned from some corporate indoctrination program that In-N-Out loving hooligans like myself would attempt to ask this very question. Somewhere, I imagined, Dave Thomas frowning and preparing lightning bolts.
A bummer, no doubt, but I proceeded to pony up my $2.99, and was greeted several minutes later by a warm burger wrapped in a wax paper cover that evoked the spirit of said Double Double. Smiling at the dude who made the burger, I scurried away, intent on dissecting and devouring one of the most hyped fast food products of the year.
First thought? No, it didn’t exactly look like the promotional photo, but it didn’t look as bad as I had anticipated. Dare I say it actually looked kinda good, albeit for a large piece of pathetic looking iceberg shoved awkwardly on top of the beef. Toppings on the top? Now that’s an inversion of the classic, and not a happy one at first inspection. It didn’t help that it appeared noticeably smaller than what I remember from In-N-Out, and definitely was not as tall. Instead of the four pickles I saw in the photo I only received two pickles, while the heavy-handed “new guy” who put the sauce on made it difficult to detect where exactly the second piece of cheese was located (more on this later). Still, we all know looks can be deceiving. Undaunted, I took a bite.
The sauce was the first flavor I noticed. Applied on each bun half, it dominates the entire bite, and not in a good way. It’s a little too one-note, lacking brightness or discernible zing. It’s not as sweet as what In-N-Out uses, with very little in the way of ketchup flavor and a viscosity which doesn’t make it favorable for grubbing on the go. I’m not a fan, and I could have done without it. The cheese, meanwhile, is actually fairly mild. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t reach the deliciously addictive melty gooey stage that In-N-Out manages, but then again it is more melted than most fast food American slices come. Given that’s it’s between two beef patties I’d expect that, although the flavor does seem to lack the usual saltiness. The veggies, meanwhile, are an afterthought. The raw red onion slice is too thin to give much contrast in texture or bite, while the single slice of tomato is drowned out by the spread. This isn’t the “onion soup” intensity of the Double Double Animal Style, and makes me wonder why Wendy’s even bothers to include them at all.
Still, I find myself liking two aspects of the burger in particular. The bun — with a buttery sheen and supremely well toasted interior, is sweet and certainly fresh. Warm, soft, and with a slight chew, I actually like it better than buns I’ve received at some fast casuals, including Five Guys. Also, the beef is really quite good for what one would expect from a value burger at one of the “Big Three” of fast food. This was my first time having a Wendy’s burger in about a year and a half, and I liked the meaty, slightly sweet finish. While the two patties are not huge, together they form something which is fairly substantial, and despite a slightly stringy chew, do retain a fair amount of moisture and fat. There’s actually a little crust development as well — which, mind you, you’ll never find at McDonald’s.
But the burger isn’t close to the Double Double, and leaves me wanting more. Specifically, it leaves me wanting another piece of cheese. You may have noticed this from the pictures, but it took me about half the burger before it occurred to me that the second slice of cheese I had at first assumed was either under the second patty or mixed with the other slices between the two patties might not have actually been there. Instead, I’m 90% certain I had only one slice of cheese, and instead was just partitioned a way too generous portion of sauce where another piece of cheese could have gone. When I reported this to the manager she seemed to care less. “Hey, you know, he’s the new guy,” she told me. I looked at her for a second, attempting to see if she’d offer anything else. New guy or not, he has seen the picture on the promo plastered all over the store, television, and in the paper, correct?!?!
She did. “I can give you another slice of cheese if you’d like,” she said before hustling to do something else. Seeing as though I had already eaten the whole burger, a single, cold piece of processed cheese didn’t seem very appetizing. So I left, content to contemplate what Wendy’s has gotten right and what it hasn’t in its great foray into the mid-priced value double cheeseburger.
The more I think about it though, the more I’m convinced I liked the “W.” I didn’t love it by any means –and God knows I probably put something tastier in my mouth that very day, much less the entire year — but I honestly enjoyed it for what it was. Yes, even with all its baggage (from the misunderstood construction to the forgettable sauce) the burger itself remained juicy, meaty, and guilty-tasting enough that it called to mind that classic fast food eating experience. Is it something I’ll order regularly? Heck no, and I hope someone from Wendy’s takes a good look at these criticisms and uses them in developing a product which can, and should, do more. But at $2.99 and with that kind of national availability, the “W” has potential. And while it may leave you a little disappointed immediately after experiencing it, when you really look back on it in perspective, you might find, like me, that it really wasn’t too bad after all.
Kind of like a certain other “W,” if you know what I’m saying.
Pros: Beef has meaty qualities and sweet, grainy finish. Seasoned just right, it displays nooks and crannies with slight exterior crust. Two patties better than one. Cheese is better melted than most fast food cheese. Bun is exceptional, with both richness and sweetness and light chew. Price point is competitive, especially in value meal with choice of side. Sneaking in potentially unpopular political references in as inoffensive a way as possible.
Cons: Limitations of cooking and preparation hold burger back from anything mind-blowing. Onions would be better grilled. Sauce is surprisingly boring and way too viscous. Does not look like the advertisement. Poor customer service. Veggies are an afterthought. Beef cannot be cooked to order and is a bit stringy. Toppings would be better on the bottom. 580 calories in seven and a half bites. No hats or stickers.
Grubbing on-the-go: 4.50/10
Price: 2.99 for single sandwich, $4.99 for combo
Overall GrubGrade: 7.50/10
More Info: Wendys.com
"W" Burger from Wendy's
Total Fat: 33 g
Sat Fat: 14 g
Trans Fat: 1.5 g
Cholesterol: 105 mg
Sodium: 1480 mg
Carbs: 40 g
Fiber: 3 g