Fast Food Review: New! Berry Almond Chicken Salad from Wendy’s
There are two types of people in the world: those who don’t really like salads, and those who love them. Despite what you may think you know about my eating habits from the reviews I’ve done here on GrubGrade, I am in the latter category. I am so much in the latter category, in fact, that I acquired the nickname of “that dude with the big salad” during my time in the college dining halls. Whether it be watermelon and tomatoes over spring green with red onion and feta, or beets and orange segments with a sprinkle of lime juice, my dining hall salad creations knew no bounds.
All that being said, I can’t remember the last time I actually ordered a salad at a fast food restaurant. It’s just one of those things, you know? I mean, OK, I can trust an industrial fryer when it comes to cooking mechanically separated chicken with tons of additives; but a fresh, light, and composed assortment of seasonal vegetables? Haha, good luck with that.
Of course, every once in a while a place like Wendy’s will roll the dice on the proverbial salad game, betting the drive towards ‘healthier’ options will lead consumers to take to something like their Berry Almond Chicken Salad. It almost never works out that way, but judging from comments here at GrubGrade over the last month or, it so seems to be a hit. If nothing else, its description certainly leaves one impressed and willing to try:
…bursting with the freshness of summer. Plump blueberries and ripe, hand-sliced strawberries. They’re grown right here in the U.S. and filled with antioxidants. Topped with tender, grilled chicken breast, Asiago cheese, roasted almonds and our all natural fat-free raspberry vinaigrette.
In the interest of full disclosure, I purchased this salad with a gift card provided by a Wendy’s representative. This point aside, I’m being completely objective when I say I found the salad overpriced, unbalanced, and hardly substantial. I also found it to be Exhibit A in why I stay clear of salads at fast food places, and why there really is no truth in advertising. Retailing at $6.49 for a large salad, my Wendy’s salad contained exactly eight blueberries, and approximately one and a half large strawberries. I cannot say for certain that it didn’t contain 11 “freshly chopped” greens, yet as you can see from the pictures, it looked like mostly iceberg to me. And let’s be clear, in terms of the actual composition of the salad, it was mostly iceberg.
To be fair, the berries were plump, and the greens weren’t wilted or dry, but the lack of substance is hardly what one expects for paying for the single most expensive menu item. The portion of “Asiago” cheese was generous, but its flavor – not to mention the thick shavings – didn’t mesh with the other ingredients. The cheese was more earthy (think bitter, ‘musky’) than nutty and complex, was too loud in terms of weight, and had none of the subtle sweet notes that finer shavings of fresh Asiago would lend. A valiant attempt, but in the quality given, more of a distraction than anything else.
Which leads me to the chicken. While my salad was pulled from a fridge, the chicken was warm. I think it’s a mistake to serve it warm given the ethos this salad is trying to convey, but the breast itself was above complaints, albeit for a few stringy pieces and the usual saltiness. The almonds provided a nice contrast, but the advertised smoke flavor was minimum, and I didn’t think it did much for the salad. The dressing – apparently chock-full of antioxidants – had no balance or astringency. It was too sweet and had a weird viscosity. Also, why the heck is it a “vinaigrette?” Xantham gum is not oil, and while I appreciate the attempt to keep the fat down, don’t insult the artful approach of dressing a salad by giving me 100 calories worth of syrup and calling it a “vinaigrette.”
I’m being hard on this salad, I realize, and truth be told, it’s not bad. But with the salad’s steep price tag, it bears scrutiny. Keep in mind consumers DO NOT expect to pay more for healthier options, yet this is what Wendy’s is expecting them to do. Eight blueberries and a strawberry and a half is not acceptable, and it led to an unbalanced meal that relied too much on a bitter and fake tasting Asiago cheese, way too much iceberg lettuce, and a “vinaigrette” with no body, tang, or complexity. The salad would benefit from red onion and a milder, creamier cheese. It may be fine for people looking to eat healthy at a fast food place on a limited basis, but is it the kind of menu item a loyal salad eater (and cost conscious individual) comes back to? My answer is a definitive “no.”
Pros: Fruit is fresh and plump. Chicken is whole breast, meaty and juicy. Almonds give salad a nice textural contrast. Very good source of protein.
Cons: Insufficient fruit to warrant the price. Warm chicken does not match with the cold storage method nor ethos of the summer salad. Too much lettuce. Dressing lacks in richness. Could use sour notes. Cheese has funky, half-melted texture on cold greens. Not as 'healthy' as made out to be, seeing as though it has more trans fat than the Entenmann's donut I ate for dinner and more sodium than the Arby's Beef 'n Cheddar I had last night.
Grubbing on-the-go: 5.75/10
Price: 6.49 (paid for by Wendy's)
Overall GrubGrade: 5.50 (mediocre)
More Info: Wendys.com
Berry Almond Chicken Salad (full salad with dressing)
Calories – 450
Total Fat – 16 grams
Saturated Fat – 6 grams
Trans Fat: 0.5 grams
Carbs – 42 grams
Cholesterol – 95 milligrams
Sodium – 1300 milligrams
Sugars – 30 grams
Dietary Fiber – 6 grams
Protein – 38 grams