Last night, Swagger, FF, and I took a jaunt in the jalopy so I could bribe them into eating some of the fast food world’s newest offerings. I ended up eating this one myself, the new Berry Almond Chicken Salad from Wendy’s along with their new Wild Berry Tea. The press release came in a scant three hours before I tried the salad, and boasted a plethora of things I love, including an exhaustive array of one specific component of the salad. Or so I thought. What with the recent mayonnaise-based chicken salad popularity in the Subway and Arby’s markets, I expected a similar coup from their female counterpart with the advertising focused on the trendy acai and fruit additions, but it turned out to look like most of the salads on the commercial market today.
All of the components of this salad were represented differently than how I’d expected them to be. With an absurd $6.99 price tag, I inwardly groaned. Not because I’d also just bought Swagger twenty five spicy chicken nuggets, but because I’d never willingly spent so much on a vegetable based salad before. From the get-go, the salad distinctly separates itself into two categories: ingredients that work well together, and ingredients that just fall short.
This being the first day of the salad’s nationwide debut, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that my local Wendy’s employees got the chicken wrong. Instead of the grilled chicken, one of the spicy chicken fillets was diced up in the salad. Oddly enough, this combination worked. With the nutty creaminess from the parmesan, the chicken’s spice was toned down and I found myself enjoying the different play of textures within each bite. The salad appears to give you your money’s worth in the parmesan department. The entire upper third of my bowl was filled with curly parmesan slices. The berries, though obviously fresh and juicy, came few and far between with each bite. The blueberries erred toward the anemic side and ended up uselessly rolling into the nether regions of the bowl, but the strawberries were the real star of the show, providing less flavor than the more powerful proteins, but a sweetness that balanced the dish out. The lettuce, some pieces clearly leftover from crappy iceberg salads and others, leafy and earthy, brought it all together with an interesting textural distinction and vaguely healthy air.
Honestly, if the salad had just stopped at chicken, cheese, berries, and a little arugula on top, I’d have been happy right there. With the addition of more textural elements, like the raspberry-acai vinaigrette and the toasted almonds, the salad took an irritating spin toward the overloaded. Both the nuts and the sauce completely disappeared behind the wakes of the more powerful flavors. The sauce left a wet, acidic aftertaste behind and the nuts acted as though they weren’t there at all. It bothered me that elements that definitely bumped the price and calorie level of the salad played no integral role in improving the flavor.
Overall, I was pleased that Wendy’s, in attempting to go beyond the traditional constraints of limp, over-dressed fast food vegetal fare, provided a good prototype for its imitators, but could not find enough to enjoy about this salad that justified its price tag and uniqueness. In a fast food market, this is an anomaly, but for home cooks, Wendy’s isn’t reinventing the wheel.