Reality Check: Wendy's Cheesy Cheddarburger
I meant to review Wendy's Cheesy Cheddarburger last week, but I didn't get around to it for several reasons, one of which is somewhat valid: They've very recently closed the two outlets closest to my apartment, so I had my earnest attempts at Cheesiness thwarted on consecutive days.
I wasn't sure if this was just my bad luck or a sign of greater trouble for my favorite childhood burgermonger, so I dug around online for a few minutes and learned that despite having its heels gnawed off by rapidly expanding burgeratti darlings Five Guys and In-N-Out, Wendy's 2011 sales are actually expected to have surpassed Burger King's for the first time. But Wendy's has performed the neat trick of moving up to second place in overall fast food sales while actually reducing its number of stores, and it seems the two closest to me were among the underperformers that got the ax.
For shame? I thought so, but I couldn't be sure until I found a living, breathing Wendy's at which to begin my reeducation. I ended up at a Wendy's that was quieter than expected at 5:30 on a Friday, and also much more romantically lit than the industry norm. But to be fair, they are managing to pay two floors' worth of rent in an expensive part of downtown Boston; and furthermore, we didn't come here to talk about their stock price, we came here to talk about their burgers.
It's to Wendy's credit that they're responded to increased competition by shaking things up in recent months. In September, they rolled out a line of new burgers with the unfortunate name Hot 'N Juicy (see our review), and they've upgraded the buns on their premium burgers.
Among the new high-end burgers, I was most drawn to the Baconator models, one of which was advertised in-store as "Where Savory Meets Savage." I don't necessarily look for savagery in my dinner, but if I'm spending $4.99 on a standalone fast food hamburger, I want to be a little intimidated. But I stuck with my original plan to try the Cheesy Cheddarburger, because its minimal modification—cheddar sauce atop a regular single cheeseburger—offered a chance to evaluate not just the sandwich in question but also the overall state of the Wendy's cheeseburger.
Wendy's seems to be focusing on both the high and low ends of the market, while leaving the couple-buck middle range relatively underdeveloped. All the new $5 monsters are bracketed by the 99-cent (and 99-centish) Value Menu, which I've always regarded as the best in the business. I got my Cheesy Cheddarburger for $0.99, which is a promotional price if the $1.59 listed on the wall menu means anything.
The first thing I noticed about the Cheesy Cheddar is its size. Wendy's recently reduced the size of the Value Menu stalwart Junior Bacon Cheeseburger to maintain the low price, and the Cheesy Cheddarburger is also pretty pipsqueaky. It's certainly not too small to cost a dollar, so I'm not complaining, but the fact remains: This is just a little bit of food.
This is served on a first-generation Wendy's bun, since the new buttered and occasionally griddled ones are reserved for loftier pursuits, such as Baconation. The allergy section of their website also reports that the Cheesy Cheddarburger is egg-free, whereas the deluxe burgers (meaning deluxe buns) are not. I might have been eating their second-string bun, but I was still plenty pleased with it. It tasted like the whitest of white bread, but had good density and a nicely sweet edge.
The melted cheese on top—this sandwich's claim to modest fame—tastes like ballpark nacho sauce. It might as well be melted American with an extra shake of salt, but it's a welcome addition simply by virtue of being warm, unlike the slice of cold yellow cheese underneath the burger.
The meat was bad. It had a fair bit of salt, but not enough to mask the sourness. Not sour as in "spoiled"; sour as in "born bad and unimproved." This was by far the worst beef I've had in my couple months on the fast food beat. In addition to subpar flavor, this busted burger was undercooked and rubbery.
It's rumored that Wendy's chili—which I like—is made up of would-be discarded burgers, and if that's the case, I guess I like overcooked pinto beans and spicy tomato water more than I knew.