Reality Check »

Reviews of fast food burgers and a look at how the real life version compares to the advertised beauty shot.

We Try the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy's

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[This photo: Wendy's; All others: Todd Brock]

The Bread Boom continues. On the heels of their Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon Portabella Melt on Brioche experiments, Wendy's has rolled out another bun-centric limited-time offering. The Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger follows the same basic premise, spotlighting the innovative buns—even in the name—as opposed to what's between them.

But while they're fancying up the bookends by going all ciabatta on you, Wendy's has also upped their game with a few new toppings for this one. In addition to aged Asiago cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, and a nine-leaf mix of greens (all items that can already be found elsewhere across the Wendy's menu), the chain is debuting oven-roasted tomatoes and a rosemary-garlic aioli as well. It all makes for a damn attractive beauty shot and a tasty-as-hell-sounding burger.

The reality is far less impressive.

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By now, none of us is under any illusions about our fast food burgers really looking just like the ones in those full-color posters in the windows, but my first glimpse at my Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger ($4.89) made me immediately sad. Unmelted cheese, limp and wilted lettuce, no tomatoes within sight. A hastily-assembled attempt at best.

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For starters, my burger was in its little cardboard carrier upside down. At least some of those oven-roasted tomatoes had made a break for it, accompanied by a few lettuce leaves. And it was all sitting in a thoroughly ewwww-inducing puddle of what I can only assume was water from the veggies, having condensed during the five-minute ride back to my house. That ciabatta bun—the whole point of the burger—was...wet. Not the first adjective that Wendy's brass wants coming to mind for their new baby, I'm guessing, but there you have it.*

*It wasn't just a fluke, either. I bought two; one to eat right away for a taste perspective, and one to spend more time with shooting photos of afterward. Both upside down. Both sitting in a clear puddle of WTF-is-that-wait-I-don't-wanna-know.

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My peek under that ciabatta made me wish I hadn't. On one burger, the greens seemed mostly MIA; on the other, I couldn't find the tomatoes. One burger had almost none of the aioli; the other had aioli overload. But hey, it's fast food. I'm the 1 out of 100 that bothers with silly little details like that. Maybe when you cram it in your mouth while hunched over your desk or navigating traffic with your other hand, all of those gripes are just nitpicky nigglings from an overanalytic food writer.

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...........

Nope, the burger really kinda sucks.

Here's what I liked. The oven-roasted tomatoes and rosemary-garlic aioli—when they were present—were lovely additions, adding a surprisingly complex level of flavor. I just wish they had been on a better burger.

I typically find Wendy's beef to be very dry and bland; not even the tomatoes and aioli helped much here.The unmelted cheese was no help in that department either.

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Which brings me to the bun, the whole reason I'm supposedly buying the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger. On its own, the ciabatta was decent, I guess. (That in-the-box puddle dip took away any of the crustiness you might expect from the outermost layer, though.) As a burger bun, I'm not buying it. While a cross-section look shows an airy bubble structure, the bread has a dense bite to it that makes for difficult chewing.

Proportionately, there's too much bread once you get it all rolling around on your molars. I even did a little surgery and doubled up the burger patties on the back half (you can order it as a double), hoping that some added beef might balance things out. Some, but not enough. The overall combination of textures and consistencies here still bordered on tough. Pair all of that up with a dry burger, unmelted cheese, and haphazardly-slapped-together toppings, and this LTO was DOA for me.

I love that the megacorporate fast food burgermeisters are finally figuring out that the bun doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) an afterthought. (See: Hardee's new buns.) I love that we're putting burgers between things that no one would have thought of not that long ago. Brioche, pretzel bread...sure. Hell, doughnuts and grilled cheese sandwiches are totally fair game in my book. But when you start experimenting, you have to know that some of your trials will end with error.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.

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