In almost four years of being a professional cheeseburger reviewer (and even longer being a damn serious cheeseburger eater), I'd never seen as much advance hype for a fast-food burger rollout as I did for the new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy's. Now it's available all summer long...although if this thing makes the splash that the chain is counting on, you can probably expect to see it added to the permanent menu. And maybe more so than with any other limited-time offering in memory, how you feel about Wendy's Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger will likely boil down to how you feel about Wendy's, period.
After product testing in Cleveland, Miami, and Sacramento earlier this year, the new burger ($4.59 at my local shop) reportedly scored off the charts with tasters, "outperforming any other promotional hamburger in recent Wendy's history," according to the company's press release.
Mine had all the promised accoutrements: the signature squared-off Wendy's beef patty atop cheddar cheese, then topped with more cheddar (in sauce form), a spring mix of greens, applewood-smoked bacon, tomato, red onion, and honey mustard sauce, all crowned by the element that some in the fast-food biz are actually calling a "game-changer," the hand-cut pretzel bun. (That means expect to see copycat versions from other chains.) But as burgers-in-a-box go, this one had legitimate heft and bright, colorful toppings and looked awfully tasty. And this is coming from a guy who is admittedly not a Wendy's fan. (I know they always do well in the surveys, and there are Wendy's diehards already flexing their typing fingers and preparing to crucify me in the comments section below, but the pigtailed girl and I have just never warmed up to each other, at least not over her burgers.)
Given a choice, I'll pick almost any other fast food outlet over Wendy's, and when I don't have a choice, I'll usually order one of their chicken sandwiches over their burgers. As a paid cheeseburger reviewer, I should probably be able to put my finger on precisely why I don't traditionally care for Wendy's hamburgers, but I can't. I just know that I prefer Burger King and Hardee's and Jack in the Box and Culver's to Wendy's when it comes to beef.
That said, my Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger was good. Very, very good. It's easily my favorite Wendy's burger, as blatantly backhanded a compliment as that now sounds. My point is, if you totally dig Wendy's burgers, you'll totally flip for this. And even if Wendy's burgers don't do much for you as a rule, you'll probably like it pretty well.
The bun is obviously the star of the show, and deservedly so. It's substantial, dense, chewy, and internally airy all at the same time. According to the chain, the buns are made using "the same authentic process of traditional soft pretzels," and it's unmistakable from your first bite. The large-grain salt is all that's missing. But the coarse honey-mustard sauce does a wonderful job of playing up the pretzel theme and is a welcome addition that adds integral lubrication to this burger.
The red onion and spring mix (nine different greens!) are nice add-ons, too, elevating this to almost "fancy burger" status. Wendy's literature describes it as "pub-style," which I think goes a touch far, but still, this is a serious step up from a 99-cent Junior Bacon Cheeseburger.
At the end of the day, though, this is an ordinary Wendy's burger served on a special bun. That's what sets this apart. The bun. It's the bun that's in the name of the sandwich. It's the bun that they're praying brings you in to Wendy's. (When was the last time anybody in the fast-food industry put that kind of pressure on a bun? That black-bunned Star Wars thing from Quick in France?)
I hope the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger lights it up for Wendy's. I hope they add it to the full-time menu, because I'd absolutely order it again. But I also not-so-secretly hope they branch out with those pretzel buns and create some new chicken sandwich choices. Because it may be Wendy's best burger...but it's still a Wendy's burger.
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