Cafe Society

Burger King's new menu plays catch-up -- and kung pao -- with McDonald's

Burger King issued a battle cry yesterday. In order to help boost its sluggish sales -- the chain has slipped to third, behind McDonald's and Wendy's -- the company rolled out the heavy artillery: ten new menu items, including specialty salads, chicken snack wraps, smoothies, flavored frozen coffee drinks, some slightly revamped burgers and a chicken-strip reboot. Some of these items sounded suspiciously like what McDonald's started introducing back in 2003. Has BK learned anything in the decade since then? I decided to find out.

At dinner last night at the Burger King at 32nd Avenue and Downing Street, I ordered the new BK Strawberry Banana and Tropical Mango smoothies; the BK Mocha Frappé; a Ranch Crispy Chicken Snack Wrap; the Chicken, Apple & Cranberry and Chicken BLT Garden Fresh Salads; the new BK Chef's Choice bacon and bleu-cheese burger; and four of the new BK Toppers burgers: BBQ, Mushroom & Swiss, Bacon & Cheddar and Deluxe Cheeseburger. And for dessert, I had the new-recipe chicken strips, with the new Kung Pao dipping sauce.

Are any of these new BK items cheaper and/or tastier than the versions at McDonald's? Are the remade burgers better than the old BK burgers? And do those chicken strips justify plopping your ass down in a hard, plastic seat? Here's my assessment:

BK Strawberry Banana and Tropical Mango smoothies and the BK Mocha Frappé

I was expecting BK to have those imposing metal, frozen-beverage makers that just splurt the drinks into plastic cups, but the employees actually have to make the frozen drinks to order in industrial-sized blenders, one by one. That's a pain in the hinders for counter-side employees, and even with the restaurant almost empty and the drive-thru business sporadic, none of the frozen drinks I got were blended long enough, resulting in some seriously ice-hunky beverages.

The strawberry-banana smoothie was less syrupy sweet than I expected -- far less so than the McD's version -- but weak on flavor, and too ice-heavy. Same story with the mango smoothie, which had some tiny bits of fruit sleeping at the bottom of the cup that clogged up my straw when I woke them up.The frappé tasted like cold, scorched milk -- not much coffee or mocha -- but the thick, fudge-sauce garnish on top of the excessive amount of whipped topping was delicious. I ate that and left the rest. Verdict: I'm not unrealistic enough to expect fresh fruit and fresh coffee from Burger King, but I've bought pre-made smoothie mix/iced coffee mix from the Queen Soopers for less money per serving that create drinks that taste far better than these sad, chunky, scorchy drinks. Nor are they better than the McDonald's versions. But since the McDoo's drinks are loaded with staggering amounts of sugar, BK's are slightly less likely to cause your kidneys to shut down.
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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz

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