Wendy's is currently the third-largest hamburger fast-food chain -- behind Burger King at number two, and McDonald's in the catbird seat -- and the company taste-testers are rolling out a new breakfast menu in select locations, complete with breakfast sandwiches, biscuits & gravy and, of course, breakfast burritos.
Wendy's execs made unsuccessful runs at a.m. fare in 1985, and again in 2007. But now it looks like the company is banking on the third time being a charm -- or at least figuring that if they can cough up a breakfast menu that won't have customers making beelines back to McDonald's, then that's a win.
I'll admit to having fairly low expectations. Burger King's breakfast -- aside from the mini cinnamon rolls -- is forgettable, and Taco Bell's recent dive into the breakfast market is incredibly pointless; McDonald's breakfast is my sure-thing fast-food morning stand-by. I'm not sure at what crossroads the McDonald's folks bartered their souls to get such a solid, consistent, appetizing breakfast menu, but I should find out so that I can go there and sell my immortal soul as well -- probably to acquire one of those mashed potato and gravy vending machines that are only available in gas stations overseas.
I stopped by the only Wendy's store in Denver proper serving the breakfast menu, from 5 to 10:30 a.m.; it's t's located inside the Pilot Travel Center at 4640 Steele Street. (You can also get breakfast at Wendy's outposts in Glendale, Westminster, Englewood, Lakewood, Golden, Aurora and Littleton. Wendy's breakfast menu has six core items: a Mornin' Melt Panini, artisan egg sandwich, steel-cut oatmeal, bacon fire-roasted burrito, fresh-baked biscuit sandwich and honey butter chicken biscuit. This Wendy's also had biscuits & gravy, so I skipped the oatmeal and got those instead.
The Panini was regular sandwich-sized, with buttered, grilled sourdough bread, a sausage patty or bacon strips, Asiago and Cheddar cheeses, tomato slices and egg. The bread was well-toasted and well-buttered; the cheese was melted; my sausage patty was juicy and salty; the tomatoes were fresh; and there were at least two real, actual eggs--fried hard, with plenty of pepper and salt, and akin to what I'd make at home. Very nice.
The artisan egg sandwich was served on a honey-wheat roll slathered on the inside with Hollandaise sauce and melty Asiago cheese, and layered with egg and three strips of bacon -- it was thin-sliced (fast-food places normally skimp on it), but smoky and crisp. All this breakfast sammie needed was an extra side of Hollandaise sauce, so I made a note to order one next time. Dunking things in Hollandaise sauce is one of the few reasons to wake up before noon on a weekday.
We can all afford to be picky about breakfast burritos since they're so readily available in Denver. The Wendy's burrito is made with a full-sized, multigrain tortilla and stuffed with bacon pieces, pepper-jack cheese, a warm mixture of roasted onions and peppers -- red and poblano -- and there had to be at least three eggs per burrito. The burrito is $3.99, so a little expensive, relatively speaking, but filling and tasty -- if you skip the packet of over-vinegared, not-very hot sauce.
Fast food biscuits are usually not the greatest, and even McDonald's biscuits are often stale, lacking flavor and too salty, but apparently Wendy's has a better supplier, because these have fluffy middles and golden crowns swept with honey and butter, and they are flaky and light enough to eat and not feel like you swallowed an iPad. Both the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich and the honey butter chicken biscuit were unexpectedly delicious -- especially the chicken sammie, which had a moist, well-seasoned fried chicken breast filet with an easy breading.
This would be a viable alternative to Chick-Fil-A: a passably good chicken sandwich without buying into homo-hating.
The biscuits & gravy were the same delicious biscuits smothered with white gravy--sporting a few nuggets of pre-fab probably-sausage. But at $1.99 a pop, this is a fast, hot, cheap-ass breakfast, and those of us who like biscuits & gravy are inclined to eat and occasionally enjoy the non-homemade varieties, made better by the complete lack of effort required.
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Overall, I'd say that Wendy's breakfast gets a firm thumbs-up -- not the middle digit I'd predicted -- and although it can't quite compare to the stellar rep that the egg McMuffin has earned, it at least wakes up on the same side of the bed as the McDonald's breakfast.