Cafe Society

Wendy's new summer berry items -- ditch the chicken and toss the cookies

Why did the chicken breast fillet cross the road? To get the f*ck away from Wendy's employees who would most certainly cook it into a salty, leathery hunk of dreck.

Wendy's just rolled out two fresh berry-oriented seasonal menu items for summer: the Berry Almond Chicken Salad and Strawberry Shortcake Frosty Parfait. Although I am always suspicious of fast-food chicken items, I tend to like anything made with Frosty, so on a very unfrosty day I headed over to the Wendy's at 857 East Colfax Avenue to try them both.

I've tried Wendy's other salads, including the BLT Cobb (good) and the Apple Pecan Chicken (bad). Wendy's somehow manages to screw up grilled chicken breasts like Arby's jacks up roast beef, which is unfortunate for customers who are making at least a perfunctory effort to eat healthier, and don't want to order the fried chicken sandwiches or nuggets.

The new Berry Almond Chicken Salad looked fantastic in the ads, as did the parfait. I'm a realist, so I didn't expect to be delivered the airbrushed beauty -- but I also hoped they would be at least a step up from gas-station salads and soft-serve cups. And as I lifted the plastic lids from my half-sized salad and small parfait, I was initially optimistic.

The salad was iceberg lettuce (meh-meh-meh) with a smattering of baby greens; a generous pile of probably processed and oddly uniform Asiago cheese shavings; a few fresh blueberries; a few slices of fresh strawberry; the dreaded grilled chicken breast, cut up into ragged squares; and side bags of fat-free raspberry vinaigrette and roasted almonds.

The dressing was surprisingly good -- just enough berry, sugar and vinegar to balance -- and the berries were plump, ripe and flavorful. An abundance of cheese is never a turn-off, and I was digging the excess of crunchy almonds.

I tried a bite of chicken. I didn't like it. I tried another bite with some dressing on it -- I didn't like it. I am, as Dan Savage calls it -- good, giving and game (GGG), so I tried a bite of chicken with lettuce, cheese, dressing and a slice of strawberry.

I still did not like it, because it's difficult to disguise a badly-prepared protein in a salad. The chicken was supposed to be hot but wasn't; it was also salty as a salt lick for deer, rigid and cracked on the outside, and rubbery on the inside. I scraped it into a napkin and sank it into the nearest trash can, and went on eating the rest of the salad, which was actually worth finishing.

I might even order it again, minus the chicken and with extra berries and cheese instead.

The parfait started out really well: What could go wrong with a vanilla Frosty filled with slices of fresh strawberries? But then my spoon hit something hard...a layer of what Wendy's advertised as "shortbread cookies," but were actually cookie crumbs -- really hard-ass cookie crumbs. The crumbs were hard as sugar-covered gravel and hurt my teeth to chew; they kept getting caught in all those delicate places inside my mouth that were easily scratched.

I tried to fish out as many blonde asphalt crumbs as I could while still eating as much of the strawberry-Frosty part as I could. I got to the bottom of the cup, only to find a layer of fakey-strawberry syrup -- and for the death of me I couldn't figure out why Wendy's would mix fresh strawberries with fake syrup.

Wendy's should go with real shortcake for this parfait, or at least shortbread that can be eaten without mouth injury.

Still, I would order this again -- sans syrup and cookie crumbs. And one more request:

Pretty please, Wendy's -- with a strawberry on top -- could you stop making terrible grilled chicken?

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz