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Monday, May 14, 2012

Wendy's new signature sides lack distinct handwriting

Wendy’s recently introduced three new signature sides: Mac ’n cheese, chili cheese fries and a baked sweet potato. They look pretty awesome in the advertising so over the course of the last two weeks I managed to try all three.

Chili cheese fries

This was the one everyone I heard from was the most excited to try. It sounds and looks super delicious on Wendy’s website. I used to love their chili, chips and cheese back when my siblings worked at Wendy’s when I was in middle school and kind of figured it would be the same thing subbing out tortilla chips for french fries.

Maybe I was misled by the appetizing photo Wendy’s shows of this dish on its website, but while the basic mechanics are identical, I think I prefer the discontinued chili, chips and cheese. The chips at least made scooping up all the yummy chili-cheese mixture easy.

The cheese-to-chili ratio seems way off; there’s too much cheese and not enough chili. The fries ended up a tad soggy. The container this side is packaged in (same one used for the baked potatos) has a ridged bottom, and that made it difficult to scoop up the bits of chili.

Bottom line: The chili was the draw for me. It's one of what I consider Wendy's marquis items. No other fast food restaurant ladles out good chili as consistently as Wendy's does, and I thought they skimped on that aspect of the dish. Also, the amount of fries (I’m guessing less than the Value fries) you’re getting for the price ($2.49 a la carte, or $1 more when subbed into a combo) seems low.

Nutrition: 570 calories, 30 grams of fat.

Mac ’n cheese

This was my favorite of the three side options.

Wendy’s version of this classic comfort food has a good creamy texture with thick, fat noodles. It’s very cheesy, and a little stringy, but not in a bad way. There is a a lot of sauce, making it kind of soupy, but again not in a bad way. I spooned up every last bit of it.

Bottom line: It’s a satisfying dish. I’m not sure if it’s $2.49 satisfying, but it’s probably a dollar-extra-if-you’re-already-getting-a-combo satisfying.

Nutrition: 370 calories, 19 grams of fat. Only a little more indulgent than small fries (320 calories, 16 grams of fat).

Baked sweet potato

I was unimpressed with this one. It probably didn’t help that the Wendy’s I went to neglected to give me the “all-natural buttery cinnamon spread.”

Without the spread, it was just a baked sweet potato: Nice and soft and yummy, but nothing special. In fact, I probably could have done a better job myself baking a sweet potato at home because the skin on my sweet potato appeared burnt and very unappetizing. I usually eat the skin on sweet potato, which adds nutrition to the dish, but barely nibbled on it.

Bottom line: I can’t really judge this dish, because I didn’t get the item as intended. The version I got was well-cooked but lacked any defining characteristic to make it memorable.

Nutrition: 380 calories, 9 grams of fat. If you cut out the cinnamon butter spread — as I did unintentionally — it’s down to 260 calories and 0 grams of fat.

I'm not sure what made these side dishes "signature" to Wendy's. Yes, they are the only fast food joint I know of to offer these dishes. But they don't really stand out to me. There's no distinct handwriting here that says "this is from Wendy's" to me.

— Nicole Franz | | @FranzOrFoe

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