Fast Food: Wendy's Berry Almond Chicken Salad Is Actually Spectacular
I generally forget my nutritional worries before I even enter a fast food restaurant. There are times and places for caring about what you put into your body, but I tend to find myself in a different, greasier frame of mind as soon as I get within fry-sniffing distance of the front door. I regard fast food as an occasional indulgence, and as such I try to treat it with the respectful abandon any good indulgence demands.
This is why I had never had a bite of a fast food salad until yesterday. I like fruits and vegetables plenty and eat them daily, but my lifelong policy has been that if the restaurant has plastic forks, packeted condiments, and the capacity to Baconate, I've got saturated fat to attend to. But the combination of a Wendy's ad campaign and my newfound desire to win the 2016 bronze in synchronized diving compelled me to try the redheaded temptress's new Berry Almond Chicken Salad.
At a staggering $6.49, this is one of the most expensive standalone items in the fast food marketplace, but I assure you it's worth it. This salad is a substantial meal that provides a reasonably well distributed 460 calories (i.e., it's not all dressing and croutons and bacon bits) and takes the better part of an honest lunch break to eat. This berry-laden beast is also available in half portions, which I recommend to anyone with a desk-drawer banana about to go bad or perhaps a relentless thirst for a small order of chili.
The salad comes with two containers of predictably insipid fat-free raspberry vinaigrette, which I recommend tossing immediately; desperate wet-salad fetishists might try to trade the syrupy razz juice in for mustard or chili runoff, or perhaps a squirt of Mountain Dew. It's best to just address this salad in its naked state. But the tasteful and nonallergic are encouraged to add the entire 0.5-ounce packet of slivered almonds. Half an ounce of almonds goes a long way, and I appreciate the separate packaging. I had allotted time to pick out what I expected to be the scarce slivers and then gluing them back together into whole almonds and complaining that you can't put almonds in a thing's name if the totality of the nut chunks only equals an almond and a half's worth, but I guess I'll save that rant for the charlatans behind Vanilla Almond Special K.
We were talking about Wendy's salad. Yes. The almonds are very good and plentiful, as are the strawberries. You get about four big berries' worth of quarters that taste as good as any strawberries I've had this summer, for real. The blueberries were less impressive: a medium-sized handful of little ones that tasted curiously devoid of either sweetness or tartness and pretty much got lost in the shuffle. They didn't hurt anything, but they certainly didn't help, either.
An aspiring Olympian needs protein, of course, and that's where Wendy earns the bulk of her $6.49. The chicken is simultaneously firm and moist (though slightly oversalted); this salad comes with what looks to be enough bird for a deluxe sandwich, maybe 5 ounces or so. It was served fresh from the whatever-they-use-to-heat-the-meat device, and I found it somewhat disconcerting to watch steam rise from my pile of berries and lettuces, but I got over it quickly enough to appreciate the contrast between hot chicken and cool everything else.
This healthful feast was rounded out by a dozen half-Band-Aid-sized strips of surprisingly assertive Asiago and a giant portion of greens. Wendy's says the base layer is composed of "eleven types of freshly chopped field greens." I could pick out arugula, baby spinach, red leaf, and iceberg; I'm sure the other seven were in there somewhere. The greens were as good as most bagged salads, which is to say nothing special but plenty good enough to host an ambitious salad.