The most surprising thing about my first year as a fast food correspondent is how little time I've spent at McDonald's. I've been focusing mostly on new items, and it seems the chains beneath the market leader feel much more pressure to innovate and adapt. The clown can just keep pumping out Big Macs and McNuggets, whereas the competition is compelled to throw many more burgers at the menu board.
Burger King has been the most aggressive risk-taker lately. Just this past summer they put bacon on ice cream, sweet potatoes in the fryolator, and the kitchen sink atop a Whopper. Now they've rolled out a bunch of new back-to-school sandwiches, highlighted by their take on chicken parm.
Everybody likes a good chicken parmesan sandwich, and an easy-grading mensch like myself even appreciates a mediocre one. Because I set the bar pretty low for this category of bird-on-bread, I was only somewhat pessimistic when I started to hear bad things about BK's whirl. The combination of fried chicken*, tomato sauce, and cheese is so appealing to me that it would take almost willful negligence on the King's part to send me away unsatisfied.
*The sandwich is also available with grilled chicken, but give me a break. Grilled fast food chicken has its place, but we're talking about chicken parm here: Fry it or leave it.
The gray band where the patty hits the batter didn't affect the taste, but still, eww.
The bun was pretty good. Burger King and I have different definitions of "toasted"—the eerie dark dapples on the chicken-side are supposed to suggest proper toasting but are really just the bread version of fake grill marks—but that's all right. The bun was warm, fresh, and medium dense without being overstuffed.
The sauce was a disappointment. What looked like a fair portion applied to both halves of the bun turned out to be insufficient due to a pronounced lack of flavor. It was semi-arid tomato paste with a lot of salt, a little pepper, and no herb character to justify the few flakes of green matter shown in the photo below. Burger King definitely needs to take a page from the pizzeria playbook and err on the sloppy side, since this is the rare case where more of an underwhelming ingredient would help. If there was enough of this bland sauce to make a respectable mess, it would go a long way toward replicating the chicken parm experience that inspired this sandwich in the first place.
The cheese wasn't any good, either. It's a two-toned arrangement dominated by flavorless melted mozzarella. I could see the parmesan shavings underneath the mozzalanche, but I sure couldn't taste them. The cheese layer had a nice texture and ably performed its binding duties, but you can't get away with taste-free cheese when you're already serving bland marinara.
The chicken wasn't good enough to completely right such a raggedy ship, but an excellent fry job combined with reasonable moisture and tenderness salvaged this gentle critic's lunch. I'm a sucker for anything even vaguely reminiscent of a good chicken parm sandwich, but that doesn't prevent me from recognizing the BK Chicken Parm's significant flaws. If you're a die-hard member of the parm army, this will do. But if you're merely a civilian looking for the best way to spend $4.89 and 630 calories, Burger King has better options for you.