Fast Food: Burger King's New Italian Basil Chicken Sandwich


I don't like to feature the same chain in consecutive reviews, but I'm breaking that rule so we can consider Burger King's new Italian Basil Chicken in the context of its sister sandwich, the largely disappointing Chicken Parmesan covered here last week.

Whereas the Chicken Parm sounded good on paper—it's not unreasonable to assume BK might pull off red sauce and white cheese on fried chicken—but fell apart in the execution, the Italian Basil sounds a bit suspect right out of the gate. I figured it had a shot at being a credible sandwich overall, but I was dubious about its reliance on basil to be the sole means of Italification. Sure, the ads also mention the nominally regional enhancements "melted mozzarella" and "ripe tomatoes," but those are ubiquitous on fast food chicken sandwiches. They may as well have called the whole wheat bun Italian on account of Italians sometimes eating bread.

I can dig a sandwich built around basil, but I was skeptical of the King's willingness and ability to top each sandwich with a sufficiently generous portion of good, fresh leaves. Well, silly me: They didn't even try. The word "basil" does not refer to whole fresh herbs or even a dried rub glued onto the chicken patty, but rather to a "flavorful creamy Italian basil sauce."

Uh oh. That conjures a little less Mediterranean magic and a little more creamy Italian salad dressing languishing in the scratch-and-dent condiment aisle at the dollar store, in the white section between the off-brand ranches and dairy-free blue cheeses. But maybe that's just my King-scarred and mayo-scared brain speaking; there would be no judgments made until I put my prejudices aside and ordered this 500-calorie (for grilled; fried is 640), $4.89 shot at redemption.

Well, the Italian Basil Chicken Sandwich is even worse than the pedestrian-at-best Chicken Parm. I'll start with the good part: the new whole wheat version of BK's deluxe bun (deluxury clearly indicated by the word "artisan" and the ribbed top). The bread was dense and moist and substantial, and it had an identifiably wheaty aspect that went beyond the pale brown color. I'll admit to being a sucker for the vague health benefits hinted at by mass-market brands of whole wheat pasta and English muffins and such, but even a Wonderhead will appreciate this bread.

The sauce tasted like licorice mayonnaise--sweet and the bad kind of funky--and was splooged on far too exuberantly. The flavor wasn't strong enough to wreck the endeavor by itself, but the sheer volume of the stuff caused the sandwich innards to slip and slide all over the place. About those innards.

I realize it's tiresome to constantly gripe about fast food tomatoes, but these pinkish gray rounds of despair were far below and beyond the standard abomination. They were joined by "freshly chopped iceberg lettuce." Sure, maybe, who cares? And then the typical layer of flavorless melted mozzarella. I'm not going to mark down for the cheese, because it was inoffensive, but the last thing this sloppy assemblage needed was another gooey component.

Admit it: My shiny pink finger looks tastier than this tomato.

The chicken—remember, this is a song about chicken—wasn't too bad, but it wasn't as good as it needed to be to overcome all the other problems. The slightly smoky taste was both better and more assertive than I've come to expect from a grilled fillet of this caliber, but it was also too dense and compressed and came with more gristle than grilled white meat ought to.

Burger King had a strong summer menu season, so I'm not ready to write off their ambitious test kitchen just yet, but I haven't been impressed with either of the fall headliners. The lackluster Chicken Parmesan is better than the Italian Basil Chicken simply by virtue of being less of a mess to eat.