You know, you’ve got to hand it to Wendy’s — they really are making an effort to step up their game. As we discussed previously, the little red-haired girl is on her toes recently to stay ahead of emerging competitors like Five Guys, despite having recently gone regicidal on Burger King in terms of overall U.S. sales volume. This has led the flame-tressed siren to double down on greater variety and better quality ingredients. Today, we’re looking at the latest result of this rebranding, three new “signature” side dishes.
Though I’ve always been a burger and fries guy, I understand the wisdom of trying to branch out a little with a healthier option (Baked Sweet Potato) and one you normally don’t associate with fast food (Mac ‘N Cheese). The Chili Cheese Fries are obviously more in line with Wendy’s usual offerings, but if you’re craving fast food but are also counting calories, the sweet potato — at least in theory — would make a nice compromise.
But enough about theory, let’s dive into the food. I began with the Mac ‘N Cheese and was happily surprised with the size of the bowl it comes in. It’s definitely a side dish rather than a full meal, but you get a decent amount of pasta, even if the bottom of the container is a little higher than it looks from the outside. Another nice surprise was the quantity of cheese — the macaroni is literally SLATHERED in it. My wife felt it looked artificial, but I was just impressed by how much of it there was. Of course that’s irrelevant if it tastes like roasted turd, but luckily this didn’t. It won’t win awards for innovation or being haute cuisine, but it’s definitely a solid macaroni and cheese dish with plenty of creaminess and good texture. A little more bite would’ve been great (a small amount of chili powder can really make a mac ‘n cheese), but I have to label this one a definite success.
Then there’s the Baked Sweet Potato. Confession time, folks: I really had a difficult time with this dish. I love regular potatoes and I’m okay with sweet potatoes mashed or pureed, but this may have been my first experience with a baked sweet potato. Let us say the veiny texture, combined with the gooey cinnamon butter, made me, um, queasy. I don’t blame Wendy’s — it’s my issue, not theirs, and my wife liked it perfectly well — but I could barely stomach more than a few bites. To be fair, the cinnamon butter spread carried a distinct sweet taste that was good on its own, and it was a large potato that should do a nice job of filling you up. Unfortunately, texture was a definite problem, and the taste of the potato itself was not overwhelming. But while I wasn’t a fan, if you know you like baked sweet potatoes, I imagine you’ll enjoy this.
And finally we have the Chili Cheese Fries. Here’s a good example of how what you eat growing up influences you: when I went away to college, I learned that what I knew as “chili” is what the rest of the world calls “tomato soup with some chili powder and ground beef in it.” It turns out most people put beans and peppers and pieces of tomato in their chili, if you can believe that shit. Unfortunately Wendy’s has opted to use this more “traditional” form of chili on their fries, but for the 99.99 percent of you who didn’t grow up with Chili For Kids Who Won’t Eat Anything, that should be perfectly fine.
As you can see, they didn’t skimp on the chili or the cheese. The number of fries seem fine, not unbelievably generous but acceptable. I thought the cheese tasted okay, though not as flavorful as that found in the Mac ‘N cheese dish. There are a TON of beans, but since you’re eating fries, you need to be using a fork or spoon to really get them in your mouth — trying to consume this dish like regular fries invariably results in eating a fry with some cheese and a little bit of chili residue left on it. I also can’t say there’s a lot of heat to it, so if you prefer your chili with some bite, Wendy’s does not have you covered. Overall it’s a filling side dish and people who enjoy thick, chunky chili will get their money’s worth, though they’ll also be getting their calories’ worth and that of a couple of other people too.
In the final tally, I would get the Mac ‘N Cheese again; it definitely wins the side dishes competition I just made up. The chili cheese fries are in there for the silver medal, if you’re willing to loosen your belt and eat fries with a fork instead of just your hands. Alas, the sweet potato pulls up the rear — it’s a nice thought and the low calorie option is appreciated, but the texture just wasn’t appealing, even if the cinnamon butter was. But as I said, even if they aren’t all winners, kudos to that ginger tart for making the effort. You don’t get better without trying some new things.
(Editor’s Note/Disclaimer: We received a gift card from Wendy’s in order to try their new Signature Side Dishes. Yup, a gift card. Because FedEx-ing the products would’ve been gross.)
(Nutrition Facts — Mac ‘N Cheese — 1 bowl — 370 calories, 170 calories from fat, 19 grams of total fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fatty acids, 65 milligrams of cholesterol, 940 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugars, and 17 grams of protein. Baked Sweet Potato — 1 large sweet potato — 380 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 240 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of dietary fiber, 29 grams of sugars, and 6 grams of protein. Chili Cheese Fries — 1 serving — 570 calories, 270 calories from fat, 30 grams of total fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fatty acids, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 1200 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugars, and 18 grams of protein.)
Item: Wendy’s Signature Sides (Mac ‘N Cheese, Baked Sweet Potato, and Chili Cheese Fries)
Price: $2.76 (each)
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Mac ‘N Cheese)
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Baked Sweet Potato)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Chili Cheese Fries)
Pros: Non-standard fast food fare. None of the three side dishes skimped in quantity. Mac ‘N Cheese emphasized the “cheese” part and tasted great. Cinnamon butter was sweet and flavorful on its own. Sweet potato is low in fat. Not crazy expensive.
Cons: Seems more expensive when you remember you can get a Jr. Cheeseburger and small fries for the price of a “side dish.” Finding out your entire conception of chili is based on a lie. Texture of the sweet potato. Fries got kinda soggy under all that chili and cheese. Little heat to the chili.