Being a vegetarian in the early 2000s sucked. Dining out meant either sad garden salads clearly meant to be a vehicle for grilled chicken or, worse than that, freezer burnt veggie burgers that would always be both overcooked AND still frozen. Most places just didn’t see a reason to offer meatless items, especially fast food restaurants. Fast forward to 20 years later, and the market for meatless is thriving. While I am no longer a strict vegetarian, my diet usually consists of 50%-75% meatless or “plant-based” foods, so I’m always looking for new veggie items. Enter Wendy’s.
The chain has been slow to join the plant-based trend. It tested a black bean burger (non-spicy from what I’ve seen) in late 2015 that was never heard from again. This go around it’s testing out a Spicy Black Bean Burger in Jacksonville, FL (that’s me!), Pittsburgh, PA, and Columbus, OH. We rarely get to be selected as a test market, and all the better that it’s for a meatless item.
The Spicy Black Bean Burger consists of a seasoned plant-based black bean patty, romaine lettuce, onion, tomato, pepper jack cheese, crispy chipotle jalapenos, and spicy chipotle sauce served on a premium bun. I was fascinated that Wendy’s would opt to go a more traditional route with a black bean patty instead of the popular Beyond or Impossible items. Generally speaking, people trying to swap for meatless enjoy the faux meat experience instead of the more “traditional” veggie patty.
I always like to try the special components separately before taking the “perfect” bite. The crispy chipotle jalapenos weren’t what I expected in the best way possible. I hoped they would be similar to the crispy onions one might see on a green bean casserole (dry and crispy). While they were in that same vein, they were more like pickled jalapenos breaded and fried. The spicy chipotle sauce had a deep smokiness with a sweet heat. Finally, the patty had a predominately cumin flavor with various other “Southwest” flavors (onion, paprika, garlic, cilantro). The patty was also square-shaped, continuing the Wendy’s tradition.
Taking a bite, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the layered spicy flavors worked together. The chipotle’s warmness came through with the Southwest blend in the patty and spiciness of the fried jalapenos. The pepper jack cheese felt sort of a take-it-or-leave-it element. It didn’t take away from my enjoyment, but it didn’t really add either.
The patty itself was soft. Not soggy or mushy, just soft. The outside could have used a few moments longer on the grill to get more crust. I was taken aback by the high quality of the patty itself. Normally black bean burgers are (more or less) just a mushed blend of veggies in the form of a patty with no discernible vegetable pieces. Absolutely not the case here as whole black beans, corn kernels, brown rice, and wheat berries were easily seen and felt when biting into the patty.
I was impressed with this sandwich. Even though I went in with a low bar, I was blown away by the freshness of the product. The spicy black bean patty was on par with the fresh, handmade ones I’ve had in sit-down restaurants. I would like to note that the item isn’t vegan/vegetarian as served, but like with the Impossible Whopper, the audience isn’t vegans/vegetarians. I think it’s interesting that Wendy’s is taking a chance with a black bean patty instead of faux meat.
The Wendy’s Spicy Black Bean Burger is a unique and flavorful item. But I wonder if the patty might end up being a skip for the more casual meatless diner or people looking for that meaty meatless experience.
Purchased Price: $4.49
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 sandwich) 580 calories, 27 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 1560 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of protein.