Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich has no reason to be this cocky

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Photo: Allison Robicelli

Next week, after well over a year of crispity-crunchity anticipation, McDonald’s is finally entering the Chicken Sandwich Wars. That’s why this week, Wendy’s has released a “new” chicken sandwich, the Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich, and by “new” I mean it’s the chain’s regularly available chicken sandwich with a bunch of other stuff slapped onto it. As you may have gathered from my tone, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Wendy’s antics. It’s not that I give two hoots about McDonald’s honor, because McDonald’s pulled this same exact chicken sandwich con amidst Popeyespalooza 2019, so as far as I’m concerned the Golden Arches can reap what they sow. I’m just tired of Wendy’s acting like a bit of a brat all the time. It wants to have an “edgy” Twitter account? Fine. It wants to flaunt the fact that it stole away McDonald’s corporate chef? Have fun with that. But then yesterday, I read this quote Wendy’s Chief Marketing Officer Carl Loredo gave to CNNBusiness:

“Consumers are looking for flavor, and unfortunately there’s boring and bland options out there from our competition.”

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What the hell? That’s not coming from a faceless Twitter account—it was a Wendy’s executive! What would Dave Thomas say about this kind of trash talk?

As far as mass market chicken sandwiches go, Wendy’s base model doesn’t even qualify for the podium, which in my expert opinion belongs to Shake Shack, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A. (I’ve yet to try KFC’s new-and-improved one but my editor Marnie Shure has, and that one also gets high marks.) Now if Wendy’s wants to start talking trash that’s totally fine, but it needs the goods to back it up. I do not appreciate a subpar chicken sandwich experience, especially when a multibillion-dollar corporation sends me an email with promising me this:

A spicy chicken fillet topped with creamy jalapeno cream cheese, three slices of Applewood smoked bacon, and a warm cheddar cheese sauce. Additional features include jalapeno slices, pepper jack cheese and, of course, a premium bun. This sandwich is embedded from top to bottom with powerful new tastebud enactors – meaning it’s really, really good.

Tastebud enactors, you say! Not only are they powerful, but they’re also top to bottom? What remarkable news! Let’s look at the photos and see if we can catch some of these new enactors in action:

Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich and Salad
Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Chicken Sandwich and Salad
Photo: Allison Robicelli

In case the photo doesn’t make it clear enough, there are in fact three (three!) slices of bacon on there, along with three different cheeses and pickled jalapeños. And yet, it spite of all that top-to-bottom tastebud enacting, I could barely appreciate any of these things because they’re all overpowered by the signature chemical aftertaste of Wendy’s spicy chicken. I believe this problem might be compounded by the fact that by the time I ate my sandwich it was on the cold side of warm, which is to be expected in this dystopian delivery-only nightmare that has managed to make fast food its worst self. These sandwiches do not travel well.

The sandwich comes in three varieties: Spicy, Classic, and Grilled. I got the Spicy, but since peeling the breading off the sandwich made it more tolerable, I advise asking for a Classic or Grilled chicken breast instead of Spicy. There was nothing impressive about the jalapeño cream cheese, because with pepper jack, cheddar, and pickled jalapeño slices already involved in things, the cream cheese had no reason to be there. There is no point to its existence, and this chicken sandwich has made me sad on its behalf. Somewhere deep in the bowels of Wendy’s corporate headquarters is a food scientist who worked hard to develop that jalapeño cream cheese, and for what?

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For those who find nothing enticing about Wendy’s premium buns, the crispy chicken salad has also been jalapeño-popper-ized. Tell us what it is, Wendy’s!

A bed of our mixed lettuce blend with spicy chicken, Applewood smoked bacon, slices of jalapenos and shredded pepper jack, plus diced tomatoes, jalapeno ranch dressing, and crispy jalapeno cheddar croutons. It has over a billion pixels of flavor. Yes, we counted.

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ONE. BILLION. PIXELS.

Do you have any idea how many pixels that is? Wendy’s does, because they apparently it made somebody count them. It likely took at least 95 years to count all those pixels of flavor. This either means that Dave Thomas began work on this salad at least six years before he was born, or Wendy’s has managed to manipulate the very fabric of spacetime. This is probably how Wendy’s discovered the existence of flavor enactors in the first place. Now, let’s check out that salad:

Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Salad
Wendy’s Jalapeño Popper Salad
Photo: Allison Robicelli
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Would you look at that! This new advancement in salad features a regular fast food salad with a big honkin’ piece of fried chicken on top, but instead of coming with a packet of ranch dressing, it comes with a packet of jalapeño ranch dressing, which is much more exciting. As you can see based on the size and shape of the pictured container, it is impossible to actually toss this salad in said dressing (a problem among many to-go salads), so you either must drizzle some on your fork before spearing your food, or leave it in the packet to squeeze directly into your mouth between each bite. The unwieldiness of this salad makes me nostalgic for the frenetic whimsy of McSalad Shakers, which never quite took off. Perhaps we need to get Sweetgreen to revisit that whole concept and hope it trickles back down after it’s gained some legitimacy so I can spend more time criticizing the Jalapeño Popper Salad and less time figuring out how to eat it without using my hands. Now how’s that for roasting, Wendy’s?

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.

DISCUSSION

justsaydoh
Just Say Doh

Some of these sandwiches seem like they’re just trying too hard.

I mean, if you want to fancy-up your specialty sandwich, sure, go ahead and add bacon and a special sauce. Swap out the boring american cheese with swiss or pepperjack or something. But then stop.

Because at some point, when you’ve added 5 or 6 more ingredients and toppings, you don’t have a dazzling array of tastes, you just have a gloppy mess.