So says the text on one of my favorite pieces of art from my pal Ramin Nazer. The poster features a towering, cartoonishly hand-drawn burger full of various fast food items and miscellany—pizza slices, ribs, a car, a shoe, the Monopoly guy (who is clearly dead), medicine, and an entire block of cheese for good measure. The caption is meant to be an ominous nod to the McDonald’s McRib, and Nazer’s burger image teeters precariously, implying the limited-time-only sandwich is going to topple and consume everything and everyone in its path. And in the spirit of things that are “back,” let’s review Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Pub Burger.
Per Wendy’s website, “The sandwich brings everything you know and love about gastropub burgers to a quick service restaurant.”
“With flavor combinations like beer cheese sauce and honey mustard - the Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger creates an elevated cheeseburger experience you’ll want to try again, and again,” said Vice President of Culinary Innovation John Li in a press release heralding the burger’s return.
“Elevated.” Is that the single defining attribute of a gastropub burger? According to J. Kenji López-Alt, yes. To me, the term conjures up freshly ground meat, fancy bacon, gourmet cheese, aioli (don’t say mayo), probably some caramelized onions, and no ketchup anywhere in sight. In short, expensive. But can Wendy’s recently revived take on a gastropub burger possibly be a more affordable version of this bar classic? I dined in at Wendy’s to find out.
Much like Nazer’s drawing, there’s a lot going on with the Pretzel Bacon Pub Burger, so I’ll just list off the ingredients: a hamburger patty, muenster cheese, crispy onions, beer cheese sauce, applewood smoked bacon, smokey honey mustard, and crinkle-cut pickles on a soft pretzel bun.
The crispy onions—sweet, crunchy, and classic—are a nice touch, and even though they’re drowned in beer cheese sauce, they do retain some of their delightful texture. Honestly, most of the ingredients get lost in that beer cheese, which is more thick and starchy than it is fatty and cheesy. It tastes mostly of thickening agents, not actual cheese, which is a bummer. There’s none of the pungency or bite you’d expect from a quality beer cheese, that’s for sure, and the flavor of the smokey honey mustard is too weak to stand out alongside it.
More than anything, this burger is heavy, dawg. So heavy that there’s no chance of achieving a balance of flavors. I like Wendy’s pickles, and the crinkle-cut pickles on this burg provide not only a nice crunch but that tangy, acidic bite this sandwich sorely needs. The problem is, there’s just not enough of them. If I were to order this burger again (I won’t), I would certainly ask for extra pickles to help balance out the heaviness of the bacon and beer cheese.
The Wendy’s pretzel bun didn’t really have much of that salty, roasted flavor you get from, say, King’s Hawaiian pretzel burger buns, which by the way absolutely shred and you should try them. Instead, it just tasted slightly sweet and faintly salty, but not really anything like a pretzel. It lacked oomf. The patty itself—forgive me, it’s been a while since I’ve had a Wendy’s burger and I’ve been completely spoiled on In-N-Out’s double-double since I’ve lived in California—is flavorless. Never mind that it only vaguely tastes like beef; I just wish it had some damn salt and pepper. It tasted bland, and neither the beer cheese nor smokey honey mustard nor bacon strips could fix that.
In short, Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Pub Cheeseburger kind of falls flat. It cost $7, and while that’s not that expensive, it’s just expensive enough for a fast food joint that it left me feeling like I could have gotten something better for cheaper. Hey, look at that—Wendy’s did recreate the gastropub experience after all.