The Guilty Pleasure: Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger Where to Get It: Wendy's, locations Valleywide Price: $4.79 solo, $6.79 combo (your mileage may vary) What it Really Costs: Could be better, could be worse, clocking in at 670 calories.
It's long been said that if you want to get better bang for your buck, don't go to an industry leader; go to one of their closest competitors. Why? It's as rental car company Avis advertised for decades, "We're only #2, so we try harder."
Wendy's certainly fits the philosophy to a T. It's never been more evident than its new offering, the ciabatta bacon cheeseburger. Though ciabatta isn't new to fast food (Jack in the Box had one on the menu for several years), Wendy's ciabatta burger takes a different approach and upgrades the burger from top to bottom.
If you read the full description of Wendy's new burger to me without telling me where it came from, I'd never have guessed that it would be available at a fast food drive-thru. Regular cheese apparently wasn't good enough, so Wendy's uses asiago. The ubiquitous iceberg lettuce and flavorless tomato slice are replaced by spring mix and diced roasted tomatoes. Boring ol' mayo? Nah, let's use rosemary-garlic aioli instead!
And, of course, the whole thing is on a toasted ciabatta roll instead of a bun, in case you forgot.
The ciabatta itself is a little on the soft side, without the wide-open crumb and extra-crisp crust of a well-made piece of ciabatta. I can understand Wendy's made this decision. If you've had a burger on a very crusty roll, you know the odds are high that the burger's innards are going to shoot out the back of the burger all over the plate. So, some compromise was necessary, but I still could have gone for a little more crispness.
The inside of the burger was, for the most part, highly enjoyable. The roasted tomatoes are probably my favorite part. I love tomatoes, but it's rare to see a fast food place get tomatoes that taste like tomatoes. These roasted tomatoes were good enough that I wouldn't mind seeing Wendy's replace the regular sliced tomatoes with them across the board.
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The aioli's presence was subtle but telling, with just enough garlic to let you know it's there. The bacon is Wendy's applewood-smoked standard issue, thicker than the usual paper-thin fast food bacon, so you know it's actually on the burger. As for the asiago cheese, since it was pasteurized processed asiago, there wasn't much difference between it and, say, processed Swiss. It was a nice thought, though.
Wendy's really did try harder with the ciabatta bacon cheeseburger, and it shows. This is one of the better burgers in the entire fast food industry. It's a good demonstration of how if you make a whole bunch of small upgrades to something, the end result can be a large upgrade, indeed.