Pretzel buns are a relative newcomer to the fast food scene. Long established in smaller restaurants as a complement to ham and cheese sandwiches, they began to come into vogue last fall as an Oktoberfest ingredient. Both Steak ‘n’ Shake and Red Robin offered Oktoberfest burgers on pretzel, paired with sauteed onions and spicy brown mustard. It’s a traditional German thing, or maybe a Chicago thing too? I dunno. Anyway, the pretzel bun is making the move to more pure commercial restaurants with Wendy’s new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger. It’s less ambitious than most Oktoberfest burgers, skewing closer to a basic bacon cheeseburger.

I didn't want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I'm not a rabbit.

I didn’t want to use a stock photo of it because they severely understate how much lettuce there is on it. Look at all that lettuce!! I’m not a rabbit.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger adds a hearty honey mustard to the usual array of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The cheese used is Cheddar, which is a nice step up from the usual American and suits the pretzel bun well. My only complaint is that mine had a bit too much lettuce. It was good lettuce (I’ve never been a fan of the shredded stuff), but it would’ve overpowered the burger if I hadn’t pulled some off. The pretzel bun has a nice flavor and different texture, but isn’t overly chewy or tough. The burger seemed a little on the small side, but overall was tasty and satisfying.

The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger runs for about $6-7 in a combo, which is a pretty good deal. If the current trends continue and pretzel burgers continue to expand, you won’t have much trouble finding some to try. So far, though, this is among the best of them, and doesn’t appear to be seasonal. Give it a shot.

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For better or worse, the “wretched excess” theme of fast food sandwiches that seemed to define the past couple of years has died down. Rarely are there viral news stories of sandwiches which eschew bread and vegetables for fried eggs and bacon. The combination of an increased focus on health-consciousness and the rise of coffee shop-style beverages has chased the more extreme offenders from the field. But Wendy’s, the second largest burger chain in the world, persists. Their Baconator is a Ron Swansonesque conglomeration of meats, mayo and cheese. It’s available in single, double, and triple patty sizes, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to go to Wendy’s and order a sandwich called “The Baconator” and only get a single, or double, right?

"Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets."

“Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets.”

Remember the old saying about too much of a good thing being bad?  Here, it’s not so much bad as it is disappointing. The Baconator is beef, bacon, American cheese, mayo and ketchup on a bun. Getting the larger sizes means they just stack another layer of the ingredients on top. All the ingredients are fine by themselves, but so much beef and bacon without any strong sauces or vegetables to add some variety gets monotonous real fast. I understand that that’s kind of the point of the whole thing, but couldn’t we have some “manly” vegetables? Surely grilled onions or peppers wouldn’t have been too out of place here?

The Triple Baconator reaches a point where it almost ceases to be a sandwich, and just kind of becomes a way to shovel meat into your mouth. Normally, I’d love that. But here it just feels uninspired, a belated way to cash in on the Man vs. Food level of excess without really saying anything new. A Triple Baconator combo goes for about $8-9. Save your money and go with a smaller, more satisfying sandwich, like the wonderfully-named “Son of Baconator.”

Wendy’s is introducing a new line of burgers and sandwiches aimed at solidifying their lead over Burger King in the fast food race. They have a number of new regular hamburgers which have been pretty heavily marketed. They’ve also introduced a new chicken sandwich which has gone largely under the radar. The Spicy Guacamole Chicken Club is absent from Wendy’s website and doesn’t appear to be available nationwide yet. It was available at a Wendy’s I visited recently though, so I gave it a shot.

It’s so mysterious, I could only find a picture of a picture of it!

A club sandwich is generally a pretty safe way to go when planning a new chicken sandwich. Everyone knows what chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, cheese and mayo taste like, so any variations are still going to be in that ballpark. The Spicy Guacamole shakes up the formula a little bit, using Wendy’s spicy breaded chicken breast, pepperjack cheese and a chipotle mayo, and adding the titular guacamole. I’m not generally a fan of the spicy chicken breast, and while it works alright here, the numerous spicy elements become a bit overpowering when taken together. The solution for this should be the guacamole, but there’s not enough of it on the sandwich to balance everything quite right. I don’t know if mine was a specific problem or if they skimp in general, but make sure to order extra guacamole if possible.

The Spicy Guacamole Chicken Club runs for about $6.50 with a combo. It’s a decent price for a decent sandwich, but avoid it if you don’t like spicy things, and be sure to get as much guacamole as you can. In unrelated news, I found this really weird marketing website in the process of researching the sandwich, and I felt I should share it with you. I’m sorry.

According to research firm Technomic, Wendy’s has dethroned Burger King as the world’s number two fast food chain.  While Wendy’s narrowly edged out BK in terms of annual sales, both were still far behind McDonald’s, with an enormous $34.2 billion in sales.

There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on, invoking everything from mascots to health food trends.  Some of it’s on point, and some of it (in my opinion) is way off.  To me, I think this is an indicator of Wendy’s hard work at managing their image as a higher quality, healthier alternative to McDonald’s.  They’re not going after Burger King or anyone else specifically, they’re just presenting themselves as a niche market, a drive-thru burger place with leaf lettuce and fresh(er) tomatoes.  McDonald’s is always going to be on top, because they’ve found the ideal point of convergence between price and quality, but Wendy’s can pick up the more discerning crowd, which lacks in volume but (hopefully) is loyal.

Winter is coming.

Remember, I’m not saying Wendy’s actually is a healthier, higher-quality alternative.  I don’t have any nutritional values in front of me, but it feels like if you’re health-conscious, any place with a drive-thru probably isn’t the best bet.  But through their advertising campaigns, Wendy’s has managed to project an air of quality, which seems to have caught on.  People know they can go there and pick up a salad instead of a burger in they so choose.  For their part, Burger King seems to be in a bit of a tailspin.  They’ve been trying a couple of different brand concepts and menu items, but nothing so far seems to have caught on.  They’ve relied on being a household name for too long, and now they’re going to have to work to stay in the game.

When you play a game of thrones, you win or you die.

The thing to keep in mind about this is that when chain restaurants compete, you win.  Prices drop, and franchises begin offering more creative, bold options in an effort to redefine their brand.  As long as Burger King puts in work and doesn’t thrash around, we should be in for some interesting sandwiches over the next year or so.

Wendy’s Flavor-Dipped Chicken Sandwich is pretty important to me.  They were first offered a while back when I was first starting Sandwichtalk, and I didn’t get a chance to try and review them.  They’ve haunted me ever since, a reminder that sandwiches don’t last forever and I have to be on the ball.  Wendy’s recently decided to bring them back, for which I am grateful.  I get the chance to give them the review they deserve: a mediocre one.

This isn't a great picture, but there's next to no information on these sandwiches online. Even the Wendy's website doesn't mention them.

The premise of these sandwiches is that the chicken breast is coated in a sauce, either barbeque or buffalo.  I opted for the BBQ option, which included pickles and onions.  It was  a lot like the McRib of McDonald’s fame, or any number of BBQ pork sandwiches.  The sandwich wasn’t bad, although it’s pretty messy.  It feels like overkill though, since a little bit of barbeque sauce goes a long way, and I can only imagine how overpowering the buffalo sandwich must be.

The Flavor-Dipped Sandwiches go for around $5, more if included in a combo.  They’re decent, but a bit expensive for what you get.  Wendy’s has better sandwiches on the menu, I’d probably go with one of those instead.

Wendy’s latest sandwich, the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club, has been released with little to no fanfare.  They seem to be putting most of their effort into marketing their new fries with sea salt.  However, after a tip from a friend, I decided to check out the Club, and I’m glad I did.

Sorry, clicking on it won't let you "learn more." That's what the rest of my review is for.

On its surface, the sandwich seems pretty standard.  Chicken (which is available breaded, spicy, or grilled), bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and some ranch dressing.  The decision to include Asiago, however, is inspired.  I’ve always felt that Asiago is an under-utilized cheese in fast food, quickly passed over for cheddar or swiss.  It has a strong flavor reminiscent of Parmesan, but it’s not overpowering.  It goes well with chicken and especially with ranch.  It turns what could have been a dime a dozen chicken club sandwich into something new and interesting.

The Asiago Ranch Chicken Club is a bit more expensive, being a featured item at Wendy’s, which is generally a bit pricier.  However, I’d suggest trying it at least once while it’s available.  It’s nice to see a big chain mix things up every once in a while.

Considering that tomorrow, June 12th, is the one-year anniversary of Sandwichtalk, I decided to go a bit further in my latest review.  These days, most fast food restaurants have value menus, where you can get burgers, drinks, desserts etc. for around a dollar.  In light of the myriad options, I’ve put together a guide to where you can find the best burgers for one dollar or less (plus tax).  Here goes!

6.  White Castle Cheeseburger

Starting from the bottom.  White Castle is known for their “buy in bulk” approach to food, with the Crave Case, a box of 30 burgers, being the most infamous.  I’m unhappy that this is my first White Castle review, because I actually don’t have much of a problem with them in general.  However, from a dollar menu standpoint, they’re really dropped the ball.  One White Castle hamburger is 69 cents, and a cheeseburger is 82 cents.  The burgers are about as thick as a slice of lunchmeat, and most of the mass is taken up by the large, pillowy bun.  It’s topped with pickles, mustard, and onions, the latter of which provide most of the flavor.  It’s an interesting experience, but seeing as you only get one, it’s not nearly worth your dollar.

5.  BK Buck Double

Burger King recently added a $1 burger to their menu, which they claim is now the most popular dollar burger on the market.  There’s really not a lot wrong with the Buck Double, which includes 2 patties, cheese, ketchup, mustard and pickles, but it tastes like something’s missing.  It lacks the feeling of completeness that its more expensive brother, the Double Cheeseburger ($1.29) has.  Not a terrible bet for your dollar, but it’ll leave you wanting more.

4.  Taco Bell Beefy 5-Layer Burrito

I know, I know.  There’s a big difference between a burger and a burrito.  I’ve said I want to branch out a bit on here, and I figured this is a good way to start.  If you’re a serious sandwich purist, just skip to the next section.  For everyone else, Taco Bell has a number of beef and cheese items for under a dollar, although their prices fluctuate often.  One standby is the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito.  At 89 cents, it’s inexpensive, and quite filling, with ground beef, beans, sour cream and two kinds of cheeses.  It may not be a burger, but it’s still not a bad choice for your dollar.

3.  Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger

Wendy’s certainly wins the variety award for value burgers.  Their menu includes the Double Stack, the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, and the Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, all for 99 cents.  I selected the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, which included lettuce, tomato and mayo in addition to the titular bacon, cheese and burger.  It was delicious, with the high-quality ingredients Wendy’s is known for.  You really can’t go wrong at Wendy’s with a dollar.

2.  Arby’s Jr. Roast Beef

Again, not exactly a burger, but still a $1 beef sandwich.  Arby’s Jr. Roast Beef is deceptively simple.  With a decent portion of Arby’s top-notch roast beef, it’s pretty good when eaten plain, but where it really shines is in combination with a sauce.  The Arby’s I visited had no less than 5 different kinds of sauces, and most stock at least Ketchup, Arby’s Sauce and Horsey Sauce.  When applied to the Jr. Roast Beef, they transform it into something new and magical.  I recommend the Spicy 3 Pepper sauce, if available.

And the best value for your dollar is…

1.  McDonald’s McDouble

Yes, the classic McDouble.  It’s only $1, and comes with 2 nicely sized patties, cheese, ketchup, mustard, onions and pickles.  You get a lot of meat for a good price, and the whole sandwich really comes together in a way that most don’t.  The McDouble really is the Cadillac of one dollar burgers.

If you notice a fast food chain not represented, it’s probably because there isn’t one near enough to me for me to visit (Jack-In-The-Box and Sonic, among others).  Obviously, the prices and offerings on these value menus are subject to change without notice.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the guide, and please, spend your dollars responsibly.