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How Well Does Wendy’s Hold Up via Delivery? We Ordered & Found Out.

We revisit some of America’s most iconic fast food items in the age of social distancing.

A Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich, Baconator, fries, Coke Zero. and Frosty
MAITANE ROMAGOSA/AMBER SUTHERLAND-NAMAKO/THRILLIST

Editor’s Note: In the age of social distancing, one of the only ways to safely get fast food is via delivery. We all know that a lot of foods aren’t quite the same by the time they reach your door, but which fast food staples fare the best after traveling in a delivery bag? We’re trying major fast food menu items to help find the best bets when ordering fast food to your door, with a new series of delivery-only taste tests called How You Holding Up?

Still no Taco Bell. I once aspired to be among those with knowledge of the Triplelupa's trio of flavors, but now I know I’d be just as happy with a humble classic like the crunchy taco. Maybe a soft taco supreme. May as well party pack it, or have dinner and a show with a taco bar kit. But no -- such pleasures are reserved for those in delivery zones beyond my little corner of South Brooklyn. As with the McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A editions of How You Holding Up?, I would have to think inside the bun. A silver lining: Wendy’s was available to order in my area again! But I’d have to act fast before it fell off the radar.

See, sometimes Wendy’s appears to be available to me via the major third-party delivery players, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no apparent pattern and it was like Whac-A-Mole even before the reported beef shortage that launched a thousand hackey '80s-era jokes. But on this day, Wendy’s would be mine at last. Here’s how the famed spicy chicken sandwich, Baconator, fries, Frosty, and a Coke Zero held up from Dave Thomas’ house of pigtails to my apartment of not-cute messy buns.

Whither the beef, indeed: Ordering, wait time, and delivery experience

I couldn’t believe I’d be getting Wendy’s, especially on Grubhub. I was only looking as a matter of course; I did not expect success. All this time Wendy’s had been slinking in and out of availability, it was never on Grubhub in my area. Once, during the purported beef panic, I’d managed to submit an order (chicken only) via Postmates, but it sat in limbo for 17 minutes before it was canceled by the company. But now, Wendy’s lived to baconate once more. I clicked stuff into the cart like I was a contestant on a virtual Supermarket Sweep

Baconator combo: $10.78. Spicy chicken sandwich: $5.59. Small Frosty: $1.49. Sweep, sweep, sweep, it still took me 16 minutes to place the order because I had to start a Grubhub account. But the order was in and estimated to arrive in 39-49 minutes. Before tax, tip, and a whopping $6.99 delivery fee, the total was $17.86.

The delivery would come from a location 2.6 miles away. It has a tall sign you can see peeking through the trees from a corner of Prospect Park that’s a good walk from where I live on a nice day, but feels irresponsibly far to travel for a pleasure stroll, for now. I grew doubtful I’d get the goods (or have a column to file) when the ETA changed several times as the morning turned to afternoon, but the combo, sandwich, and dessert arrived an hour and 44 minutes after I ordered, because that’s just how long it took. Anyone grousing about longer than normal delivery times right now doesn’t deserve delivery, so let's all continue to conduct ourselves with a modicum of decency.

It’s better here: Taste, presentation, and how it holds up

The fries, Coke Zero, and the Frosty would have been the items most vulnerable to transport, liable to lose their respective heat and chill, so I tried them first. The fries were about room temperature and fine. They’d have been finer with a sprinkle more salt and a run through the oven, but who has time to cook in the middle of the work day? The Coke Zero still had plenty of its smooth, symmetrical ice machine ice. And the Frosty was incredible. A little bit had melted around the edges to create a sippable texture somewhere between a rich chocolate milk and a shake. It reminded me of the goofy choco-tinis I used to drink at a restaurant called Max Brenner that briefly had a nonsensical home on Second Avenue in the East Village back before I learned how to properly booze. I loved this Frosty, and I would happily sip it again alone or with bourbon. 

Wendy’s makes a perky spicy chicken sandwich. Like its competitors, it’s seasoned just to a glancing heat, but that gentle kick is still enough to give the impression that some actual thought went into the thing. The lettuce and tomato added a little bit of color and an even littler bit of texture without any discernible flavor. This was to be expected: lettuce and tomato are merely ornaments in most fast food sandwiches. The mayo, though, was a handy flavor enhancer, and Wendy’s makes a good one. People who viscerally hate mayo (MARK), scroll down to the next paragraph. Sometimes you’ll get a mayonnaise that tastes too eggy or unexpectedly lemony. Wendy’s mayo is more of a generic sauce than a capital-M mayo. It’s a neutral workhorse that amplifies the breaded chicken’s modest heat.

The best bites of sandwich were on its perimeter, where the thin edges were crispier than the dense center. If any of the Shark Tank sharks would like to send me money for my brilliant new freezer aisle product, Sandwich Perimeters, that would be fine. 

The Baconator, which should be styled BACONATOR to truly fulfill its in-your-face conceit, is an aggressive burger. It is not quite the Guy Fieri (of whom I have long been fond and now the rest of the internet is, too) of Wendy’s items, that would be the bonkers-looking barbecue cheeseburger double, but it’s a close second. No BACONATOR will ever look like its promo photo because Wendy’s set the bar too high with this one. In its glamour shot, layers of wavy bacon dance cheek-to-cheek with melted American cheese and two hearty beef patties. In real life, whether you are ordering delivery during a time of pause due to a pandemic, or popping into the shop at a happier time, it looks like fast food, which is a fine thing to look like. 

My BACONATOR was startling to unwrap because of how much it looked like real food. Its patties were slightly imperfectly shaped, like the ones my husband made last year around this time when it was finally warm enough to be outside in earnest and we threw a party for a friend who was visiting from overseas and almost everyone we invited made it. The patties had a human touch, I mean, and they weren’t like the uncannily perfect squares from the part of my brain that stores Wendy’s commercials instead of anything useful. A Wendy’s burger’s defining characteristic is that it tastes like meat, not like special sauce and dumb middle bread like a Big Mac or a flame grill like a Whopper. It tastes kind of like a burger somebody might have served you at a cookout. 

The BACONATOR’s two layers of bacon are what elevate it beyond backyard food. The bacon in mine was normal bacon, not the undulating sex bacon in BACONATOR ads. But it was crispy, which is an enormous hurdle for fast food bacon to overcome being that it is a relatively finicky, super time-sensitive food. This bacon was good, and it answered the unasked ‘why so much bacon’ question with its texture. Bacon-topped anything is always welcome (remember when geniuses were putting it on cupcakes?), but the BACONATOR’s second layer of bacon, hidden between its two beef patties, lends the burger its delightful texture. The BACONATOR wisely eschews ornamental produce but, were I its architect, I’d have included a few pickle slices, for color. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time we can have friends over to barbecue. 

Final thoughts

I am queasy to think that there might be people out there who might still have the unmitigated gall to complain about wait times, menu item availability, and other minuscule hiccups. I hope those folks only exist in my imagination, where they still are unwelcome. If you’re fortunate enough to be working from home, waiting for coffee time to roll into wine time, and you can still allocate some discretionary income to delivery, fast food or otherwise, nobody wants to hear a peep about anything anyone would have darted off to Yelp about in the Before Times. Instead, channel that energy into tipping extra and figuring out which spirits pair best with Frosties. 

Join us again next time when we (once more attempt to) ask Taco Bell: How You Holding up?

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Amber Sutherland-Namako is an editor at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @AsaSutherland.