Friday, May 13, 2011

TBG Eats: Arby's Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich

Current Weight: 164.4 lbs.

Longtime readers know that I'm not above dropping in a reference to The Simpsons. And, one of my all-time favorite quotes from the show occurred during the season nine episode,
Das Bus:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat at Arby's."

The fatigue and restrained desperation in voiceover actress Russi Taylor's
line reading is terrific and the reactionary gasps from the other children is one of those subtle touches that The Simpsons used to do better than any other sitcom on television.

To this day, I infrequently use that Arby's dig whenever I'm in the company of m'man Smitty -- who is an unabashed fan of both The Simpsons' heyday AND the entire Arby's menu. In response, Smitty will recite his favorite Arby's items -- including anything that might be new to their menu -- with an enthusiasm that belies the omnipresent goateed scowl that sits scrunched up under his shaved head.*

* -- In all seriousness, Smitty's "separated at birth" celebrity lookalike is STUNNING in its eerie accuracy.

But, for all the good-natured jabs I've taken at Arby's, the truth is I haven't eaten there in more than 30 years. I clearly remember the downtown Arby's on Long Beach Boulevard back in my hometown. My mother would take me and my brother there for shakes and roast beef sandwiches. As the most gluttonous six-year-old in the western hemisphere -- soon-to-be majoring in morbid obesity -- I never left Arby's hungry.

Fast food, however, is roughly 25% personal preference and 75% proximity. For example, I love the Sausage McGriddle breakfast sandwich from McDonald's. But, currently, the closest McDonald's to me is a 15-minute drive on surface streets -- past Burger King, Carl's Jr., Jack in the Box and several hole-in-the-wall taco shops. For Californians, a 15-minute drive anywhere is considered a commute and is often accompanied by intermittent rest stops and bathroom breaks along the way. I haven't lived near an Arby's since first or second grade so, consequently, the restaurant took a back seat to eateries that were closer to me.

Earlier this month, the Senior Manager of Social Media Marketing for a firm called Fanscape -- working in conjunction with Arby's -- reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in participating in a promotion to raise awareness of the chain's new Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich. There'd be free gift cards for me, a giveaway for one of my was all very professional and sounded intriguing.

The obvious problem for me, though, is that I knew I couldn't write about Arby's without the above quote from The Simpsons or without the interesting-only-to-me Smitty anecdote or without the "I haven't eaten there in over 30 years" admission.

What can I say...this is what passes for integrity here at TBG.

I do, however, enjoy chicken salad in almost every form. For several years, a dear friend of That Bootleg Family -- Mrs. S -- would invite us over to her house and serve a jaw-droppingly awesome peppery chicken salad with cashews as an appetizer. While my then-preschool aged son would usurp their Nintendo Wii system and my wife nodded off on the corner of our hosts' couch, eyelids heavy from a half-glass of wine, I'd sneak back into the S family kitchen and pilfer enormous spoonfuls of Mrs. S's chicken salad -- and then, at the end of the evening, leave with a Tupperware bowl of the balance at Mrs. S's insistence.

More recently, I wrote about
Subway's Orchard Chicken Salad sandwich. A few weeks ago, Subway reintroduced this sandwich and they've been promoting it as part of their $5.00 Footlong menu. Through the unexplainable magic of Google; I've received a small handful of tweets, e-mails and blog comments from people who searched for the Orchard Chicken Salad sandwich this month and stumbled upon this lightly-read blog.**

** -- WELCOME, new readers! Here's a quick primer: "Mrs. Bootleg" is my wife. She's 4'8" and one of just a dozen African-American women born and raised in the state of Utah during the 20th century. "Jalen" is our seven-year-old son. He...umm..."dabbles" in baseball and embarrasses me three times a week with inappropriate questions directed at servers, cashiers, gardeners and/or senior citizens. And, yes, ALL my food reviews take this long to get to the point.

So, I made the 10-mile drive from Stately Bootleg Manor -- south on Interstate 15 -- to the nearest Arby's. I ordered the Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich combo with curly fries and a soft drink. From the promotional material I received, the chicken salad is described as:

Large chunks of grilled chicken, crunchy pecans, diced red apples, celery and juicy red grapes all blended together.

It's served either on "hearty bread" (Arby's words) or whole grain flatbread and the sandwich is further billed as "not too heavy, not too light". I ordered it with the "hearty" honey wheat bread and was pleasantly surprised at the size. It's larger and stacked higher than the line of
grilled sandwiches at Jack in the Box. I did notice, though, that my sandwich was served on toasted bread. Admittedly, I didn't ask for it un-toasted, but based on these images, I assumed the bread was served soft -- which would've been my preference.

As it turned out, the bread dominated my first several bites. It's good bread -- with mild notes of sweetness and nuttiness equally comingled -- but, toasting it made the sandwich overly chewy with a prominent "toasted" taste. Thankfully, the chicken salad is plentiful. As gobs of it fell from my sandwich onto the napkins scattered around my table, I could sample the chicken salad by itself.

The apples and grapes are the strongest flavor components. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're willing to think eat outside the box, but I was still struck by how imperceptible the chicken is. The texture and look of the meat is perfect, but it's missing...something. Salt? Pepper? Char? Something. The chicken salad isn't especially creamy, either. I was fine without the over-mayo'd approach, but it might've help lift the chicken.

Hours after my meal, I'm still not sure where I stand on Arby's Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich. I'd like to try it again, but with untoasted bread and possibly sliced tomatoes. My gut tells me there's 3.5-to-4.0 potential here, but for now, you'll have to live with an unfinished score, Arby's.

Although, I give your unchanged-since-1986 restaurant decor my coveted 500 (out of 5) score.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 880 Fat: 44g


Smitty said...

You go to Arby's for a Chicken thing. Young man try the Angus Three Cheese and Bacon. This thing is great.
I am usually angrier than Stone Cold

Yvonne said...

Is that the Arby's on Mira Mesa Boulevard? The Mexican spot next door is terrific, by the way.

Aaron C. said...

@Mrs. That Mexican Guy -- Yup. That Mexican spot next door used to be a Wendy's and the closest Popeye's to me is about a 1/4 mile down the road from that Arby's.

(Y'know...for future reference ;) )

@Smitty -- Plus, you wouldn't drink beer from a can if it was the last libation on earth. I think I'm gonna go with their BLT next. Bacon, WOO!

thai said...

i likes teh arby's.

i was down with the description of the chicken salad until you said apples and grapes. no.

re: smitty . . . sorry but it's ALL youkilis for celebrity look alike for mssr. smith. i offer as evidence, exhibit A:

that mexican guy said...

Mira Mesa is quite the underrated little stretch of decent chain dining.

Popeye's, Arby's, Chick-Fil-a, Red Lobster, Mimi's, Rubio's, Jamba Juice, Islands, Pat & Oscar's...

...with a Karl Strauss at the very, very end of Mira Mesa Blvd and Callahan's right in the middle.

(If anyone from the above spots wants to send ME some free swag, let me know.)

Aaron C. said...

@Mex -- Love Callahan's. Their Callahan Red is one of my absolute favorite local brews. That and a bowl of their Irish Stew and I'm good. Karl Strauss is equally awesome.

As for Red Lobster, I need to share the story of Mrs. Bootleg vs. their "Lobsterita" margarita.

@Thai -- Oh, yeah. It's Youkilis from here on out. He's got Smitty down to a T...right down to the "can only breath thru the mouth" thing.

Smitty said...

Screw you

thai said...

that was youkilis-like. :-D