It's hard to go to a place you like and get served something awful. It's harder still when you walk into a place you like, fulling expecting that the thing you order is going to disappoint you. Average customers can avoid that by simply knowing that John Doe makes a killer waffle but terrible breakfast sausage—and then not ordering the sausage. Few march right into a bad experience.
But at Serious Eats, when we hear that Wendy's is making new shakes, we've got to try them. Even if their Frosty-based parfait desserts disappointed us. So we ventured back to our nearest Wendy's to give them a shot.
Five different Frosty shakes appear on their menu: Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry have been there some time, and Wendy's recently added Caramel and Wild Berry.
So how did they do? The Caramel shake wasn't too impressive; like its parfait cousin, it's described as a "classic Frosty with real caramel sauce." Again, that word "real"; when that's the only descriptor, it can't be that exciting. And the impression you get isn't even of a real caramel sauce—it's not rich, deep, and complicated, but a thin, weak syrup. Frankly, it was only the slightly caramel colored hue of the shake that told me anything was in there at all. You have to really scrape the bottom to taste any caramel, and then it's just a little bit of added sugar. It could easily be mistaken for a sweet vanilla.
I somewhat enjoyed the Wild Berry, their classic Frosty "hand-spun with a blend of real strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries"—though any berry shake would've tasted good next to the strawberry. (We'll get to that in a minute.) The blueberry and raspberry flavor comes off as refreshingly tart, and though it's sweet, milkshakes are supposed to be. I liked that I could identify multiple berries, and that their distinct flavors emerged. It's nothing sophisticated, but it's certainly the best of the fruit shakes.
The Old Guard
Wild Berry's elder sibling, the strawberry shake, revolted me—sweet and unnatural as a Strawberry Ring Pop. Its tagline boasts "syrup made from real strawberries," as opposed to real strawberries themselves; what you get is a pink cup of syrupy sludge.
Still, the "worst milkshake" award goes to the vanilla. It's a flavor you'd think would be inoffensive, but didn't come across as "vanilla" at all; its syrup almost reminded me of a fake banana flavor. Cloying and confusing. Buyer beware.
The winner? The chocolate. It tastes like Hershey's syrup, but that's an awful lot better than a thinner, sweeter, less tasty alternative. The Chocolate Frosty (in my mind, the Only True Frosty) base gives it that classic "grit," a texture I actually like—halfway between ice cream and ice milk, you get creamy, airy, and icy at the same time. It's got the flavors of any chocolate shake in a diner, and frankly it's a great way to slurp a Frosty up with a straw— a formerly difficult feat.
Why did the chocolate shake win? One part decent chocolate sauce, one part the mild chocolate appeal of the Chocolate Frosty itself. That said, the new shakes, Caramel and Wild Berry, actually raise the value of the total Shake portfolio at Wendy's. It used to be one good, two duds; and now it's one good, two tolerable, two duds. Either way, they're much better than the parfaits. I think Wendy's should capitalize on the relationship with Oreo and introduce a Chocolate Oreo Frosty. That, I'd be excited about.