The Great Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019 have commenced.
The sandwich was everywhere.
Taking over my Twitter feed. Blowing up on Instagram. Haunting my dreams.
Yes, I’m talking about Popeyes’ new fried chicken sandwich. If you haven’t caught wind of it yet, the Louisiana-style fast food chain’s latest offering set off a certified culinary craze this week that threw competitors into a frenzy and put industry insiders in the unusual position of praising fast food.
Popeyes’ released the fried chicken sandwich in an amusing but savvy partnership with a small, otherwise unknown restaurant. In 2017, the owner of Sweet Dixie Kitchen in Long Beach, Calif., caught the ire of the intrawebs after a customer confronted her on Yelp about serving waffles with Popeyes chicken as a $13 entree at her Southern-style restaurant. Popeyes turned the whole thing on its head last week, debuting the fried chicken sandwich first in limited availability only at her restaurant, then at all locations.
It’s now in insanely high demand, including in the Bay Area, with dismayed customers diligently reporting sold-out locations. (In Maryland, a man posted a “brand new, unopened” chicken sandwich for sale for a cool $100, plus a reasonable $38.52 for delivery within a 25-mile radius, of course. I checked local Craigslist listings; no such entrepreneurship here …yet.)
But it’s not just Instagram-crazed Millennials taking notice. The New Yorker waxed poetic about the “exquisite slab of chicken breast, hefty and juicy and snow-white, in its crenellated armor of that uncommonly crisp fried batter.” Washington Post food reporter Maura Judkis tweeted a photo of two Popeyes chicken sandwiches on Aug. 20 and said she would soon be weighing in, but the tweet has since disappeared. I had assumed she was involved in a Deep Throat chicken conspiracy, but it turns out she was participating in a sandwich throwdown: Popeyes vs. Chick-fil-A vs. Shake Shake. Popeyes won.
Kenji Lopez-Alt, owner of Wursthall in San Mateo and author of “The Food Lab” cookbook, who spent years developing his own fried chicken recipe, declared Popeyes’ version “amazing.”
Other restaurants have tried to capitalize on all the excitement. Plenty of sandwich shade has been thrown by Wendy’s, Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A. Starbird Chicken, which has locations in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, is offering half off their “big star” sandwich this Friday only in an attempt to join the Great Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019.
It had all reached a crispy critical mass. I had to try it for myself. So I sped off to the Popeyes in Sunnyvale, where a line snaked to the back of the restaurant—and at times out the door—during lunchtime. (Just down the block, Chick-fil-A was also plenty busy.)
“I tried ordering it on the app but I couldn’t find it on there,” one man waiting in line at Popeyes told his friend. I could only assume “it” was The Sandwich.
Another customer lamented that he had attempted to procure the sandwich at the Redwood City Popeyes the day before and failed: They had sold out.
As the line grew longer and frenzied staff rushed to fry more and more chicken, anxious customers inched closer to the open kitchen, peering in hungrily (and somewhat obnoxiously) for their sandwiches. Other customers’ names were called and they walked away smugly, sandwiches in hand, as I got hungrier. I Googled “Popeyes wars” just in case an internet bomb had dropped while I was in line. (It hadn’t.)
Finally, a harried employee called my name and passed me two foil-wrapped sandwiches.
My verdict? At $3.99, it’s totally worth the hype. The generous, contrary-to-fast-food piece of buttermilk-fried chicken is as it should be: juicy on the inside with a crispy, crunchy exterior. It pairs perfectly with the pickles and soft-but-sunken brioche bun. My only complaint is I didn’t taste much of a difference between the classic (mayo) and spicy Cajun (mayo with cayenne) versions.
Later, I called all Popeyes on the Peninsula multiple times to inquire about customer demand and if and when they had sold out since the sandwich’s release. I either got a busy signal, or no one picked up.
They must have been busy selling fried chicken sandwiches.
Where to get your Popeyes fix on the Peninsula:
740 Woodside Road, Redwood City
802 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
2786 Homestead Road, Santa Clara
1790 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
1310 El Camino Real, San Bruno
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