By MACKIE JIMBO, Rafu Columnist
I was skeptical when my friends suggested that I write about Popeyes’ new chicken sandwich. I wasn’t a fan of Popeyes’ chicken, and change the channel whenever I hear the chain’s “Louisiana-fast” jingle. But then, The New Yorker waxed poetic about the sandwich, declaring that it’s “here to save America.” The Los Angeles Times followed suit, with senior food writer and resident fried chicken queen Jenn Harris pronouncing Popeyes the unequivocal victor over rival Chick-fil-A.
And after a 2-hour sojourn down the #chickensandwichwars Internet rabbit hole, I was intrigued and had to join the chicken chatter myself.
Popeyes debuted its chicken sandwich earlier this month, in what was initially thought to be a marketing gimmick that turned out to be pure genius. The chain partnered with Sweet Dixie Cafe, a restaurant in Long Beach that came under fire two years ago when a customer revealed on Yelp that the fried chicken on Sweet Dixie’s chicken and waffles was, in fact, from Popeyes.
When Sweet Dixie’s owner confirmed that the restaurant “PROUDLY SERVES Popeyes spicy tenders,” a social media firestorm ensued, with angry and amused diners dubbing the incident #popeyesgate. In a clever twist, Popeyes resurrected #popeyesgate by inviting Sweet Dixie to be the first and only place where customers could buy Popeyes’ new chicken sandwich for two days leading up to the chain’s nationwide release.
But the story, or the social media frenzy, doesn’t end there. On Aug. 12, Popeyes officially announced the sandwich’s nationwide debut on Twitter. Word of mouth, both online and IRL (Internet speak for in real life), spread that Popeyes chicken sandwich was actually amazing.
The buzz soon proved to be too much for Popeyes’ rivals to handle. About a week after the sandwich’s launch, nearly every fast food chain began asserting their chicken sandwich dominance in what spectators dubbed the #chickensandwichwars. Chick-fil-A professed its love for “the original”; Wendy’s asked “which of these fools has the second-best chicken sandwich”; and Shake Shack lauded its chicken sandwich as “without the beef.”
Though the social media frenzy certainly piqued my attention, I wanted to find out whether Popeyes’ sandwich was truly as exquisite as advertised. So, at 10 a.m. sharp on Thursday morning, I met my intrepid, equally food-obsessed uncle at the Popeyes in Glendale. We were prepared for the worst, including abject disappointment should the location be sold out of sandwiches. Luckily, Popeyes was calm and empty that morning, with one other man waiting ahead of us.
We each ordered one classic sandwich and one spicy sandwich (for a mere $3.99 each), and split an order of Cajun fries. Because there was only one guy meticulously making sandwiches in the kitchen, our order arrived 30 minutes later. And, to my surprise, it was worth the wait and ALL of the hype.
The hefty chicken breast has a crunchy, craggly breading that tastes like corn flakes and gives way to impossibly moist, umami white meat. The pillowy, lightly toasted brioche bun enhances the sweetness of the chicken, and the pickles add a zing that cuts through the richness. And a thin slathering of mayo, either classic or spicy, brings everything together.
Though I meant to save half of each sandwich, I devoured both in their entirety. I slightly preferred the classic because it lets the chicken shine in all its glory.
Though the sandwich was indeed spectacular, the best part was seeing the unity it inspired. By noon, Angelenos from all walks of life descended on Popeyes. Some were on the singular sandwich mission: construction workers, students, office workers, and hipsters, of all ages and races, waited patiently in line and even put away their phones to chat. Others were regulars, perplexed by the crowds and blissfully unaware of the viral sandwich or the #chickensandwichwars it incited.
My favorite scene was an older gentleman eating his fried chicken and green beans, while reading a copy of The L.A. Times that had a giant photo of the sandwich on the back. He was content, oblivious to the hype, and surrounded by fellow chicken enthusiasts, all of whom are now part of this particular moment in history. Aren’t we clucky to be alive.
Follow Mackie on Instagram (@gourmetmackie) for updates on where she’s eating in L.A. and beyond. She can also be reached at [email protected].