Fried chicken sandwich showdown visits Buttermilk

Photo by Lydia Chávez
Julian, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, will be hunting for the Mission’s best fried chicken sandwich. If you have suggestions, write a comment — or, if you prefer, send an e-mail to Julian at

“It’s hot tonight and half the neighborhood is drunk. the other half is dead. if I have any advice about writing poetry, it’s — don’t. I’m going to send out for some fried chicken.”

            –Charles Bukowski

It’s hot this afternoon outside Buttermilk Southern Kitchen on Bryant at 23rd. Reading Bukowski to the dog while waiting for a fried chicken sandwich.

He’s one of the dog’s favorites. I can’t explain it.

Nor can I speak for Bukowski, but what I mean by “fried chicken” is good old American “Southern” fried chicken. You know, that special kind of fried chicken created by enslaved African Americans combining recipes from 19th-Century Britain with batters and spices from West Africa.

Social and global relations in a sandwich. I can’t wait.

Then I start thinking of the Olympics, then I’m thinking I should have gone for Korean … then the sandwich arrives, and it’s showtime.

And the score?

Technical: 85

Excellent technique on the brine and deep frying.

Batter light, thin, crispy, not crunchy. Endures juicy meat and runny slaw. Although it loses its crisp over time, doesn’t lose flavor, nor, surprisingly, form.

Points off for sloppy slaw and soft, untoasted, unbuttered, bloated, blah bun.

Artistry: 73

First impression: This is a Big Sandwich. I thought I would need a grappling hook to get ahold of it.

Again, deductions for slaw and bun. The bun is too big. The pinkish-orange color produced by the slaw and the batter, while not appealing, is not as repellent as some.

Taste: 95

First and foremost, the meat. Big chunks of brined dark meat. Whatever they use for the brine sets this sandwich apart from others I’ve had in the district recently. Maybe it’s my salty nature.

The cool, slightly sweet cabbage, carrot and mayo slaw acts as a worthy complement. And, while the delicately spiced batter doesn’t call attention to itself, you know it’s there.

Note: The sandwich is really humongous, which is not necessarily a criticism. I took half home and put it in the fridge. The next day, though it had obviously lost any semblance of freshness, there remained strong echoes of the first day’s taste. Not much else.

Except the very large bun stayed largely intact. There’s a lot of dough to absorb the slaw, so the bigger structure holds.

On the strength of its technical score and enduring taste, Buttermilk has edged into second place on my top three, currently behind Rhea’s and just ahead of Monk’s Kettle.

There’s a lot for you to chew on, Julian. The ball’s in your court (or, the sandwich is on your plate).

Mark: I don’t know what I’m feeling here. It isn’t bliss; it isn’t disappointment. If anything, all I can feel is nothingness. I look at the words painted on one of Buttermilk’s walls: “Southern state of mind.” It should instead read, “No state of mind.”

This sandwich only instills in me a sense of gripping neutrality — so much so that I cannot help looking up at the McDonald’s chicken nuggets commercial on the restaurant’s T.V. and wish I was there, so I can feel something — anything — even if it’s contempt.

The bun is nicely toasted, but still too bready! The chicken is juicy and tender, but is covered in batter that’s chewy and flavorless!

So, if I’m to play along with your fancy Olympian’s scores about so-called “taste” and “artistry” and whatnot, chew on this math: Great, juicy chicken + chewy flavorless batter: what does that equal? It equals zero, Mark. In layman’s terms? Zip, zilch — nothing. A void of flavor.

But its nothingness is also its strength. Chicken sandwiches can kill your day/stomach/youthful complexion quicker than a bullet, but here I’m left with a spring in my step, enough to walk down to McDonald’s and regain a sense of something, anything.

Three faves so far:

  1. Monk’s Kettle
  2. La Salumeria
  3. Rhea’s Cafe

The fried chicken showdown begins at the Salumeria, Dec. 7, 2017

The friend chicken showdown takes a detour to Wes Burger, Dec. 18, 2017

The fried chicken showdown goes to Monk’s Kettle, Jan. 4, 2018

The fried chicken showdown goes to Rhea’s cafe, Jan. 23, 2018

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One Comment

  1. Those sandwiches sound delicious. Food like that gives me a reason to visit the Mission more often.

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