Julian, 30-something, and Mark, 70-something, are on a journey to find 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday night, riding the 14 bus down Mission Street to Popeyes Fried Chicken on Geneva, I felt an eschatological event coming on: Did our executive editor send us on this journey two years ago because she knew a “fried chicken sandwich war” would end up sweeping the nation? Had we been preparing for this very moment? Was this Popeyes on Mission and Geneva my fried chicken destiny?
“Sorry, we’re all out,” said the counterman. And, when I prodded: “Come back Wednesday.”
In the interim, I did some reading: a Tennessee man’s lawsuit against Popeyes for causing him the emotional stress of bouncing around town, looking for a chicken sandwich and ultimately coming up empty-handed, has gone to trial. In November, a man was charged with murder for allegedly stabbing and killing a person in a fight over the sandwich in the D.C. area. Tales of brawls, car wrecks, and other lunacy has established this sandwich as, perhaps, an apocalyptic agent of chaos. And still, Popeyes has let the fried chicken sandwich spigot flow.
Has it been worth it?
When I returned later in the week, it was clear the sandwiches were back. Everyone in the store was either eating fried chicken sandwiches, ordering them, or serving them. A line stretched to the back of the store. Employees emerged from the back with upside-down bouquets of fried chicken sandwiches in their individual bags. “Original or spicy?” employees asked as the line grew. A woman in line told her friend, “This is my last $15.” I could not make out what she ordered, but I’d bet 15 bucks she went for either the “original” or the “spicy.”
I went with the spicy, Mark.
And I have to say, this is one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve had. No pretense. No “mole aioli” or jalapeno apple slaw or “Pepto-Dismal.” It came on a brioche bun, lightly toasted, with a touch of the “spicy” cajun sauce (basically, thousand island dressing with powdered cayenne). The pickle slices were crunchy … enough. And the chicken’s batter was crispy and greasy and had no discernible flavor other than good ol’ fashioned “fry.” The meat was white — but actually moist. This is what Gas & Shop’s Krispy Krunchy chicken sandwich has always wanted to be.
And this state, whatever it is, is a state I’ve always wanted to be in. Is this the End of Fried Chicken Sandwich History? Let it be known that, for me, it happened at Popeyes on the corner of Mission and Geneva — though, I’m sure, there will be a Second Coming. And a Third, and a Fourth. —JM
There is one solution to the demise of local journalism. You
The recent existential angst generated by Popeyes’ fried chicken sandwich reminded me of its old place at 22nd and Mission. In those days, it served as a communal hangout for local philosophers.
I agree Popeyes’ fried chicken sandwich has become an impressive psycho-social phenomenon that one day will be the topic of a Ph.D dissertation.
But, Julian, do we really need the melodrama?
Yes, I too could have taken the 14 Mission, the 22 Fillmore, the 33 Ashbury/18th to the 24 Divisadero. I could have called a cab, hired a car, rented a car, driven a car, parked a car, stood in line for a half hour, waited another 10 after ordering, before eating among a crush of strangers, or outside on the street, in the wind, the fog, now the rain.
For what? A fried chicken sandwich? Seriously?
You could have done what any self-respecting normal thinking Missionite would do. What I did.
Before accusing me of less-than-ethical journalism, please note that the Popeyes website itself promotes delivery (free!). Without any caveat or qualification as to how delivery might impact your overall experience.
It took close to an hour to get a sandwich and fries from the Fillmore Popeyes. By that time, my hunger had reached phenomenological proportions, as I’ve watched the Dubs get trounced by another anonymous team of no-names and retreads who look like all-stars next to the Dubs.
“Hunger is the best pickle,” said Benjamin Franklin. And from that perspective, the sandwich was immediately satisfying in the way you expect corporate comfort food to be satisfying. Even if it was warm, not hot.
As is the rule on ML’s Fried Chicken Sandwich Desk, I sublimated my personal satisfaction for the public good. I bit off a piece of chicken outside the bun. It looked good. Looked better than it tasted. Some crunch still remained, but it was a crunch without crisp, an old, tired crunch. Otherwise the batter tasted as boring as the game.
The piece of white meat was the most remarkable element of the sandwich. It was substantial in size, and surprisingly moist, surprisingly tasty. Like it had been brined for weeks with MSG, Popeyes’ not-so-secret ingredient.
The company (BTW, it’s now AFC Enterprises) won’t drench your bun with mayo, but over time the stuff eventually sogs the batter, drowning out whatever crunch survived the trip. Why don’t they put the mayo on the side?
The pickles? Not Franklin’s hunger, but I would keep them. They stand out for themselves, adding a sense of spice to the otherwise non-spicy sandwich.
Overall: Very savory, offset by the sweetness of the brioche bun. Did someone say corporate comfort food?
Julian, there must be 10 fresher, meatier and more dignified (yes, even with “mole aioli”) fried chicken sandwiches within walking distance of Mission Local. Save yourself bus fare and spare those moments of gastronomic epiphany for a Papalote burrito. —MR