Is Popeyes’ new sandwich worth the hype?

Photo courtesy of Popeyes.

Andres Salerno | Assistant Opinion Editor | asalern1@butler.edu

On 44th Street, under the morose Hoosier sky, a tall totem bearing a vibrant orange “P” clashes against dusk’s monotonous hues. It’s ten in the evening on a Monday, with hot and humid air still weighing on Indianapolis from that morning’s storm. The Popeyes drive-thru line is stretching into the street as patrons, not unlike the Magi, flock to pay tribute to the freshly crowned king of the chicken sandwich.

Chick-fil-A, the long-time consensus champion of chicken, was caught off guard by Popeyes’ Louisiana-fast roll out. Taking advantage of the hilarious #PopeyesGate — documented in the glowing New Yorker review of the sandwich  — Popeyes created a “30-50 Feral Hogs” level of hysteria around their new product. With stores around Indianapolis sold out of Popeyes’ king-slaying sandwich, I must sing the praises of this fast-food masterwork for those who have not yet had the foil-wrapped ambrosia placed in their out-stretched hands.

The fried chicken — the focal point around which the masterpiece is composed — is of the same top-tier quality that we chicken-connoisseur have come to expect. Among the fray of Popeyes’ direct competitors, such as KFC, Bojangles, Church’s Chicken, et cetera, Popeyes stands unmatched in their fried chicken. Chick-fil-a’s chicken is hardly comparable, for even though the base of their sandwich technically qualifies as fried-chicken, the soft pickle-flavored breading pales in comparison to the mighty crunch of that gargantuan grease-fried chicken from Popeyes.

Though Chick-fil-A and Popeyes chicken sandwiches are both delivered wrapped in foil, only Popeyes’ noble brioche bread has the resolve to maintain shape and integrity. While opening a Chick-fil-a sandwich delivers a disc of pickle-chicken — where the bread sogs into the chicken and robs the patron of any sense of finality — the Popeyes sandwich is deliberate and absolute in its construction. Bread and chicken work in harmony without losing that which makes each building block distinct and worthy in its own right. This remains true when comparing Popeyes and Chick-fil-A’s treatment of pickles — Popeyes opting to simply lay two delicious pickle slices between that melt-in-your-mouth chicken and distinguished brioche while Chick-fil-A can’t help but make the pickle part of the chicken batter.

Thank you for your service, Annie. Photo courtesy of Popeyes.

The coup de grâce to Chick-fil-A’s once unstoppable fast-food staple is the mayonnaise on that Popeye’s sandwich. This is coming from someone who hates mayonnaise, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t provide that final bit of texture that catapulted Popeyes’ new creation into the stuff of cultural legend.

If you were served this sandwich at some trendy Mass Avenue restaurant downtown for $15, you would annoy your acquaintances talking about this southern-comfort restaurant that they just HAVE to try. If this were served at The Eagle, it would be the best dish on the menu. I cannot say this in any simpler terms: this is one damn good sandwich.

Popeyes and Restaurant Brands International  — the multinational conglomerate that owns Popeyes as well as Burger King and Tim Hortons — are no champions of social justice, and they do not pretend to be politically active. I believe that seeking these values from brands is very hollow in terms of actual change, but at least Popeyes isn’t funneling their chicken sandwich money into anti-LGBTQ+ groups. Chick-fil-A is constantly in hot water over their cycle of funding hate groups, apologizing, and then getting caught again. The backlash to the backlash has been far-right wing talking heads now championing Chick-fil-a’s soggy sandwich as the official food of Christianity — making patrons do a little hunger versus morality dialogue before deciding whether they should go to Chick-fil-A. Many people don’t like what Chick-fil-A has come to stand for, but can’t give up what they thought was the best sandwich on the market.

Popeyes is here to say, “sounds like a whole lot to think about for a mediocre sandwich.” They have a much better product and give so many less reasons to hate them. With stores still sold out of the sandwich, it may be some time before everyone can taste the gospel as I have. Popeyes workers may not bless my day, but I can wait to be blessed until Sunday — by a professional — and it will feel oh-so-sweet knowing that I’ll be able to pick up the best damn chicken sandwich on the market on the way home.

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