Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based fast-food chain that specializes in fried chicken sandwiches and nuggets, recently opened in Port Jefferson, NY. The chain enjoys a large and dedicated following that loves the reasonably priced offerings on the menu. The quality of those offerings is another thing to love. There is a vast qualitative difference between what Chick-fil-A puts between the bun and the sandwiches from the mega-chains.
When I arrived at the recently opened Port Jefferson location the parking lot was jammed but well-managed by a store employee who was separating the drive-thru crowd from the folks planning to eat inside. Once I headed inside I was stopped on a line that snaked from the counter to the front door, composed of maybe fifteen to twenty people. Occasionally the line grew longer but the staff, who were friendly and helpful, did a good job of keeping everything moving.
When I made it to the counter to place my order I chose a “spicy chicken sandwich meal” which included the sandwich, a side of waffle fries and a bottle of water. The bill was $7.59, which is comparable to the mega-chains for the same type of meal.
So how was the food? It was alright. The sandwich was actually quite good and the chicken retained a decent amount of moisture. This never happens at the mega-chains regardless of if they are frying a natural breast or a restructured patty. The bun was almost perfect–soft, white, squishy, and lightly toasted with two slices of large diameter pickles. The breading was thicker around the edges of the breast while the flat surfaces could have used a little extra to make them crispier. The waffle fries were a disaster. They were white, soft and the only hint of crispiness occurred as they cooled and the potato starch film dried out on their surface.
As fast food goes Chick-fil-A seems to invest more in training their employees than the mega-chains and they also offer a higher quality product, with the exception of the waffle fries. I think they tend to benefit from having a well-focused menu while the mega-chains struggle by offering too much diversity on their menus. At the end of the day, it is just a fried chicken breast sandwich. But it’s better than anything you will find on the McMenus of the mega-chains.
Making a sandwich like this at home is really not so difficult and it will allow you to control what kind of chicken you use–hopefully one that is raised humanely and without growth hormones and antibiotics. You can check out the way my friend Kenji Lopez-Alt does it at The Food Lab on Serious Eats. You should also check out his new cookbook called The Food Lab for even more fun cooking.
Copyright 2015 Kevin Penner