Friday, August 26, 2016

Popeye's Chicken: What's the Fuss?

On one of these recent very nice late summer evenings, I happened to be driving down East 10th Street after enjoying a little time roaming around downtown. A late night nibble was in order and I was thinking a little Giliberto's east side might be just the ticket. Right about the same time, I noticed that the line for the Popeye's drive through window was not jamming up traffic back into 10th Street, so I made a quick left to sample some Louisiana fast and see for myself if I was missing out on some orgasmic chicken experience that causes people to block traffic.

Actually, it was one of those moments that I think I should have bought a lottery ticket because there was no line to get through the drive up. Instead, I used my cosmic karmic good fortune to get chicken.

There is quite a bit to choose from on the menu- chicken, shrimp, chicken strips, biscuits, and an array of side dishes that go beyond beans, coleslaw, and potato wedges. I didn't really take the time to ponder it and went straight for the 4 piece chicken "platter" so, 4 pieces of fried chicken, a biscuit, large drink, and a selection of two sides, in this case red beans and rice and macaroni & cheese. You can order the chicken "regular" or "spicy." To me, that's a rhetorical question. Spicy? Hell, yes, I'll take spicy.

So, what did I think? Overall, not bad, but I'm still not sure I get it. The good points:

  • The chicken was juicy and well-seasoned. 
  • The "spicy" which appeared to lurk immediately below the coating gave the chicken a pleasant kick. Not overwhelming by my standards, but probably mind-blowingly hot for midwestern Lake Wobegonesque palates that find black pepper too high on the Scoville Scale.
  • The coating was crispy and tasty.
  • As hinted above, a nice selection of sides, including some items like red beans and rice that are a little unique for this neck of the woods.
  • For about 10 bucks, this was a pretty healthy pile of food.
  • Pretty quick service.
And, of course, the "Meh" points:
  • The four pieces of chicken I got consisted of one breast and three thighs. Don't get me wrong, I'm no thigh/dark meat hater and the pieces were nicely sized. I also appreciated not getting a wing to comprise the other piece of white meat in the order. It just seemed to lack a little variety.
  • The sides were good, but didn't exactly jump off the plate. Red beans and rice lacked that bayou glow that I love about Cajun food. I'm talking about that long, lingering, full mouth warmth that comes from using a broad spectrum of peppers and spices. The mac and cheese seemed to be comprised of a liquid cheese food product. Good, but not a wow by any means.
  • No orgasm. I ate two pieces of chicken and some of each side and still, no action.
So, overall, I remain puzzled about what is so fantastic about Popeye's that makes people willing to sit in a line extending into 10th Street to get it-- Other than my Cat $hit On A Stick Theory. Feel free to enlighten me, but if you do, please explain how the new franchise joint on the block is better than the Keg or Bob's.  Personally, I'm more than happy to drive west past Popeye's en route to West 12th Street to wave at Bob's as I head over to the Keg. I insist that the two home-grown, hometown pillars of fried chickendom simply cannot be beat.

Added bonus: On those occasions when you have yourself some crispy chicken leftovers, don't throw away the packaging that you brought it home in, especially if that packaging is a paper bucket (God forbid) or the waxy parchment paper and cardboard container. Wrap your leftover chicken in the paper and put it back in the cardboard container before you place it in the fridge. Those containers wick moisture and keep your chicken more crispy in the humid environment of the refrigerator than, say, a sealed plastic (Tupperware/Rubbermaid) sort of container or a styrofoam clamshell. Will it be as good as fresh? Duh. No. But it will be better for the effort. 

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