Some say it started with Steven Tanner's first spicy chicken sandwich at The Commodore. Others point to the Chick-Fil-A chain, which inculcated a generation of Southerners with the desire to eat breaded and fried poultry breasts deposited with mayo and pickles on a squishy bun, and then sent them subversively up here. But any way you slice it, the fried chicken sammy is this hour's most sought-after viand, and celebrity food slingers like David Chang, Daniel Delaney, Elizabeth Karmel, and even Danny Meyer have thrown their batter-encrusted hats in the ring.
So in celebration of this phenomenon, photographer Nick Solares and I decided to do an Extreme Chicken Sandwich Run today, starting at Chick-fil-A at precisely 10 a.m., and then cramming as many fried chicken sandwich joints into one day as is humanly possible, given both the propensity of fans to form long lines, and the unpredictability of mass transit. We'll be comparing and contrasting as many sandwiches as possible, so tune in often to see exactly where we are and what we've eaten so far.
Stop 1: Chick-fil-A
Sietema: I've never seen fast food employees so crowded behind the counter or seen them smiling so broadly. We bought two sandwiches — you test for consistency — and they each proved 4 inches long and 6.8 ounces in weight. Nick what do you think of the sandwich?
Solares: It's consistent with prior Chick-fil-A experiences...which is a good thing. I'd never seen whiter breast meat.
Sietsema: They forgot to give me my Chick-fil-a and Polynesian dressings with my order, so we ate the sandwich dry. The price is $4.15 per sandwich.
Stop 2: Schnipper's Quality Kitchen
Sietsema: We arrived at Schnipper's in the Times building as soon as it opened at 10:30 a.m. Their offering is a $6.50 Schnipper's chicken filet. The place is like a glass airplane hangar.
Sietsema: The sandwich weighs 4.8 ounces and is four inches long on a dark, shiny bun. The chicken tastes desiccated and the bun smashed and there are lots of pickles and a runny yellow mayo-based sauce.
Solares: This doesn't even qualify as a chicken sandwich, it's a pickle and mayo sandwich.
Stop 3: Delaney Chicken at Vanderbilt Market
Sietsema: The potato bun was cold and the fried chicken was in a contorted wad when we hit Delaney Chicken in UrbanSpace Vanderbilt right at 11 a.m. as it opened. Nonetheless we appreciated the thigh meat over the usual chicken breast, and the spicy Russian dressing was a nice complement. Stats: 7.2 ounces, 4 inches, $8. Surprisingly there were no drumsticks available as earlier, just the chicken sandwich. Wings are available after 4 p.m.
Solares: Sandwich was let down by its lousy bun. But otherwise pretty good.
Stop 4: Fuku
The MiniMes vary in dimension from 3 to 3.5 inches (we ordered two) and varied in weight from 5 to 5.5 ounces. $6 each. The crust was crunchy as hell and a single bite left a lingering burn. The meat was white but not as puffy as Chick-fil-A's.
Solares: I love it. Better than the one downtown.
Stop 5: Hill Country Chicken
Sietsema: Bad luck finally caught up with us at Hill Country Chicken, where we arrived around 1:10 p.m. to find a line snaking around the room. We hunkered down and stood in line, exchanging some chit chat with the standers around us. The place offers four fried chicken sandwiches, of which we picked two. The plainest was the Chickwhich ($7.50/7.8 ounces/4.25 inches), which places a rather thick cutlet (hence the enhanced weight) on a dull bun with a real Texas-style dill pickle (no garlic, plenty of white vinegar). Overall, it was not very exciting. I liked the the Kickin' Chicken ($9/8.2 ounces/4 inches) better, though hated myself for it: the thing came with kale cole slaw and chipotle mayo, shamelessly exploiting three food fads at once. Solares hated it: "How could it be any good, it's got chipotle and kale in it." He liked the plain one better.
Stop 6: Mighty Quinn's BBQ
Sietsema: Hard to find yourself in the original Mighty Quinn's in the East Village and not order brisket or beef ribs. There was a 10 minute wait for our fried chicken sandwich, but when it arrived it was a whopper! It weighed in at 11.2 ounces, the largest chicken sandwich and the heaviest that we had seen all day. It was 6 inches in length and cost us $8.55. Nick attacked it with gusto. While we appreciated the massive messiness, the flesh was a bit stringy. Solares noted: "Good flavor but I hate the bun." For the record it's a brioche hamburger bun.
P.S.: the chicken has been smoked prior to frying, which is a good thing...there were lots of pickles veggies on the sandwich, including celery?!
Stop 7: Pies 'N' Thighs
Sietsema: Afraid we were running short on time, we hopped in a cab to Pies N' Thighs on Canal Street. Lucky for us the lunch rush was over and the place was largely empty; meaning we could pick a booth or the counter itself. But we were disappointed to find that the menu only offered a chicken biscuit, which didn't fit in with our fried chicken sandwich run. Bending the rules a little, we asked for the sandwich to be put on a hamburger bun instead of a biscuit.
The chicken filet extended way beyond the bun and came slathered with honey butter colored red with hot sauce. The chicken had only a thin bread crumb coating. Afterwards we enjoyed a piece of banana cream pie to vary the culinary terrain.
Stats: $7.50/6 inches/6.5 ounces.
Solares remarked: "It's hard to argue with this considering it wasn't designed to be a chicken sandwich."
Stop 8: Shake Shack
Sietsema: Hopping on the train, we soon found ourselves in Brooklyn, where the current fried chicken sandwich craze found first success. Our objective was the new ChickenShack sandwich at Shake Shack in Downtown Brooklyn. It took a while, but when our talisman finally buzzed the sandwich turned out to be one of the smallest at 3.5 inches and 6.2 ounces (price: $6.29). The filet was wonderfully light and crisp; the buttermilk dressing tangy. Was it my imagination or did it have an almost Midwestern flavor?
Solares noted: "Like everything Shake Shack does they've spent time on every component. But is it simple enough?"
This is the final stop on the official Extreme Chicken Sandwich Run, although Sietsema and Solares might keep going, just for kicks. Stay tuned for the official ranking of these sandwiches tomorrow.