Monday afternoon at 4:00, after hitting eight chicken sandwich establishments in various corners of Manhattan and Brooklyn in six hours, Nick Solares and I decided to break off our binge due to exhaustion and extreme fullness, and a desperate desire to eat some vegetables other than pickles. Nevertheless, leaving Brooklyn’s downtown Shake Shack, our momentum carried us to the G at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop, where we hopped on a train bound for Williamsburg. We’d decided to have a celebratory cocktail at the Commodore, the mother of all chicken sandwich joints, and the ninth place on our list.
As we sat at the bar sipping a mint julep and a frozen mojito, respectively, Nick and I reviewed all the places we should have hit up, but were unable to fit into the schedule: the original Fuku in the East Village, which is irrationally closed on Monday and Tuesday; Bobwhite Lunch Counter on Avenue C, which doesn’t open until 5 p.m. on Mondays; Allswell and The Heyward in Williamsburg, which make very good fried chicken sandwiches, the latter slathered with pimento cheese; and Wendy’s, the fast food chain, which several people had recommended. Well, you just can’t please everybody, nor can you make a very complete survey of something as currently ubiquitous as the fried chicken sandwich.
Nevertheless, we set about discussing what we liked about the sandwiches we’d tried, hoping to determine a ranking of the day’s examples. As we did so, we ate the historic chicken sandwich served at the Commodore (11.2 ounces/6 inches/$10), which was made with a whoppingly big chicken breast, leaving a couple of inches sticking out one end of a four-inch hamburger bun. The thing was topped with slaw and the poultry had been cooked with hot sauce in the crust — and a formidable amount of it.
We decided that, 1) we liked the cutlets to be moist and thick, 2) that a good crackling crust was better than a thin and wimpy one, 3) that we liked flavorings in the sandwich if not too distracting, and 4) that the bun used was far more important than most consumers realized. Thumbs down: brioche. Thumbs up: potato roll. We came up with a positioning that included all the sandwiches we’d eaten that day, including the final one at the Commodore. Note that two sandwiches are included from Hill Country Chicken, since we tried two of the four offered there (the mildest and the hottest).
Here are the rankings, with a brief note of explanation on each.
1. Fuku+ — The consensus was that the smaller size of David Chang’s chicken sandwich was the better one, with a notably crisp skin and a chewy flesh that worked better at that scale.
2. Chick-fil-A — Whether the company’s executives are diehard right-wingers or not, our job was to appraise Chick-fil-A’s food and not its moral turpitude. The sandwich totally rocks, partly because of its timidity and partly because of the elemental interplay of pickle and mayonnaise.
3. Mighty Quinn’s BBQ — Yes, the sandwich is big and sloppy, but it’s just that sense of being out of control that makes it memorable. And the fact that the flesh has been smoked before being fried is a brilliant innovation.
4. Delaney Chicken — Daniel Delaney is like an explorer in the chicken wilderness, and his sandwich, like Mighty Quinn’s, has the feeling of being slightly crazy. Yet, the spicy dressing is a big plus, and this sandwich would have rated higher if it hadn’t been cooked so damn dark.
5. Hill Country Chicken’s Kickin’ Chicken — Nick and I disagreed on this, but I thought the kale slaw and chipotle mayo worked fine, but otherwise, the Hill Country pair of sandwiches couldn’t quite compete, mainly due to the dullness of the actual chicken filet.
6. Shake Shack — Have you ever thought an item of food was over-engineered? In being designed to please many, it succeeded in pleasing few? Compared to the ShackBurger, the ChickenShack is small, and the wilted lettuce damaged it for me. I liked the lattice-like crisp coating, though.
7. Pies ‘N’ Thighs — This ranking is not exactly fair since the sandwich was designed on a biscuit, but the result was still pleasing enough that we’d order it in this configuration again. Best aspects: the cutlet has minimal breading, and the sauce ménage a trois of butter, honey, and hot sauce rocks.
8. The Commodore — Though this sandwich is legendary, eating that much breast meat at one sitting is daunting. Nevertheless, the spiciness is a plus, and is it permissible to include ambiance when making a decision about which chicken sandwich to eat?
9. Hill Country Chicken’s Chickwich — This assemblage was way too blah for me, despite its absurd excess of good pickles, but Nick preferred it to #5, above. Try both and make the call for yourself.
10. Schnipper’s – This sandwich was an out-and-out disaster, but, hey, one has to be ranked #10 anyway.