Food & Drink

The Popeyes chicken sandwich returns. Is it worth the hype?

In a second coming of sorts, the Popeyes chicken sandwich is officially back.

History’s first viral sandwich debuted in mid-August and disappeared soon thereafter, arousing the hunger and curiosity of a nation, but leaving many sandwichless and unsatisfied. Popeyes sold out of a two-month supply in two weeks, CNBC reported.

The sandwich created a fast-food frenzy and a lot of hype. Drive-thru lines backed up into traffic, waits were measured in hours, yet the consensus seemed clear: The Sandwich was worth it.

Late last month, Popeyes announced The Sandwich would return Sunday, Nov. 3, and Popeyes promises what happened last time won’t happen again. Soon it will slip into the category of just another sandwich, a lunchtime guilty pleasure, a road trip reward, and not the most coveted thing between a bun.

So, is the Popeyes fried chicken sandwich worth the wait?

A crew of intrepid News & Observer reporters set off on a journey to find this sandwich, to gaze upon its buttery sheen, to consider its crunch and its place in fast-food history.

Before noon on a Monday, the drive-thru line at the Western Boulevard location stretched a quarter-mile out of the parking lot and into the street, cutting off the entrance to the neighboring Bojangles’. The sandwich had been back for just 24 hours, and the hungry masses were ready. There were a few horns a-honking, but overall civility reigned.

While some on social media reported waits eclipsing an hour, ours was a gentle creep of cars putting a sandwich in our hands within 20 minutes.

How good is Popeyes’ chicken sandwich?

Hype often tastes like disappointment, a flavor soggy with anticipation and heavy on the realization that a thing in reality is doomed to fall short of its myth.

This sandwich is a crispy, craggy cutlet of breast meat, juicy throughout and approaching the chicken sandwich ideal of salt, fat and crunch. For thrill-seekers, a spicy version gets a smear of sauce. For purists, mayo. There are thick dill pickles superior to anything else out there in fast food.

In other works, the object of lustful screeds, of drive-thru meltdowns and fast food pining, is, in fact, good.

Popeyes chicken sandwich does not disappoint in being bland, its crisp does not underwhelm. It is every bit the perfection it promises.

But it’s not a giant leap beyond the best of what’s already out there. If you sit in line hoping for a great chicken sandwich, that’s what you’ll find. But it likely won’t be the only chicken sandwich you ever reach for.

The chicken sandwich has become the new fast food arms race. Chick-fil-A, long the standard bearer, is finding its market suddenly crowded with fast-casual startups, and now nationwide chains hungry for the pleasure of dethroning the chicken king.

There are a number of worthwhile sandwiches in North Carolina, and Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen, winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the country, is working on a new project build around chicken sandwiches.

In this game of chicken thrones, that it took this long to capture our collective hearts and sell us sandwiches on Sundays remains perhaps the biggest surprise. We are here to be distracted, to be persuaded and lured to the next chicken joint, to the next neon sign.

Deep fryers, you have our attention. Do waffle fries next.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.
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