If you frequent the Internet, you’ve probably heard rumblings over the past couple of weeks about Popeye’s new chicken sandwich. It’s a fried chicken sandwich, but something about the combination of chicken, mayo, pickles and a brioche bun (plus a public tiff with the decidedly less cool fast food chain Chick-fil-a) really thrust this sandwich into the public’s imagination. Lines formed, most locations swiftly ran out of sandwiches, and a marketing legend was born.
Before you jump in your car and head to your nearest Popeye’s, know that the new sandwich has yet to be rolled out in Canada. For the sake of research, I went in and tried their old chicken sandwich, which is perfectly fine. The woman working at the counter told me that as far as she can tell, the biggest difference is that the old one has tomato and lettuce and the new one has pickles, but she’s had a number of customers turn around and walk out of the shop or peel out of the drive-thru when they were told the new version was for Americans only. She also said that her boss was in talks to bring the new one to Canada, but she had no idea how those talks were going.
Until that gets sorted out, there are plenty of locally owned and operated restaurants that serve beautiful Southern-style fried chicken sandwiches that I’m willing to bet are even better than that now famous Popeye’s sandwich. Here are a few of my favourites (note: in the spirit of the Popeye’s version, I’m not including Calgary’s many Nashville hot-style or similarily sauced chicken sandwiches — just good ol’ seasoned fried chicken):
Blue Star Diner
Slightly more high-falutin’ than a fast food sandwich, Blue Star’s buttermilk fried chicken sandwich is one of the diner’s most popular dishes. The chicken is cooked in a sous vide before frying so that it is guaranteed to be perfectly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The breading is gluten-free (gluten-free buns are available on request) and it’s topped with a piece of crispy capicola and raw honey and served on a pretzel bun.
809 1 Ave NE, 403-261-9998, bluestardiner.ca
As a “fast-fine diner” with the word “chix” in its name, you know that the new breakfast spot in the Alt Hotel does a good fried chicken. The restaurant offers one fried “chix” sandwich (as well as a healthier grilled version) with a smear of hot sauce and a tasty celery slaw. Because Chix specializes in breakfast, all sandwiches come with a cage-free egg on top, cooked over-medium.
624 6 Ave SE, chixeggshop.com
Citizen Brewing Company
Fried chicken at a craft brewery? Citizen’s kitchen is known for its fantastic burgers, and the chicken sandwiches are just as good. This is another place that will do hot chicken on request, but the hot is really hot, so why not bite into a piece of ultra-crispy buttermilk chicken with lettuce, mayo and, yes, pickles instead?
227 35 Ave NE, 403-474-4677, citizenbrewingcompany.com
Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver
Calgary’s go-to for better-than-average fried chicken, Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver makes a Lil’ Clucker sandwich that isn’t really that little: it’s a hearty fried chicken breast on a delightfully soft bun, with a little bit of lettuce. The quality of the chicken and the breading is the key here — no one fries it better than Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver and this sandwich lets their core product really shine.
1511 14 St SW, 403-266-2067, cluckncleaver.com
Not strictly Southern-style, Gorilla Whale’s karaage burger is a playful exercise in east-meets-west. The breading on the chicken is lighter and more delicate than what you’d find in the Deep South (or a Popeye’s), but it’s plenty crunchy. The burger is topped with Japanese Kewpie mayo and an Asian-style slaw, but then chef Dirk McCabe adds a punch of low-brow fusion with a slice of American cheese and some crispy bacon.
1214 9 Ave SE, 587-356-2686, gorillawhale.ca
The newly opened Taiko Canteen serves favourites from the Taiko Taco truck, but selections from the Zilford’s Fried Chicken truck are also on the menu, including a mighty fine fried chicken sandwich. You can order it hot, but the plain Southern-style chicken is perfectly tasty as is: the chicken is nice and craggy with a crispy texture, the bun is brioche, and there are pickles. This is as close to Popeye’s that you’re going to get, and executed to perfection.
3851 Manchester Rd SE 107, 403-454-1843, taikocanteen.com