Archives for the month of: January, 2018

When I find myself at a fast food establishment, I generally lean towards ordering chicken. I do enjoy burgers, but I find that 1) chicken is generally more consistent across most locations (no surprise mayonnaise) and 2) I just love fried chicken. I’ve had the privilege of driving across the country four times, and on each occasion, I made specific plans to enjoy local delicacies, which frequently meant friend chicken. The drives also exposed me to the many great fried chicken focused fast food chains across the country. Unfortunately, these trips also opened my eyes to the fact that for whatever reason, we really don’t have much selection in New England. While Chick-Fil-A seems to be penetrating the market, the main options have always been KFC, and if you were willing to go out of your way for something special, Popeye’s.

Unlike its larger cousin, KFC, Popeye’s doesn’t seem to be as adventurous with its menu. While you’ll see KFC ads plastered all over your television (try the Georgia Gold and Nashville Hot!), I don’t see many ads for new Popeye’s products, but there is value in their consistency. Regular or spicy, chicken parts or tenders, the menu doesn’t change much but is always great.

Anyway, most of my fast food trips lately are going to a location with an order in mind: they have something new I want to try. But this trip to Popeye’s wasn’t prompted by an ad or tweet or reader request; I just wanted to go to Popeye’s. It wasn’t until I was staring at the menu, trying to figure out an order that would let me eat everything I wanted without spending $30 when I noticed the Smokehouse wings. I immediately decided to add them to my order, not substitute them for anything else. I’m not proud of how much I ate that day, but Popeye’s is worth it.

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Popeye’s Smokehouse Boneless Wings were $4.99 for a six piece meal which comes with a side, biscuit and drink. Unfortunately, I’m writing this too late to have an official description, but I’m sure it would have included words such as “boneless white meat chicken” “marinated” and “smoke”. Fast food mad libs are fun.

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As presented to me, the basket was a glorious mess of fried goodness. I could barely see the boneless wings underneath the mountain of fries (as a side note- Popeye’s fries are the biggest hit or miss fast food item since Wendy’s changed their fries; they’re either glorious or borderline inedible). I ate a few fries to create a path to the wings. Aside from the crazy amount of batter, the boneless wings were still huge. Normally I’d think of a boneless wing as something nugget-sized, but these were basically chicken tenders. I’m definitely not complaining, but it was much more food than I expected. A six-piece meal is more than enough without adding anything to your order.

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Into the wings themselves, my first impression was the great crunch and hint of spice. They were fried to perfection and not as spicy as Popeye’s regular spicy chicken/tenders, but I definitely felt some heat. The chicken itself was tender and juicy, as with all of their chicken.

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The Smokey flavor was more subtle and took a few more bites for me to notice. Eventually, that flavor cane out, and the best way I can think to describe it was like ham, which made for a weird experience. I’d take a bite and get the crunchy, spicy batter and juicy chicken… then a hammy aftertaste. If you ate a chicken tender then chased it with a small piece of ham, that maybe a replication of the experience.

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I love Popeye’s, if I haven’t made that clear, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to review one of their items. However, this was not a winner. The idea of adding a smoky taste to a medium spiced chicken tender is a worthwhile idea, but the execution fell short here. I couldn’t shake the ham taste as I ate, and that’s not a flavor I want to mix with my fried chicken. If they leaned more in a BBQ type smoked direction, I’d be willing to give the concept another chance, but as served, I’d stick to my regular order on my next Popeye’s visit.

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When introduced, McDonald’s Chicken Selects were a revolution in the fast food fried chicken realm. At that time, Chicken McNuggets were still mechanically pressed together from disappears parts of the chicken. While I remember liking the taste, in every box there’d be at least one McNugget with weird, unchewable pieces or other unidentifiable chicken part that was gross and made you hesitate to order them. McDonald’s started to rectify the problem with their Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich, which offered a piece of white meat chicken, but the Selects were the first time they (or any of the big burger chains, as far as I can recall, had done an all-white meat nugget. Even pitched at a higher price point, they sold like mad. During my time at McDonald’s, whenever they were discontinued (Selects came on and off the menu at random, like the McRib), people would constantly try and order them. I even remember people driving off when informed weren’t available.

It never made sense to me why McDonald’s would take Selects off the menu. Even after McNuggets became all white meat, Chicken Selects occupied a different space between those and the (then) new premium chicken sandwiches as larger, more aggressively spiced chicken pieces. It makes sense that McDonald’s would want to bring a pricier item back to the menu. My only confusion is why it took so long for them to introduce a similar product.

McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Tenders are not Chicken Selects, but they are “chicken tenders battered and breaded … and made with all white meat chicken, with no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.” The tenders come in packs of 2 (a newer release), 4, 6, and 10 pieces. Since I was also eating a Pico Guacamole Burger that day (review coming soon!) I opted for the four piece, with their newly released Sriracha Mac Sauce. It was $4.19 for the four piece box, which comes with two sauce packets.

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Our first order of business  is to discuss the packaging. The Box was slightly confusing to open even as I was sitting in a booth in the restaurant and would have been impossible to do so while driving without hitting a car or driving off the road. I appreciate fancy packaging, but one of the appeals of fast food chicken is that it can be eaten as a meal on the go and the tenders definitely fail that test so long as they’re served in this box.

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Onto the chicken itself, I’m guessing my tenders were smaller than usual, so I actually received five tenders… or someone screwed up and gave me extra food. Upon my first glance, Buttermilk Crispy Tenders were a darker hue than I anticipated. I was expecting more golden brown, but these were closer to actual brown. The breading was also thinner than I expected. I thought there’d be a thick, crispy coating, but these were thinner, like they only coated the chicken with seasoned flour after the buttermilk marination. When eating, that meant they were crispy, rather than crunchy, if that makes any sense at all (if not then make a mental comparisons between KFC extra crispy chicken versus a regular chicken patty like you’d find in Burger King’s Original Chicken Sandwich).

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By going with a thinner breading and eliminating a heavy crunch, these tenders needed a solid seasoning. Unfortunately, McDonald’s fell far short in this department. I barely detected any salt or pepper, let alone something more aggressive like cayenne or garlic powder. I know they want to heavily push their sauces and they expect customers to dip their chicken, but the food has to stand on its own. Otherwise, it’s just a vehicle for sauce, in which case why pay extra for these as compared with McNuggets (my quick math in the store had the markup as every Buttermilk Crispy Tender equals two McNuggets).

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The good news is that the chicken itself was nice and juicy. I believe it was real chicken pieces and pressed together chunks for different parts of a bird. They were generally thin and not terribly thick, but didn’t dry out. The texture immediately reminded me of Popeye’s, which is the gold standard of fast food fried chicken and unlike the texture of any other chicken I’ve ever eaten at McDonald’s, so they 100% nailed the hardest part of the item.

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Now is a good time to talk about the Sriracha Mac Sauce, since the buttermilk tenders needed an extra boost. Opening the packet, the sauce is really orange, which definitely catches your eye. Regular Big Mac sauce is never that color, so that brightness is definitely the Sriracha influence. While the color resembled buffalo sauce, the aroma was closer to Big Mac sauce, with a sharp tanginess that reminded me of the burger. The sauce was bold in flavor, and differed from regular Mac sauce in that it had some underlying heat to it.

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When it comes to flavor… this was Big Mac sauce with some added Sriracha, which was more of an underlying heat, rather than the main taste. When combined with the chicken, the experience was elevated. The tenders were dying for some extra flavor, and adding something with spice made them better to eat.

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Disappointed is honestly the word that comes to mind when recalling my experience here. After the smashing success of the Chicken Selects, I really thought McDonald’s would lean into that area again and produce another winner. I don’t want to fault them for coming up with something different that could have been even better, but they failed. If you’d told me they forgot to season the breading, I’d believe you. They needed something more, especially with all the fanfare behind their rollout. I’m honestly surprised they’ve been so well received. I ate these originally back in October then tried them again recently and had the same impression. In October, I ate these after the Pico Guacamole Burger and I kept thinking that I wished these were McNuggets instead. If you want something different and/or plan on dousing these in sauce, then order the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders. Otherwise save your money and wait for them to get a new recipe within a few years.