The sign at the South Philadelphia Popeyes reads “New: Chicken Sandwich," but the people already knew. They’d been coming for the sandwiches for more than a week, and Tuesday of last week at lunchtime was no exception, with cars stretching from the street to the drive-through window.
Inside, Thomas Chambers was biting into his spicy fried chicken. Chambers, who works near the Front Street location, had wanted to try one of the sandwiches since Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen launched them nationwide Aug. 12, setting off a wave of hype and glowing reviews, including a rave from the New Yorker, which proclaimed the sandwich is “here to save America” in its headline.
“It’s good,” Chambers said. “It maybe isn’t as spicy as I’d like. But I like it.”
The fried-chicken sandwich is the company’s first sandwich in more than a decade. News of the launch sent local fried chicken fans scrambling to try it, and comparing it to such competitors as Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s and Shake Shack.
It comes in classic and spicy, and is battered in buttermilk and served on a buttery brioche bun with pickles and mayonnaise. The breading is crispy-crunchy, the seasoning is peppery, and the chicken is fresh and juicy.
Liyah Acevedo, who works at the South Philly store, said she’d been selling 70 sandwiches a day just during the morning shift. “We’re always busy, but since we got the sandwiches it’s even more,” she said.
But why has the sandwich inspired such an outpouring of emotion? Can it smooth over our differences, heal wounds, or help us better understand one another? No. Even Chambers, a fried-chicken fan, acknowledged that “It’s just a sandwich.” But the fact remains that for many meat eaters, fewer things taste better than a perfectly executed fried-chicken dish.
Inquirer food critic Craig Laban praised the sandwich’s seasoning and texture, though lamented that it didn’t have enough pickles for his liking. Other local reviews were generally positive.
“It’s really good,” said Ryne Williams, an avowed fan of both Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, who ate one at the South Philly store last week. “I’m pleasantly surprised. I didn’t expect the deliciousness of the chicken tenders to translate quite so well to the sandwich."
There, Scott posed for photos with fans before settling down with some spicy chicken. After admiring the heft of the sandwich — two hands needed — he bit in and kept going. Like Chambers, he said it could use a little more spice, but said the sauce gave it a kick that helped boost the flavor.
“It’s good, it’s good,” he said. “Chick-fil-A got some competition. I see what the fuss is about. The hype is real.”
Asked whether he understood why people were losing their minds over the sandwich, he didn’t hesitate.