We all know the storied saga by now: In August, Popeyes announced the addition of two fried chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A instigated a feud on Twitter, Popeyes clapped back, and all fried chicken hell broke loose. A fire lit across the internet, and demand for the sandwich skyrocketed across the country, often to the detriment of employees.
Two weeks following the launch, Popeyes announced that it had sold out of sandwiches nationwide; it hadn’t accounted for the rabid demand and had estimated that supplies would last through the end of September.
Fans lamented and skeptics aired out conspiracy theories about the chain purposely understocking ingredients to fuel the story. A few weeks later, Popeyes published a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bun) video as a playful retort to the continuous requests for the sandwich’s return.
And then, in late October, a deep-fried declaration was made. The sandwich was to return to Popeyes on Nov. 3, a date chosen not without purpose: The relaunch date fell on a Sunday (when all Chick-fil-As are closed) and “coincidentally” aligned with National Sandwich Day. The cosmos apparently owed Chick-fil-A another round of bad karma, as the company found itself having to apologize for a promotional email they had sent about National Sandwich Day, failing to realize which day of the week it fell on. Popeyes, naturally, didn’t let this slide without comment. True feuds never really die.
A Tale of Two Sandwiches
And so, the sandwiches are finally back. Popeyes boasts that its (literally) golden child is born out of an all-white chicken breast, doused in Louisiana seasonings, then battered and breaded in a buttermilk coating, squeezed into a soft bun, and topped with pickles. The sole differentiator between the two versions is whether you’re in the mood for classic mayonnaise or the spicy hot sauce-spiked version.
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Having missed out on the first go-round of these beloved new additions, I was determined to find out if this sandwich would actually live up to all of the hullabaloo that arose. My teammate Brenna and I decided that we’d get there right after opening (10:30 a.m.) to beat the crowds and secure the coveted goods.
When we entered Popeyes at 10:35 a.m., the line was already to the door. The woman in front of us regaled us with stories she had read online about the previous day’s crowds, and would later tell us that she had visited the store in person a week prior to confirm the return was legitimate. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the register and ordered two classic and two spicy sandwiches to go (so far, there is no limit on how many you can request). By the time we stepped to the side to wait for our order, the line had officially curled out the door.
For the next 25 minutes, we watched as early signs of impatience had settled throughout the restaurant. Many patrons in line asked us how long we had been waiting for, their eyes hungrily following customers walking out with large plastic bags filled to the brim with foil-packaged sandwiches.
“I bet you they sell out by 3:00 p.m.,” one man grumbled.
“Before,” his companion retorted.
But no matter for us: After grabbing our order, we hightailed it back to the office to ensure peak freshness when sampling.
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My first taste of the classic sandwich was…fine. It’s definitely a higher caliber fried chicken filet compared to its competitors, and the brioche bun was honestly worth the wait. Most fast food buns smush into nothingness, but this one was rich and flavorful. Truthfully, all the hype and the frenzy had built the experience into something so much more than a sandwich in my mind, so I was probably predisposed to be slightly underwhelmed from the start. The rest of our tasters loved it, though, and they found themselves particularly enamored with how hefty the chicken was and how substantial each bite felt.
The spicy sandwich, on the other hand, was unanimously adored. The spice was subtle, but that slight extra kick rounded out the salty fried chicken and vinegary pickles perfectly. Call it the Samin Nosrat effect: Everything worked together harmoniously.
Is the Popeyes fried chicken sandwich and spicy sandwich worth your $3.99 (before tax)? Yes. If you’re in need of a (theoretically) quick bite, nabbing a sandwich is a steal in both quantity and quality, especially if you go the spicy route. Does it live up to the ($65 million!) media circus it created? Not really, but it is one of the more entertaining marketing endeavors in a landscape oversaturated with brands attempting to out-snark each other on Twitter.
But if/when you do try it, be kind to the employees. It’s just a sandwich, after all.
Header image courtesy of Connor Bower