Don’t Be Chicken
Some restaurants tend to be alluring simply because they’re elusive, whether it’s Chick-fil-A to New Yorkers or say, El Bulli, to most of the world. Does the myth live up to reality?
That’s hard to say in the case of the chicken sandwich because I’m no connoisseur. I just don’t choose chicken sandwiches when a hamburger is so much more appealing, but it’s hard to argue with the simplicity of Chick-fil-A’s classic that’s so iconic it was copied by McDonald’s this year.
Toasted buttered bun, breaded, fried (or “pressure-cooked in peanut oil,” they say) chicken breast with no more than two pickles for distraction. Austere in a good way. I think my aversion to fast food chicken and fish sandwiches is that I assume a swath of mayo will be present. I only enjoy mayonnaise when I can’t see it because I semi-secretly have the palate of a seven-year-old. If a white blob squishes out of the side of sandwich when handling it, the napkin immediately comes out and I have to wipe down the interior of overdressed bun or bread as I’ve done for over three decades. It’s not pretty. Not having to endure that trauma with Chick-fil-A is much appreciated; you can gussy up your patty with the individually packaged condiments of your choosing. I was fine with Tabasco only.
(After graduating college in the early ’90s and finding myself unemployable, I housekept my printmaking teacher’s giant ‘70s suburban house for $6/hour. She was a highly entertaining but insane alcoholic who couldn’t get out of bed so I’d also have to take her unruly kid to school [and cart him off to the McDonald’s playground and distract him while she sold pot out of her house] and occasionally make her food. She insisted on tuna sandwiches and freaked when she saw how little mayonnaise I mixed in with the canned fish. “No, like this” she laughed, gleefully thwaping in a good two cups of the condiment, creating a two-to-one ratio of thick white soup to meaty flakes. I almost hurled, and didn’t last long as her helper. I’ve never been good at helping.)
I guess Chick-fil-As aren’t as scarce as I had thought. I encountered one a few weeks ago at Menlo Park Mall, and then again this weekend at the Woodbridge Center, a lovely architectural throwback. I’d peg those JCPenny concrete angles as 1981.
Also appropriate for the era was an Orange Julius inside. I would’ve eaten a peanut buster parfait at the attached Dairy Queen for old time’s sake if I didn’t have a filling German dinner already in the works. I mean, I’d already eaten a late lunch chicken sandwich, which was not on my itinerary.
If you need any further proof of the lowbrowness of Woodbridge Center, they also had a 99-cent store and a Sears (no Spencer’s, sadly) which was the only reason why I had chosen this mall in the first place. Yes, I went to Sears on purpose. I needed to exchange a too-big Land’s End bathing suit top (no nonsense swimwear for me, I’d rather be frumpy than frighten fellow beachgoers) and apparently, they have mini shops inside of select Sears locations.
At least the trip enabled a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich encounter. I believe there will be more in the future.