Popeyes has sold out of its crispy chicken sandwich, which means the fun of frantically searching for an outlet with the instant legend in stock (and then waiting in a lengthy line to buy it) is at least temporarily over for America.
The sellout announcement also ends my informal mission to become the last food writer in the country to review the sandwich. Earlier this week, I wondered if anyone else was competing for the title, so I decided to run an online search for “Why I haven’t eaten the Popeye’s sandwich yet.” Google allowed me to type three words before completing the phrase as “Why I haven’t found love,” which I suppose is a fair way to talk about fried chicken.
In the two weeks since Popeyes released its craze-inducing chicken patty, the type of people who get nervous when everyone’s in agreement (read: journalists) have come up with plenty of good reasons to shun the sandwich. Fast-food restaurants contribute to the obesity crisis; meat consumption isn’t good for the earth; the U.S. poultry industry has exploited immigrant workers; Popeyes’ low-wage employees have been forced to work long hours without breaks to satisfy the nation’s sudden hunger.
I’m sympathetic to all of those concerns, and very much hope Popeyes does right by the people who process and serve their chicken. But that’s not why I’m a crispy chicken holdout.
Last weekend, I took my 7-year-old nephew to Niagara Falls, where I’d booked an Airbnb. Having never visited the falls, I assumed the area around it was still as wild as depicted in 19th century landscape paintings.
Accordingly, I packed my hiking shoes, which I quickly realized were superfluous, in part because the Niagara Falls are just one element of an asphalt-dominated park. But if I had needed different footwear on our trip, it turned out I could have hit up the TJMaxx right next to our rental house.
There was also a Popeyes in the adjoining strip mall, and I felt a pang of guilt every time we passed it. I felt like it was my duty as a critic to bypass all of the wings, pizza, chocolate sponge and beef on weck I’d come to Buffalo, N.Y., to eat and try that darn sandwich instead. My fellow food writers from Boston to San Francisco were doing it.
But you know how we journalists feel about consensus. I instead went to a Polish fish fry, where folks were drinking krupnik out of a pope-shaped pitcher.
Here’s the deal: I don’t need to taste Popeyes’ sandwich to know it’s fantastic. Popeyes is fantastic (some Popeyes are more fantastic than others. I once met a guy at an ATM in New Orleans who took me to the Popeyes of no return.)
No disrespect to Bojangles’ sweet tea or biscuits, but Popeyes is my longstanding favorite for fast-food chicken. While I firmly believe that Chick-fil-A offers better service than many downtown Charleston restaurants, I’ve never been swayed by the sweetness of the chain’s breading. Popeyes is it.
So there’s no question I’ll eventually eat this sandwich. But I’m planning to eat it the way it was intended, without crowds around or a review anticipated. Fast food has countless faults, but the reason the model has succeeded is its practitioners offer genuine pleasure to people who can’t afford to spend $40 on dinner or 45 minutes in line.
For people accustomed to doing both, the Popeyes sandwich is a novelty and a distraction. Yet for Popeyes customers who pull through the drive-thru after working a double, or who need to feed their family when traveling through a town where nobody else has time to fry chicken for strangers, it’s a reliable and consistent source of deliciousness, which everyone deserves.
Fortunately, once Popeyes restocks its inventory, it ought to be around for a while.