The Fourth Wall: Special orders don't upset us ... well, maybe just a little bit
Lines were around the block. Ticket-holders had put down their hard-earned money and now were waiting restlessly for the star attraction. Some sort of technical difficulties, they were told.
The latest “final movie” in a superhero saga? Hardly. The dropping of a new Taylor Swift song in which she exacts revenge on those who’ve treated her wrong? Not even close.
Vehicles (and the people inside them) were queued up for a piece of fried chicken inside a bun. Some locations got so busy, no one went there anymore.
Since we here in Southern Oregon don’t have easy access to a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen — and, the folks at Ashland’s Bird & Rye restaurant told food phone-a-friend Sarah Lemon, fried chicken is underrepresented locally — we’ve been spared the sort of viral mania that hasn’t infected our region since the opening of In N Out ... or Five Guys ... which, after all, put a piece of beef inside a bun, so it’s totally different.
Imagine the clamor that will follow the opening of Medford’s new International House of Pancakes ... as cutthroat customers scramble to be among the first to get a Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity breakfast.
(Warning: If you find yourself in that particular line, DO NOT try to cut in front of my beloved housemate; she’s a feisty Fresh and Fruity fanatic.)
We don’t venture down the culinary aisle of pop culture very often in this space; but since fast-food is the equivalent of a gastronomical Kardashian — cheap, fast, mass-produced, heavily marketed, genetically questionable, viscerally appealing but likely to leave a sour taste in your gut after partaking — it has been impossible to ignore the craze that Popeye’s chicken sandwich has created since its introduction as the latest, greatest thing since bread came sliced.
It’s been equally impossible to ignore the most compelling question that has arisen as stories about long lines, impatient customers and overwhelmed minimum-wage workers became ubiquitous:
What the hell is wrong with people?
I mean ... seriously.
An oft-quoted story in The New Yorker magazine was headlined “The Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Is Here To Save America” — which I suppose does make it somewhat of a superhero ... although one that’s coated in flour instead of spandex.
Meanwhile, rival chicken sandwiches (good gawd) started to diss Popeye’s diva status — which, I suppose, makes it BFFs with TayTay.
Unwilling to drive to Redding or Salem in search of this apparent once-in-a-lifetime offering, I instead went in search of what might be the secret to what makes this sandwich worth the wait.
Here’s what I found:
It’s a piece of breast-meat white chicken — battered, seasoned and fried.
There is mayonnaise.
There are pickles.
It’s placed in a brioche bun.
I repeat ... what the hell is wrong with people?
I like chicken fine, although I’m a thigh and leg man myself. And a brioche bun? ... Sure, whatever ... no one goes to a fast-food place for the bread.
But mayonnaise and pickles? That a complete disappointment, to the level of the following exchange between workers at rival chains from 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”:
“What’s the secret sauce (at All-American Burger)?”
“Thousand Island dressing.”
“What’s the secret sauce at Bronco Burger?”
“Ketchup and mayonnaise.”
In fact, you could not choose a couple of condiments less likely to garner my attention than mayonnaise and pickles. They are two-thirds of the axis of evil. Heck, replace the chicken with tofu and the bread actually would become the most appealing aspect of the thing.
Speaking of fake meat in this period of the “Impossible Whopper” (which, when you think about it, is a rather unfortunate name if you want to tell customers that it’s no lie how good the fauxburgers taste), KFC has been market-testing “Beyond Fried Chicken” — boneless wings or nuggets, served with your choice of Honey BBQ, Nashville Hot or Buffalo sauces.
This means the chicken (made from soy protein, pea protein, rice flour, carrot fiber, yeast extract, vegetable oils, stabilizing agents and seasoning like salt, onion powder and garlic powder) will taste like Honey BBQ, Nashville Hot and Buffalo (although not the bison, the town ... well, sort of).
The test run in Atlanta sold out within hours (I repeat, what ... oh, you know) and firm plans for another market test or nationwide rollout are being formulated — most likely out of soy protein, pea protein, rice flour, carrot fiber, yeast extract, vegetable oils, stabilizing agents and seasoning like salt, onion powder and garlic powder.
Meanwhile, back at Popeye’s, the ENTIRE CHAIN announced Tuesday that it had sold out of its fried chicken sandwich supply — with no date set for a return to its franchises (just in case you were tempted to head to Salem or Redding).
Consumers consume — it’s what we do. Whether it’s the music from a pop tart or a fast-food novelty that has flashed across the ever-changing taste buds of public opinion, there’s a distortion in the gene pool that craves to be entertained and fears being left behind.
Believe me, I empathize. The Rooty Tooty can’t get here fast enough for a member of this household.
The staff at firstname.lastname@example.org will be away this coming week, asking restaurants to hold the pickles and mayo.