Fried chicken is the best. The main reason I had to stop reading about death row inmates' last meals is that every single thing about this sentence so far is ghastly; I was also secondarily appalled by how many of them forgot to request fried chicken. I understand that if they were good decision-makers etc., but still, that one seems really basic. Regardless of the particulars of your case, there's no excuse to forget the fried chicken! (Exceptions made for vegetarians, of both the murderous and wrongly convicted variety.)
KFC makes pretty good fried chicken. A lot of your haughtier fast-food commentators have mocked the recently reintroduced DoubleDown for being a crass exercise in marketing and excess, but I think it's righteous. The idea of an all-meat sandwich seems a bit stupid and xxxtreme at first, but when you think it through, you realize that it's stranger to put bread around fried chicken.
Now, is a breadless sandwich really a sandwich at all? I don't know. I think Albert knows (he's very good at determining what is and what is not a sandwich), but I haven't asked; he's hard to talk to during the playoffs. That's why we're not going to address the DoubleDown today, but instead KFC's more traditional—weird tradition, that, putting bread around fried chicken—Doublicious, and also, while we're here, Wendy's new Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta.
The Doublicious is primarily a palm-sized portion of fried chicken breast on an overly sweet but pretty decent Hawaiian bun. I'm not certain what makes it Doubl (the matter of liciousness is obviously dependent on individual user experience). There's bacon, which is a very good food, so it could be like, "Hey, this sandwich has two very good foods: fried chicken and bacon." There's also Monterey Jack cheese, which is an ambitious thing to call a bullshit slice of unmelted white American, and a sauce that the KFC website describes only as "delicious," but which you and I know to be "too much orange mayonnaise."
It's a fairly good sandwich, because KFC is competent at frying chicken, and if you've got a thing based on competently fried chicken, you've got a thing that can't be any worse than fairly good. The cheese is useless, and the bacon displays a very simple version of good taste that is partially discounted by its being too lean and overcooked. I would have believed it was turkey bacon; I like turkey bacon as a compromise, but if I'm not getting the cholesterol benefits, then I want pig, you know? The bread is fluffy and sweet and not stale. But enough about all that—let's discuss the chicken.
The very nice and crisp crust is quite salty and somewhat peppery; the underlying chicken breast is very thin and disconcertingly gray, but it tastes fine. My cutlet was sort of mangled and misshapen, which allowed for a greater surface area to batter and fry. Thank goodness!
The sandwich in its entirety is a qualified success: Well-fried chicken on a serviceable bun for $3.79 is always going to be a pretty good time. But the utterly worthless cheese and the relatively meek bacon put a lot of pressure on the chicken, which was too thin to provide the optimal textural contrast. Instead of getting the mush-crunch-mush of biting through bread, crust, and juicy meat, you get more of a mush-crunch, because your teeth are through the chicken before they know it. The lack of the crucial second mush degrades the whole operation.
TUSCAN CHICKEN ON CIABATTA
Wendy's Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta is a mouthful of words, and also of sandwich. For the princely sum of $4.89, I would like quite some bit of fast food, and the Tuscan Chicken is that. Ciabatta is not my favorite breadstuff, and I get nervous when fast-food places try to get too slick, but this is a fair enough rendition. It's handsome and tastes good, and it's not as gigantic and overwhelming as I'd feared.
The "garlic with roasted tomato aioli" tastes like rosemary mayonnaise, and I'll let you decide whether that sounds like your kind of sandwich spread. It was judiciously applied—enough to flavor the sandwich, but not enough to get things all soggy. The tomato slices looked great and tasted like fast-food tomatoes, which is to say they enraged me; after I calmed down and discarded the tomatoes, I noticed that the mixed greens were the best non-fried fast-food vegetables I've ever encountered. There was arugula and spinach and a couple other green things, and it was all fresh and lively and worthwhile. The slice of Asiago tasted a little bit like Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar; that's pretty good for a $4.89 sandwich.
The chicken was bigger and fluffier than the KFC version, and it was bright-white, too. The meat tasted like typical watered-down fast-food chicken, and the limp and pale coating tasted like salt. This would be better as a grilled chicken sandwich, because you'd save a bit of fat and dignity, and you'd lose very little crunch. If you're looking for an authentic fried chicken experience, the Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta is going to let you down, but if you're just fixing for a nice chicken sandwich without any specific textural agenda, it will do. The quality of the bird, cheese, and greens combine to make this just a bit better than the KFC Doublicious.
WINNER: TUSCAN CHICKEN ON CIABATTA
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Art by Jim Cooke.
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