On Monday morning, Chick-fil-A started tweeting like Hillary Faye, the mean Christian played by former international pop star (in my heart) and actress Mandy Moore in the comedy "Saved." Taking an obvious shot at Popeyes — which recently released a new chicken sandwich — Chick-fil-A’s Twitter account went out of its way to note that when it comes to fast-food chicken sandwiches, they are “the original.”
Don’t let the heart emoji and easy math presented in the tweet fool you: This is how Southerners — namely, white evangelicals living in the South — try to throw shade from their social media business accounts. Chick-fil-A feels a certain way about their secular competitor's new menu addition, and I suppose it’s fair to understand why. Popeyes is promoting a sandwich that consists of a fried chicken breast on a brioche-ish bun with pickles and a special sauce. It even comes wrapped in a foiled envelope.
For you uninitiated Northerners, this means war.
Chick-fil-A shouldn’t be so pressed-pressed-pressed-pressed-pressed, though. After all, it is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the country and could plausibly surpass Starbucks sooner than not. Beyoncé isn’t worried about Normani paying homage in her new video, so why is Chick-fil-A dissing Popeyes the same way Madonna went after Lady Gaga in 2012?
Well, after ordering Popeyes’ new sandwich — spicy, obviously — for research purposes, I can confirm why Chick-fil-A might be a lil’ hot and bothered: It is so good.
On first bite, I literally said “wow” out loud. And then I dipped it in the Cajun mashed potatoes as advised by a friend who had already sung the sandwich’s praises to me.
No wonder Popeyes is behaving so confidently on social media: They know, in that sandwich, they are “that girl” as the youths (and close enough) say.
Of course, other chain Twitter accounts joined the fight — Wendy’s, Bojangles', Shake Shack, et. al — probably further irritating Chick-fil-A, which has long claimed to be the originator of the chicken sandwich (dating to the 1960s). Out of respect for fried chicken, I’m going to weigh in on the others before moving back to the main competitors.
Wendy’s has a great chicken sandwich, but it never comes first to mind for me. It’s the sandwich I might call on in the midnight hour (they are open later than the others), but I wouldn’t seek it out on a sunny day. Full disclosure: I would risk it all for their spicy nuggets, which they had to be publicly pushed to start selling again. Wendy’s has got to learn how to treat us right if they want to be perceived as No. 1.
Bojangles' put up for its entry a chicken sandwich in a biscuit, but was promptly ridiculed for posting fried chicken that looked like it needed raw shea butter to moisturize. Case dismissed. Thanks for playing, I guess.
Now, I must acknowledge that Shake Shack has an amazing chicken sandwich. However, their price point is higher and their portions are smaller. That’s good for my health or whatever, but the cost of fast food with a la carte menu offerings add up and their sides don’t taste as good as those offered at Popeyes and Chick-fil-A.
So, back again to Chick-fil-A, the self-professed originator, and Popeyes, who wants to spice up my life like a Spice Girl in sandwich form.
Writing at The Takeout, Kevin Pang sized the two up thusly: “In my mind, the tradeoff is the savoriness of Chick-fil-A’s fried chicken vs. the textural satisfaction of Popeyes fried chicken. But with the added richness of that mayo spread, Popeyes has a chicken sandwich that I find every bit as tasty of Chick-fil-A, minus the psychic shame — and, in the case of the spicy version, even tastier.”
As for that shame, Pang acknowledges: “I find Chick-fil-A’s politics repugnant, but they’re also close to my house, their sandwiches and waffle fries are tasty, and my 3-year-old thinks the same."
I don’t begrudge Pang as a queer person; if anything, I identify with him. In light of the recent revisiting of Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ stances since its charitable foundation continues to donate to anti-LGTBQ groups, I’ve once again stepped back and questioned if the visceral satisfaction I feel after eating Chick-fil-A is worth it, considering to whom they give my money.
And, as a result, I’ve stopped going. I’m not one of those who greeted the negative headlines and declared, “Chick-fil-A ain’t all that anyway.” In my house, it sure is. Those nuggets are divine — even the grilled ones. Those fries are amazing. The kale salad is pretty good, too, and I love washing it down (or defeating the purpose of eating it) with their sweet tea. And their sandwiches, even the grilled ones? Whew.
I had stopped eating them in 2012, but I eventually went back home. I rationalized it well: They provide better customer service than any corporate entity I can think of — and I am Black in America, so even the feigning of kindness and decency is appreciated. And then I justified it based on the fact that I haven't cut ties with everyone in my own life who doesn’t approve of my sexuality either.
Still, as much as I love their food and service, it just doesn’t feel right to eat there in this climate. So — if I am being totally honest — while I am not sure that I can say Popeyes has bested Chick-fil-A in the chicken sandwich battle, I will concede that it is more than a worthy substitute. In times of war, I would usually advise to go with God, but given the circumstances, I have to go with Popeyes. They may not act like they are BFFs with Jesus the way Chick-fil-A does, but their long-time supporters include Beyoncé, which is close enough for me.
And until Chick-fil-A stops sprinkling homophobic sparkles over its otherwise delightful product and business model, I want to go with the chicken sandwich that satiates me without feeling like I just contributed to someone else’s oppression — let alone my own. That's assuredly better for my soul than either Chick-fil-A's version of a chicken sandwich or their version of Jesus.