In these burger-obsessed times, do you ever feel like we never show enough appreciation for the chicken sandwich?
Maybe you haven’t spent too much time worrying about the plight of this dish, but I’ve always been a ride-or-die chicken-sandwich advocate. It started when I was a kid, stuffing frozen chicken nuggets (shaped like dinosaurs, natch) between slices of white bread to create a training-wheels version of the bodega “chicken cutlet on a roll” I would come to love as a shit-faced adult. In college, my friend Cheddar Ted and I popularized the “‘Wich Came First?” order at the cafeteria: an egg-and-cheese sandwich with a fried chicken cutlet wedged into the center. And, in certain low moments, I have been known to replace the bread with two knishes to form this late-night monstrosity.
Beyond the classic bodega cutlet, New York does a surprisingly crappy job with chicken sandwiches (ditto for nachos). There are a few solid practitioners—Wilma Jean, Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter—and NYC even has its own fast-food warhorse in Ranch 1, which used to be the best option at MSG before the concession got a bougie upgrade. More often than not, restaurants grasping for some sort unique identity tend to seek specific references with their chicken-sandwich making—Southern-style chicken biscuits, upgraded chicken-parmesan hoagies—but what I’m talking about is the more regionally agnostic, triumphantly lowbrow version of the classic chicken sandwich: squishy bun, fried cutlet, pickles, maybe a sauce. In-N-Out burgers are “upgraded” by chefs all the time, but no one seems to have time for the humble chicken sammy.
Chang is not the only power-player bringing a sudden surge of cred to NYC’s chicken-sandwich scene.
Perhaps it’s less sexy than a burger—there’s no room for dry-aged beef or cave-aged cheddar to lure in the mooks. And perhaps the chain that represents the sandwich at its mass-market peak—the notoriously Bible-thumping Chick-fil-A—is too uncomfortable of an association for restaurateurs looking to piggyback for profits, not controversy.
Thankfully, David Chang is more interested in deliciousness than politics, and his Fuku chicken-sandwich concept—which launches in the East Village today—cites both Chick-fil-A and In-n-Out as inspiration. “We thought about taking both and merging them into one sandwich,” he said when announcing the restaurant at SXSW. “No one ever thought to do that. [What if you could] ask for spicy chicken Animal-style?”
He’s also using a Martin’s potato roll, the king of buns. A few hours in, the line’s already out the door.
Granted, Chang could generate a line for just about anything. But he’s not the only power-player bringing a sudden surge of cred to NYC’s chicken-sandwich scene. Rumors are swirling that Shake Shack—New York’s own In-N-Out—has a chicken-sandwich concept in the works. And Chick-fil-A—long cordoned off from regular New Yorkers in a students-only NYU cafeteria—is finally plotting its assault on Manhattan.
New York is an insatiable monster when it comes to food trends, and it takes a lot to cut through the noise and achieve any sort of staying power. But you couldn’t dream up a more powerful trio of chicken-sandwich slingers than David Chang, Shake Shack, and Chick-fil-A.
Ranch 1 held us down, but New York is finally about the get the white-bread-and-fried-cutlet game it deserves. I couldn’t be happier.