Eat This

The Big Nostalgia Energy of the Fried Chicken Tenders Sandwich at Maple & Motor

The $7.95 fried tenders sandwich at Maple and Motor with shredded lettuce, tomato and mayo
The $7.95 fried tenders sandwich at Maple and Motor with shredded lettuce, tomato and mayo Nick Rallo
The griddle at Maple and Motor should have its own ASMR channel.

The shushing hiss that washes over you from beef frying in its own grease causes the same wave of “euphoric tingling” as the autonomous sensory meridian response videos out there. A minute after the doors unlock, before the music kicks on, the hushed static sound of the griddle merges with the fizz of the deep fryer.

The sound is ground chuck and brisket in a bubble bath of its own grease. That’s one part of the calming, euphoric sounds at Maple and Motor.

The other is the explosive crunch of the fried tenders sandwich.

Eleven years after Jack Perkins opened his first restaurant, the tenders basket is a rocket ship to an older, simpler time. Deep-fried bolts of chicken are entombed in a peppery, don’t-care-where-it-was-sourced batter. The crunch registers in the tips of your toes. It’s a sensory experience. There's a big sound and an aroma that launch you back to the school cafeteria: Suddenly, you’re sitting in the bendy chair in middle school on chicken nugget day.

You probably remember the day — did you have chicken rings or nuggets? — it was the smell of chemically spiked breading in scalding oil. It stuck to the walls of the lunch room (and our clothes) like lotion. It didn't matter where the chicken came from or what ingredients were used — we downed them like coins in an arcade. Ranch dressing fills the volume of whatever container it's in, says science: The circle part of the tray was perfect for dipping nuggets (walk slow with the tray, so you don't spill the ranch).

click to enlarge
Might as well get Tater Tots, too.
Nick Rallo
Back in present day, the tenders sandwich, which has been a M&M menu item hiding behind the immense shadow of Perkins’ burgers, sparks all of those childhood memories. It's the best execution of a nostalgic sandwich — each component is designed for peak lunchroom happiness.

The hot griddle enriches the bun with a stern, buttery toast from end to end — another layer of crunch. A nest of shredded iceberg lettuce, cooling with mayo and a scoop of pickle relish (I requested this), sits below the tenders. Each craggy tender is as hot as a meteor sent down from space. I was a kid again, impatiently waiting for hot tenders to cool so they wouldn’t scald my brain. Ranch dressing is just two quarters extra at Maple and Motor, if you've got any left after laundry day.

Amping up the sandwich with grilled jalapeños is a good idea, too. There’s more of a big-kid energy there. Same goes for grilled onions — it’s a canvas of a sandwich for add-ons at Maple and Motor. Tater Tots are legendary on the side here, each pod of salty crunch is another time transporter.

How does Perkins achieve the B.N.E. — the big nostalgia energy — imbued in the fried tenders sandwich?

“Secret,” Perkins says in an extremely succinct text.

Actually, that’s fine. This is one sandwich that doesn’t need an origin story. Let it live in the realm of blissful ignorance (like the frying oil for their frozen Tater Tots)  — the kind we had when we were kids on nugget day.

Maple and Motor, 4810 Maple Ave. (Oak Lawn). Open 10:45 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
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Nick Rallo
Contact: Nick Rallo