When you have Popeyes and Chick-fil-A fighting over who has the best chicken sandwich, the only real loser is every fast-food franchise that didn’t have an item that could compete.
Even at the opening salvos of the Chicken War, there were murmurs that McDonald’s understood this and that their franchisees had been pleading for a while to get a chicken sandwich that could draw the kind of lines both of the other chicken sandwich restaurants enjoy.
It’s always been confusing to me who really makes decisions in the McDonald’s universe. Mayor McCheese has the title “Mayor” in his name and has that very authoritative sash, so under normal circumstances, you would think he’s calling the shots.
But obviously Ronald McDonald is the protagonist in whatever long myth is being told in the commercials, and he has “McDonald” in his name. So I don’t know which of them guides corporate strategy, but whichever one it is, they have spent the last couple of months giving full focus to cooking up a way to muscle into this fowl fight.
The cooking is nearly done as they’ve released a new test sandwich to two markets: Nashville and Houston. Now in terms of the distance one normally travels to get lunch, Houston isn’t exactly close. But it’s not a giant undertaking to get there. It’s certainly well within the kind of efforts the Observer puts in to serve its cherished readers. And I had a friend who would let me sleep in his spare room. So I filled up my tank and set out on a trip to get a sandwich.
Given what a letdown it would have been to drive all that way only to find a Popeyes-esque shortage, I did call ahead. The location I chose was indeed not serving the sandwich, but they let me know that the flagship store at 3611 N. Main St. would have a good supply. I did find that to be the case.
McDonald’s is offering two configurations, classic and deluxe. Classic is the same setup as what you'd find at Chick-fil-A: bun, chicken, pickles. Deluxe has the new patty joined by the same dressings as previous McDonald’s chicken sandwiches: lettuce, tomato and mayo.
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Getting down to the sandwich, I can confirm it’s really not worth driving four hours. I’ve had many of the past iterations of McDonald’s chicken sandwiches. This one is a little better than those other offerings, but it’s a distant third behind the two other legends it’s chasing.
There’s just really not much texture to it. The breading is nothing like the crunchy taste-scape that Popeyes offers. It’s also light on seasoning. I was initially confused as to why they bothered with the deluxe version since it’s a clear departure from the other entries in the genre, but it made more sense once I tried both styles. You really need the other toppings to complete the taste. The chicken is not good enough to stand on its own.
McDonald’s says the Houston/Nashville test will run through Jan. 26. One presumes it will expand to Dallas and the rest of the nation after that, but I wouldn’t wait with too much anticipation. It’s only getting press because of its connection to the chicken sandwich craze America is currently experiencing. (Seen here!)
Taken on its own, it’s a really unremarkable item. If you're one who's loving the fast-food chicken sandwich craze, just hope Popeyes doesn’t run out of stock again.