December 30, 2011. I went to Popeye's, that venerable fried chicken institution, and ordered a breast. No sides, no drink, just a breast of fried chicken (well, it did come with a biscuit, but I only took a couple of bites). As anyone who knows me knows, I've spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about and eating fried chicken. I've gone to establishments in the New York region which have been hailed by critics as being "mighty good" or "the best." None of these places have been bad, but as has been obsessed over in these Annals, I still don't feel like I've found the perfect, all-satisfying, Holy Grail of Fried Chicken. (The closest has probably been from The Cardinal in the East Village).
Anyway, to return to Popeye's, how does this ubiquitous chain compare to its more expensive and talked about counterparts? It compares reasonably well, actually. Sure, if I had all of the fancy, more expensive, "gourmet" fried chickens in front of me, I could probably pick out which one was Popeye's. The overall satisfaction rate might not be noticeably less than the elite chickens, and, in fact, might compare reasonably well with the average.
Is Popeye's the Holy Grail of Fried Chicken? No. But the fact that it's almost or perhaps even about as good as the more "high end" places is rather disquieting. What does this say about the Egg's and Redhead's? What does this say about the elusive quest for the best fried chicken, the fried chicken you can eat and say, "ah, now that was an absolutely incredible fried chicken?"
I don't know what it says.