Fried Chicken Everywhere

A Sandwich staycation

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

With COVID-19 severely curtailing my social calendar, I don’t have much going on these days. I lack the patience to traffic in sourdough starters and bread baking, and as I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, I’m not one to commune with nature, so hiking and biking are not viable means by which for me to pass the time.

What I can still do, however, is eat.

Because I like to eat with a purpose, a few weeks ago, I hatched the idea of consuming several of Bellingham’s more popular fried-chicken sandwiches and then writing about them.

And while eating four fried-chicken sandwiches in five days was definitely a treat for my taste buds, the rest of my body is not quite sure why that needed to happen. I’d like to say I have regrets, but the truth is, I’d probably do it all over again. What follows are my fried chicken takeaways, in the order said sandwiches were consumed.

Thanks to a rather aggressive recommendation from Bellingham Harold, as well as some nudging from noted local business supporter and my personal enabler Doug Starcher, the first dish on my list was the Culture Cafe’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich. First, let me just get this out of the way: This thing is $6. Six bucks. I don’t even know how that’s possible, but that deal is very real. I think it might be styled after some other, more famous chicken sandwich, but I don’t much care about that as Culture Cafe’s version stands so well on its own. It was one of the most straightforward versions I tried—just a slab of seasoned, breaded fried chicken with some sweet mustard sauce, romaine and pickle chips between two toasty buns—and it was no-frills delicious. Despite its generous size (did I mention it’s only $6?), I ate it in about four bites and was happy to do so. In Harold, I trust.

My next stop on my sandwich staycation was Bayou on Bay, where I primed my pump with a generous portion of chicken tenders prior to taste-testing their Fried Chicken Po Boy. Was that the smartest plan? No, but do I seem like a person capable of making and executing the smartest plan? Either way, it did not diminish my po boy experience. Of all the sandwiches I ate, Bayou’s was the biggest and the messiest—both points in its favor. From my regular consumption of their tenders, I already knew the buttermilk-brined chicken on the sandwich would be a winner, and once it was dressed up with melted provolone, lettuce, tomato, pickles and sage aioli (don’t sleep on the aioli—like the proverbial rug, it really ties the sandwich together), it did not disappoint. It did require me to deploy multiple napkins and some strategic eating methods to keep it together, so if it’s a neat little sandwich you’re after, this ain’t the one. Bayou’s offering was also the one that drove home the essentialism of pickles on such a sandwich, as their briny crispness proved a necessary and perfect counterpoint to the richness of the dish. I’ve heard people come to Bayou specifically for the Fried Chicken Po Boy, and I understand why.

Although I needed a nap and probably a salad at this point, I soldiered on in my quest to eat my weight in fried chicken with a visit to Fiamma Burger. When I began my journey, this was the fried chicken sandwich with which I was most familiar, having eaten it before on several occasions. Fiamma offers a few different options, including a very good Fried Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwich and a Spicy Fried Chicken Sammy, but in the interest of the purity of my experiment, I went with the basic model: the aptly named Fried Chicken Sandwich. This is another no-frills affair, with buttermilk-brined chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion and roasted garlic mayo. At $9, it’s a few bucks more than its Culture Cafe counterpart, but it is still a screaming deal because the chicken fillet is fully twice the size of the bun, and has been every single time I’ve ordered it. I wouldn’t even call it a chicken fillet or burger, it’s more a giant slab of fried chicken. Another thing the Fiamma version has going for it is they’ve somehow solved the problem of getting their highly seasoned breading to adhere to the chicken from the first to the last bite.

The final sandwich in my journey came via Camber. It required me to make myself presentable before 2pm, when the cafe closes, which might sound easy, but after three fried chicken sandwiches, proved to be a challenge. I’m no stranger to Camber owing to my somewhat obsessive love of their lamb burger, but this was the first time I’d strayed into poultry territory. Camber’s Fried Chicken Sandwich had some things in common with its neighbor Bayou on Bay in that it was also very generously sized and had some decidedly nonstandard toppings in the form of arugula and aioli—and Mama Lil’s peppers, which is the condiment I love above all others. Their sandwich offered the zestiest, crunchiest breading of the four I tasted, but overall was a bit drier owing to it only having aioli spread on one of its buns. However, using Mama Lil’s instead of the usual pickles was an inspired choice and I very well may have to carry a jar on my person in order to add them to all future fried chicken sandwiches—after I take a break to eat a salad or some vegetables or something.

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