Pickin’ Chicken: Federal Donuts vs. Chick-fil-A in a Billy Penn sandwich-off

A list of the best chicken sandwiches in the city had a glaring omission. So… journalism!

Federal donuts chicken sandwich vs. Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich

Federal donuts chicken sandwich vs. Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich

Try Caviar/Wikimedia Commons/Billy Penn illustration

Earlier this week, uwishunu’s March story about the best chicken sandwiches in the city came back around in our, ahem, feed. Immediately the conversation of those cooped up in the Billy Penn office focused more on what restaurant wasn’t there over which ones were.

Chick-fil-A was not on the list, an omission that made several members of the Billy Penn staff rather hot. While that best Philly sandwich list was full of more dare-I-say haute chicken, it doesn’t mean the fast-food chain shouldn’t have been included too.

Chick-fil-A’s sandwich is delicious, and since it’s readily available in the city, it should have been on the list. But is it the best chicken sandwich in Philly? Moreover, is it better than the hottest (and hautest) joint, located just around the corner?

The fried chicken magnates at Federal Donuts offer their plump and cripsy chicken sandwich at all city locations, including the one at 16th and Sansom, just a couple of bocks blocks from the Billy Penn offices. Still, despite such a scrumptious local option, some in the office bocked balked at the notion that FedNuts makes a better chicken sandwich than a fast food counterpart, located all over the city and, for the purposes of this debate, inside Liberty Place at 16th and Chestnut.

The interoffice squawking over which is better even took to social media, before an idea was hatched: Let’s just taste test the cluckin’ things and come to a consensus.

Journalism at its finest, we purchased five sandwiches from each restaurant for an inter-office taste test, also grabbing donuts and waffle fries, respectively. (One of us may have procured a shake, too.)

Clearly the Federal Donuts sandwich was more robust, as the potato bun encased a crisp chicken breast, pickles, cheese and very special sauce. Some in the office remarked that the cheese could be more melted, and perhaps it could include a tad more sauce. The Chick-fil-A option was…basically just chicken and bun. And pickles.

Sure, we could have (and for the sake of comparison probably should have) ordered the deluxe sandwich from Chick-fil-A—with lettuce, tomato and mayo—to compare more to what Federal Donuts offers. Instead, we went with the basic sandwich, losing a bit of luster compared to the Philly-centric option, especially when we taste-tested the fast-food option sans sauce.

But here’s the thing…the Chick-fil-A chicken was juicier. Significantly so. When (and I only say this in the interest of chicken sandwich science) squeezing the breast, juice poured out of the fast food option while the thicker breast from FedNuts barely produced a drop. That doesn’t mean the chicken from FedNuts was too dry, as the flavor was favored by some in our taste test. It was just drier and, to some, that did mean not better.

As we are journalists and not professional poultsters pollsters, this very serious sandwich vote was conducted by eight people—an even number!—which meant that no majority could be reached. Four of us preferred the Federal Donuts option while four preferred the Chick-fil-A offering. Both, all eight decided, were delicious; but there was no clear winner.

That is, until the price was factored in. A Chick-fil-A sandwich was just $3.25, while the Federal Donuts bill for five sandwiches and six donuts was upwards of $43, which averaged out to nearly seven bocks bucks a sandwich. For the price of one FedNuts sandwich a hungry lunch-goer can snag two sandwiches from Chick-fil-A (or a meal that includes one sandwich fries and a drink), which you might need if you’re trying to match overall pound-per-bite from one to the next.

This debate brought up an interesting question, as the fast-food and fast casual markets all raise the overall quality of their sandwich options: Faster isn’t usually better, but is it inherently worse?

As we continue our search for the best lunch options, we plan to investigate—see, journalism!—other fast food versus local fast casual, or fast and local, options. People can’t seem to stop talking about Shake Shack’s chicken sandwich. Is that better than Popeye’s? Are their burgers better than Five Guys? (Are any local burgers better than Five Guys?)

We plan to find out. For journalism. And for lunch.

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