Popeye’s new fried chicken is being hailed as something transcendent. It’s set social media on fire, sparked thinkpieces from the New Yorker, and even brought out the Mike Scott Hive in full hungry force.
Granted, having a cheap and easy alternative to the ethically-questionable but tastiest-of-genre Chick-fil-A sandwich is a serious bonus.
But no matter how juicy the breast meat, how crispy the batter, how perfect the balance of roll-to-filling-to-sauce, one thing about the sandwich remains true: it’s from a chain. When you buy one, you’re padding the pockets of a Canadian multinational fast-food holding company.
Good news: there’s plenty of local alternatives that give the delicious-but-corporate sando a run for its money — if not beat it outright. Here are five fantastic, local, Southern-style fried chicken sandwiches to try instead of (or in addition to) Popeye’s.
1100 N. Front St.
This husband-and-wife outfit often sells out despite its semi-hidden location beneath the highway in Northern Liberties. Like the whole birds on the menu, the “OG” fried chicken sandwich features meat that’s juicy from a long buttermilk brine. Top that with crunchy-spicy slaw and sweet pickle chips, layer on ranch dressing and slap the whole thing on a schmatz-toasted bun and you have something entirely worthy of its price. Also available: a mouth-searing Nashville hot version ($9).
Originally introduced as a summertime-only offering, the fried chicken sandwich at the Cook and Solomonov donut shop has evolved into a beloved cult favorite. With a buttermilk ranch dusting sparking the twice-fried breast and a creamy dollop of rooster sauce complementing the slick American cheese and pickle crunch, this Martin’s Potato Roll vehicle is one of the essential between-bread options in Philadelphia ($8).
1525 S. 11th St.
Opened on East Passyunk last year as a classical chef’s first foray into counter service, this poultry destination offers four different sandwich arrangements — all based around the more flavorful thigh instead of the usual breast. The incarnation most comparable to Popeye’s is the buttermilk, which sees long strips of pickle, thick garlic aioli and cooling lettuce shreds fit inside a cocoon of soft roll ($8).
111 S. Independence Mall E.
Inside the Bourse Food Hall is the first outpost of this new brand from the chef-partner duo behind a pub mini-chain with nine locations along the East Coast. The fried chicken sandwich has been winning raves since launch, with many calling it equivalent it to the Chick-fil-A gold standard — albeit at double the cost. The locally-sourced breast is crisped up in the fryer, then slathered with Alabama white BBQ sauce and served in a pillowy bun with a few pickles for crunch ($10).
501 N. 13th St.
When you have time to sit down, this tavern holding down the corner of 13th and Spring Garden offers a solid Southern-style contender. The birds here are pickle-brined, which makes meat extra tender. The crackling skin gets set off by the tang of pickled green tomato, then gussied up with sweet beer mustard dressing. Add the ooze of pepper jack and throw it all on a brioche bun, complete with fries for a cool $12.