Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature “Taste Tests.” Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I first heard about the oily monstrosity known as KFC’s Double Down sandwich, it seemed like a practical joke, or an Onion story that made it into the pop-culture bloodstream and was mistaken for fact. Surely even the sick fucks at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the mad scientists of fried poultry behind occasional A.V. Club contributor Patton Oswalt’s beloved Famous Bowl, would not be deranged enough to make a sandwich that substituted thick, greasy, deep-fried chicken-breast patties for buns.
Sure enough, the Double Down quickly attained the status of an urban legend. As its reputation grew, rumors spread that it was a chicken sandwich that stuck a chicken breast in between two chicken-breast “buns” for the gastronomic grease-orgy to end all gastronomic grease-orgies. Amazingly, the actual Double Down is even more disgusting and less healthy than the fried-chicken ménage a trois of the public imagination.
Instead of the expected chicken filling, the Double Down sticks two different kinds of cheese—pepper jack and a mystery variety created by the devil himself to win souls and punish humanity by inciting a massive wave of gluttony-induced heart attacks—bacon (yes, bacon), and something called “The Colonel’s Sauce” between two fried, breaded chicken-breast patties. (The Colonel’s Sauce, incidentally, only sounds like a crude euphemism for ejaculate.) [Editor’s note: The mystery second cheese claims to be Swiss.]
I was fascinated. And horrified. I honestly did not believe such an abomination existed, even in God’s United States, a country devoted to the culinary concept of more, more, more, where fast-food establishments routinely test the outer limits of mindless excess. So I was simultaneously disturbed and excited when I drove past a KFC in beautiful Providence, Rhode Island with a sign advertising the Double Down.
The Double Down is only being tested in two markets: Providence and Omaha, Nebraska. So it was a curious bit of kismet that I happened to be visiting my delightful driver/photographer/girlfriend in Rhode Island when this fast-food evil was being unleashed. If a relationship can withstand the Double Down, it can withstand anything.
Stumbling unexpectedly upon the Double Down in its natural habitat was like encountering a rare and repugnant animal in the wild—call it the Greater New England Grease Chicken Bacon Toad. We entered the Double Down’s sanctuary and were content to merely gaze in awe as an affable fellow ordered a Double Down. He explained that he had just gotten back from buying groceries at Whole Foods, and figured he was entitled to treat himself to the most repulsive-sounding greaseball in Christendom.
My curiosity was piqued, and since Patton Oswalt didn’t happen to be in Providence at the time, I figured I would venture into the very mouth of madness and eat one of these hellspawns myself. I should probably mention that I have the feeble stomach of an old man. I begin every day by popping Prilosec, then help myself to a Cherry Tums chaser. That’s just how I get down. I was battling a cold—my aging body is disintegrating rapidly—so I didn’t have much of an appetite to begin with, but I was going to choke down a Double Down if it killed me or made me violently ill. It nearly did both.
Feeling fearless in a fearful sort of way, I ordered the Double Down combo—a Double Down sandwich, an overflowing order of potato wedges, and an ice-cold Mountain Dew—then sat down to ponder this unholiest of creations.
The Experience: My first impression of the Double Down, curiously enough, was that it seemed strangely small. How wrong could I be? Though two chicken patties buttressing an unsightly aggregation of multiple cheeses, fried pig meat, and sauce looked surprisingly modest, even slight, I felt as if I had eaten an entire bucket of fried chicken after only a few bites.
My first bite was deceptive. “Hey, this isn’t so bad,” I thought as I sunk my teeth into the good Colonel’s succulent white-meat chicken, fortified with his trademark blend of special herbs and spices. I fucking love KFC. I dig their chicken breasts, wedges, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Some of my favorite memories of my time in Madison revolve around an annual institution known as Chicken Bowl, a chicken-eating contest/Super Bowl party organized by A.V. Club founder and all-around great guy Stephen Thompson. We’d consume mass quantities of KFC chicken and mashed potatoes, drink beer, and watch the Super Bowl. It was all kinds of awesome.
The Double Down was like a one-man Chicken Bowl, minus the camaraderie, competition, good vibes, and football. Pretty much all that was left was overeating and the nauseous feeling that accompanies pushing yourself to consume more fried chicken than any one human being rightfully should.
Taste: Like grief, the Double Down is experienced in stages. First comes the deceptive sense of relief that the Double Down isn’t as terrible as it initially appears. As I devoured my first bite, I embarked on a Proustian reverie that ushered me back to all the happy moments I’ve shared at various KFCs. Have I mentioned that I fucking love KFC’s white-meat chicken?
It wasn’t long before reality sunk in. The Double Down comes in a paper napkin holder designed to keep hands relatively grease-free. But it also has a secondary purpose; aesthetically, the Double Down is the ugliest thing in the world. I was surprised that the cheese wasn’t melted when I got my order. I soon found out why; partially congealed cheap-ass pepper-jack cheese looks disconcertingly like putrefied, runny mucus. Every time I looked down at the giant gob of grease, meat, and cheese in my hands, I felt sick.
My stomach began to feel like a brick. I wanted to quit after a few bites but I soldiered on, ignoring my increasingly intense stomach pain. The Double Down did to my gastrointestinal system what Sherman did to the South, leaving a scorched-earth trail of destruction in its wake. After the initial flavor burst of herbs and spices faded, I was left with a series of stomach-turning pairings, the most horrifying being really bad pepper-jack cheese—school-lunch cheap and school-lunch nasty—and odious bacon.
God clearly did not mean for humans to eat chicken, bacon, and low-quality, gelatinous cheese at the same time. I was suddenly struck with a strange urge to keep kosher. Each bite became a grueling endurance test, as the cheese and grease began to override the chicken breasts, and the sandwich grew more revolting-looking with each bite.
I began to feel sick. Merely looking at my beloved potato wedges made me queasy. Who could possibly devour two chicken breast patties, greasy bacon, and two slices of cheese, and still have room left over for fried potato wedges and a soda? For that matter, who would want to simultaneously eat two cheese-and-bacon-addled chicken-breast patties? What began as a pleasant surprise quickly devolved into a nightmare. I struggled to keep the sandwich down. I felt defeated, lost, overwhelmed. I like cheese, I like bacon, and I like chicken breasts, but the combination was too much of a greasy thing. I left that KFC a shattered man. I had finished the Double Down. Or had the Double Down finished me?
So consider me your fast-food Paul Revere, sending out a warning throughout the land: The Double Down is coming! The Double Down is coming! Be afraid, dear reader. Be very, very afraid.
Where to get it: KFCs in Providence, Rhode Island and Omaha, Nebraska.
Thanks to foodgeekery.com for supplying us with the close-up of the Double Down, and to Danya Maloon for the photographic documentation of Nathan's pilgrimage to KFC.