By now, I should know better. I’ve been conducing fast food Taste Tests for a long time now, and though I will never dispute that I am living the dream, I will say that this is a lot harder than it looks. I’ve developed rigid systems for instances where I need to review an entire menu that allow me to evaluate multiple dishes without losing my critical edge or ending up in the ER. I know how to pace a meal, how to eat just enough to appreciate the food without growing sick of it. And still, despite all that good sense I thought I had developed, I still allowed Hardee’s new Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich to overwhelm my body, mind, and soul. It’s just that good.
I may be writing this from the fetal position, but I have no regrets. I honestly didn’t expect Hardee’s to serve me a chicken sandwich that I would demolish like a rapacious wolverine. I feel the “[X fast food restaurant] introduces new chicken sandwich” headline has grown old and tired—seriously, it’s been two years since Popeyes threw down the gauntlet—and both my enthusiasm and expectations have waned accordingly. When a sack of hot, greasy chicken sandwiches makes its way onto my desk, I need to spend a few minutes psyching myself up so I can find the positives, instead of tossing everything aside and writing, “Did anyone at [X fast food restaurant] even bother going to Popeyes?” I expected Hardee’s late entry into the Chicken Sandwich Wars to be half-assed and half-cocked. I did not expect it to be a contender for Best Sandwich in the Whole Damn Game.
As you might be able to tell from the photo at the top, this chicken sandwich also hoodwinked me with its humdrum appearance. Fast food often depends on loud spices, slick sauces, melted cheese, and superfluous bacon to hide its flaws; by contrast, a Southern-style chicken sandwich is never much to look at—and that’s part of what makes a great one so miraculous. The first bite left me silently stunned: succulent, flavorful, and, despite the fact that I had gotten it delivered, crunchy to the point that it rang in my ears. The potato bun did exactly what it was supposed to do: it held things together, tasted great without being too distracting, and provided a pillowy balance to the chicken’s deafening crunch.
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My only issue was that it seemed a bit bland, especially since Hardee’s already has hand-breaded chicken tenders, which are essentially long, bunless chicken sandwiches. But then... the pickle! There is nothing out of the ordinary about whatever pickle Hardee’s has chosen for this sandwich, but when you’re lucky enough to snag a bite with one in the mix, it’s really something else. Once I tasted every single element together in a triumphant, harmonious bite, I ravished this sandwich until there was nothing left but crumbs. The only reason I am not giving Hardee’s chicken sandwich Popeyes-level marks is because of a poor pickle-to-chicken ratio, which can easily be fixed by ordering extra.
Hardee’s is also offering two smaller chicken sandwiches that are just as satiating as the big guy. The Hand-Breaded Chicken & Waffle Sandwich comes doused with with maple butter sauce and was very good, but a bit too sweet for my taste—I was only able to eat about half of this, thanks to my breakneck sandwiching just minutes before. Then, from the breakfast menu, there is the Hand-Breaded Chicken Biscuit. I have long heard rumors that Hardee’s makes the best buttermilk biscuit in all of fast food, and I can now confirm that such rumors are plausible. It was at this point I dragged my sack of chicken sandwiches to my bed to continue my workday horizontally, still compelled to eat this biscuit in its entirety, because what the hell did I have to lose? It’s a 3-0 game and there’s seconds left on the clock, so I might as well pull my goalie and just have fun out there. Good game, Hardee’s.