Popeyes has just fired the first salvo in the new fried fish war

Popeye's flounder sandwich on floral background
Though she be slightly smooshed, she is fierce.
Photo: Lillian Stone

I’ve worked really hard to establish myself as The Takeout’s resident Fast Fish Evangelist. I’m not even a pescatarian, nor do I limit my meat intake for religious reasons. I just love drive-thru fish and always have. Drive-thru fish is jazzier than a plain ol’ cheeseburger, and it’s typically lighter than fried chicken. Worst-case scenario, it serves as a fish-flavored ketchup spoon, which is just fine with me. So when I heard about the new Popeyes Cajun Flounder Sandwich, I immediately hauled anchor and sailed westward to the scenic Drive-Thru Fish Isles.

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First, some background: It’s impossible to deny that Popeyes changed the fast food sandwich landscape forever with its now-iconic chicken sandwich. Introduced in 2019, the product ignited the so-called “chicken sandwich wars” that are still raging nearly two years later. The Popeyes chicken sandwich is tough act to follow—so what’s a Cajun chain to do? How could Popeyes launch a new sandwich that lived up to the chicken hype?

The answer, as Popeyes must have learned after last summer’s BBQ Bacon Cheddar Chicken Sandwich debacle: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The flounder sandwich is basically the Popeyes chicken sandwich, but with fish. This is how the brand describes the new sandwich:

Caught in the icy waters of the Pacific, Popeyes flounder is light and flakey and seasoned in a blend of the Louisiana-rooted brand’s Cajun mild and spicy seasoning. With only four simple ingredients combined to perfection, the fried filet is served atop the same buttery toasted brioche bun with barrel cured pickles that fans know and love from the Chicken Sandwich, along with Popeyes legacy tartar sauce.

The sandwich, all snug in its festive little bag.
The sandwich, all snug in its festive little bag.
Photo: Lillian Stone

That’s right: same bun, same pickles. But would it deliver the same undeniable satisfaction? To find out, I had the sandwich delivered as early as possible (10:56 a.m., because fast fish is an Anytime Food).

The sandwich arrived in a very festive little bag buried in a massive nest of the chain’s signature seasoned fries. I’ll admit that my heart sank a little when I opened the bag. PR photos make the flounder patty look at least two inches thick, bursting out of the brioche bun like Lenny Kravitz at a music festival. But the actual flounder patty was only about an inch high at its tallest point. The two pickles beneath the patty were also small and a little flimsy, totally hidden to the naked eye. The layer of sauce on top of the patty was more of a light smattering. The only part that looked true to the photo was the brioche bun, which was soft, pillowy, and gleaming with butter.

But looks aside, my first bite didn’t disappoint. Like the chicken sandwich, the Cajun Flounder Sandwich has some kick to it, thanks to Cajun-spiced breading. I’m a certified spice weenie, but I handled this one just fine. Actually, the sandwich’s spice levels added just enough zing to set this thing apart from other fast fish sandwiches I’ve had in my day. But could the breading hold up to the impossibly high standard set by the Popeyes chicken sandwich?

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Actually, yes. It’s hard to tell from the photo I snapped, but the flounder patty was perfectly crunchy—even after the thing was delivered to my door, which took approximately 45 minutes thanks to a 10-days-and-counting Chicago blizzard/cold snap. The crispy breading gave way to white, flaky flounder that was flavorful without taking on the generic fishy quality of a lot of drive-thru cod. The tartar sauce on top of the patty lent the whole thing a creamy, tangy finish.

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In the end, the only downside was the barrel-aged pickle issue. I know these are a staple in the chicken sandwich, but mine were small and mushy and really didn’t do anything for the sandwich that the tartar sauce wasn’t already doing. I ended up ditching the pickles and spreading a bit of spare sauce on the bottom bun. That’s the other thing: I would’ve enjoyed a slightly more generous tartar sauce spread.

It doesn’t look like much, but the thing is very, very filling—even more so than some of the flimsier burgers on today’s fast food market. (I did eat the sandwich a mere 1.5 hours after my breakfast, so that’s something to consider.) The sandwich also came with a generous heap of fries, as I mentioned, but I haven’t touched those yet.

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Ultimately, the Popeyes Cajun Flounder Sandwich gets high marks in my book. I’d recommend this one for pescatarians, Lent observers, or simple fish-loving plebeians like myself. It might not be a picture-perfect sandwich, but it gets the job done and offers a level of spice and crunch that I’ve never seen in all my years of ordering drive-thru fish.

See for yourself: starting today, February 11, the new sandwich will be available in Popeyes stores nationwide. The fish sandwich costs $4.49 a pop, a slight increase over the $3.99 chicken sandwich—but if you really don’t like it, you can score a chicken sandwich replacement for free with the brand’s Sandwich Insurance promotion for 10 cents extra (through the app today only). Basically, if you order the Cajun Flounder Sandwich and don’t like it, Popeyes will replace it with the tried-and-true chicken sandwich. So either way, satisfaction is guaranteed.

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DISCUSSION

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ConductedInPeaceClosedInHarmony

Is the sandwich year-round or just for Lent? Doubt I will get to a Popeyes until the pandemic ends.