Need a good cry? Picture me in an enormous high-necked nightgown, leaning precariously across a Juliet balcony, stuffing my face with ground beef, and wailing the following:
“When, oh, when will the chicken sandwiches return from the war?”
Since the beginning of the Chicken Sandwich Wars in August 2019, nearly every major fast food chain has sent its finest soldiers into the battle to create the industry’s best fried chicken sandwich. Along the way, we’ve eaten a hell of a lot of chicken sandwiches, each of them claiming to be bigger, better, and splashier than those that came before. And while eating chicken sandwiches is certainly a delicious pastime, I’m personally in need of a spiritual respite. A Christmas Truce in July, so to speak.
I’ll admit it: I’m exhausted by the endless stream of chicken sandwiches. We are a nation obsessed, and at this point, my dreams are haunted by a grotesque parade of sexy chickens strutting down a sandwich-shaped runway. I’ve been desperate for fast food chains to give the sandwich wars a rest and develop something new. Something in a league all its own. Something hot. Enter: Shake Shack’s brand new Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich, which debuted yesterday, July 1, and is a perfect excuse for a sandwich ceasefire.
“Lillian, Lillian, Lillian,” you groan, “A hot chicken sandwich is just another chicken sandwich.” To which I say: Are you insane? A hot chicken sandwich is something entirely separate from the standard fried chicken breast with mayo and pickles with its own distinct rules of engagement. There is no hot chicken sandwich war. At least, not yet. With this in mind, I gleefully grabbed the sandwich from my nearest Shake Shack and dug in.
First, a primer. A press release sent to The Takeout notes that the sandwich features a crispy chicken breast covered in a glaze made with honey, shallots, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and passion fruit puree (I found the last item titillating). The breast is topped with habanero mayo sauce and shredded lettuce, and the whole thing is served on a toasted potato bun.
Right off the bat, I’d describe this thing as “boldly sauced.” The habanero mayo covered the top of the patty, ensuring plenty of sauce in every bite. The sauce definitely packed a punch, with a sweet burn that sneaks up on you, building until the last bite. I’m a pretty big spice weenie (my most boring trait), and I still found the sandwich plenty approachable without a beverage by my side. (Actually, in hindsight, that was a mistake. It’d go great with a vanilla shake.)
Next, the chicken. The juicy breast was nice and thick, just as I’d expect from Shake Shack given the chain’s generously portioned Chick’n Shack sandwich. It was, however, a bit less meaty than the contenders at Popeyes and KFC. But, like I said, this sandwich is in a class all its own, so it’s probably unfair to compare it to its less spicy counterparts.
The breading had a delightful crunch, although the honey glaze did seep in a bit during my 20-minute drive home. Fortunately, the glaze is awesome: the passion fruit’s sweetness shines through the habanero mayo’s peppery tang. The fruity flavor didn’t necessarily scream “honey” to me, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Anyway, “Hot Passion Fruit Chicken Sandwich” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
In the end, I had two complaints. First, the sandwich is served on a toasted potato bun, which is fine—but I think the sweetness of a buttery brioche bun would have been a great addition.
Second, and perhaps more important, I really wanted more texture out of this thing. In lieu of pickles, the sandwich is topped with shredded lettuce. I repeat: no pickles. There really should have been pickles. Shredded lettuce isn’t my favorite, and hot, mushy lettuce is never a good time. I texted my friend Claire, a fellow chicken sandwich maven, about the glaring omission. She declared it “a crime.” (If a chicken sandwich commits a crime, does it face the chicken sandwich war tribunal? Much to ponder.) I also would’ve loved to see some crunchy slaw, which is my personal favorite chicken sandwich surprise.
Even without a cool crunch to play against the biting hot habanero, I really enjoyed this one. The breading is crunchy, the sauces play well together, and the thick chicken breast is filling enough to sustain you through the rest of your workday—fries or no fries. But, I mean, get fries. You should always get fries. And hurry: the Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich is a limited release, only available through October 4 along with the rest of Shake Shack’s new summer menu.