Zaxby’s joins the fried chicken wars, loaded with ammunition and special sauce

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Photo: Aimee Levitt

Enjoyable as life in Takeout-land is, sometimes I need a break. I need to get away from my desk. I need a view out the window that isn’t the front courtyard of my building. So last week I hopped in the car and headed south. Soon the Chicago skyline was in the rearview mirror, and then the flatness of Indiana gave way to the hills of Kentucky. Hills! You have no idea how exciting hills are to someone who’s spent the past 14 months in Illinois.

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By dinnertime, we’d reached Franklin, Kentucky, right on the Tennessee border. There were plenty of food options and my partner Jeff and I started weighing our options (translation: arguing), but then we saw a sign for the Zaxby’s Signature Sandwich and all bets were off. Even though I was on vacation, I felt a moral imperative to eat yet another chicken sandwich. SIGH.

Zaxby’s exists only below the Maxon-Dixon line and in Indiana and Utah. Until recently, it served only chicken wings and fingers in a special sauce. Southern expats are quite devoted to it. (Case in point, Jeff’s friend Jason who grew up in Alabama and who got very excited when Jeff DM’d him that he was about the experience the glory of Zaxby’s for the first time.) The chicken sandwich is a brand-new innovation, introduced nationwide last month and inspired by guess who?

Unlike all the other fast food joints, though, Zaxby’s has decided to forge its own path with the chicken sandwich. Yes, it uses breast meat. Yes, there is a toasted bun (potato rather than brioche), and yes, there are pickles. But instead of mayo, Zaxby’s slathers the bun with its signature Zax Sauce. Zax Sauce resembles other salmon-colored fast food sauces, but it’s less sweet than McDonald’s Special Sauce and less creamy than Raising Cane’s Cane’s Sauce. It comes in both plain and spicy.

Maybe it was because I was eating the sandwich on-site so it didn’t have a chance to get smushed or soggy, but the Zaxby’s chicken sandwich looked like the ads. The bun stood up to the toppings, and the breading on the chicken was still crisp and hadn’t yet dissolved into greasiness. Inside, the chicken was juicy. Even when I was near the end, I could still hear a crunch as I bit down. (Please indulge me. I’ve been eating takeout for a year, and fried food does not travel well.) Truly, it was a beautiful chicken sandwich.

There was just one false note, and that was the Zax Sauce. I’d gotten the original, not the spicy, and I regret to report that it didn’t have the cooling effect of the mayonnaise on the other chicken sandwiches. There wasn’t enough of a contrast between the sauce and the saltiness of the chicken.

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Still, the Signature Chicken Sandwich brought me joy. It’s an excellent example of its kind, second only to Popeyes. It feels like nitpicking to criticize it for daring to be different and make itself stand out from all the other chicken sandwiches out there. But I’m doing it anyway.

But now I wonder, in the words of my Instagram pal @mokie.okie, “Oh when will this wretched war end, so the boys can come home?”

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DISCUSSION

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I need a view out the window that isn’t the front courtyard of my building.

You have a non-cubicle view???  You have a window?????