Howdy y’all! It’s time for another edition of Mastication Monologues. Today I am going to be writing about a certain restaurant chain that has a special, deep-fried spot in my heart (and no I’m not talking about Atherosclerosis) but rather that golden brown, Cajun breading that comes on Popeye’s’ Chicken. My favorite Popeye’s is located at 5711 S. LaGrange Road in Countryside IL. There is a closer location on Cass Ave., but I no longer patronize that location due to its lackluster biscuits that are more akin to hardtack than buttermilk pillows, and a bout of food poisoning they served to me with a side of bland chicken. But I digress.
The actual establishment is nothing too extravagant as there are numerous Cajun knickknacks hanging about the entrance, and Mardi Gras related memorabilia festooning the wall space between each table. Many are quite humorous such as the following pics:
After taking in all of this colorful scenery (including the hot sauce case that contains a bottle that should not belong in there. See if you can figure out this riddle when you go there), I got down to business by ordering the five chicken strip meal (which comes in either mild or spicy varieties and then two sides which can be either a biscuit and Cajun fries, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, or cole slaw).
As far as side dish affinities go, I normally choose the biscuit and the extra biscuit side which is an approximation of what God would eat for dinner if he resided south of the Mason Dixon Line.
Chicken-wise, I usually go for the spicy variety which I would liken to a slightly hotter paprika that resides under the crispy breading that doesn’t get spicier than a standard jalapeno heat. Plus, if you decide to order traditional, whole pieces of chicken, you can also get it in regular and spicy varieties (unlike the Colonel who just has one flavor that relies on a mysterious recipe which still tastes bland to me).
However, I always manage to douse these strips with some good ol’ fashioned Louisiana Hot Sauce that is in ample supply on the table in bottles. Even though there are some people who complain that after eating fried chicken they have an unsavory “stuffed with grease” feeling, I can assure you that Popeye’s chicken is fried lightly enough to not turn off even the most finicky eater. The preparation is a world away from the Cass Avenue location where even their freshest chicken seems a day old in terms of succulence and overall flavor/aroma, and their breading seems as mediocre as the service. Not only that, but they also only give out hot sauce in packets…this isn’t Taco Bell, people. Anyway, moving on to the sweeter part of my meal: the biscuits!
Biscuits have long been a part of Southern cuisine whether being served alone or smothered in artery clogging, chunktastic white sausage gravy. At Popeye’s Chicken, they are merely served as a side to the savory chicken which can be complimented with some decadent squirts of honey as shown in the bottle on the right in the photo (also served in packets at the Cass Ave. location). Once again, this is where the Countryside location outdoes the Cass Avenue Popeye’s. The former manages to combine flour, shortening, and buttermilk to form a porous yet firm, buttery-rich mini-pillow of ecstasy that teeters on the edge of culinary perfection whilst adding honey to its warm interior. On the other hand, the biscuits at the Cass location nearly always seem to have the consistency of a saltine in terms of flakiness, dryness, and saltiness which leaves me with a general sense of regret having subjected my palate to such arid dreariness. I also must comment on the other side dishes that I have tried with my chicken dinners. First, there are the Cajun fries where are like normal French fries but are fried to a dark brown hue and covered in a pepper based seasoning that is not too overbearing in terms of spice (they can be hit or miss though so tread with caution). Then there is the dirty rice which is not as unsanitary as it sounds because it merely is a white rice dish that mixes in either sausage or chicken liver to give the rice an alleged “dirty” look to it (with this dish, either you really like it or you really hate it kind of like Brussels sprouts). The final side I’ve had is the mashed potatoes which is my mom’s favorite, but they are worth the price because the sausage gravy nicely compliments the finely mashed potatoes and does not drown out their flavor.
Overall, Popeye’s Chicken at Countryside is a restaurant everyone should try if you’re looking for some great fried chicken and sides for a good price if KFC/Chick-Fil-A/Church’s has you clucking for something different. In the immortal phrase of the Cajun chef Justin Wilson, “”I ga-ron-tee!” (J’vous garantis! for all the Francophones out there) that this restaurant will leave you satisfied as demonstrated by my love for their biscuits/chicken.