It all started with a twitter David received from Popeye’s that Cakebread Chardonnay is the best wine pairing for Popeye’s mild fried chicken. As everyone knows, I have a weakness for Popeyes, so we promptly organized a Popeye’s-Wine Tasting. Alas, Round I yielded no clear winner. Chicken was great, wine mediocre. You can read about it here.
For the second round of Popeye’s-Wine tasting, we brought in the competition – Coast Soul Café Fried Chicken. The wine selections were better, and Popeye’s still is the best fried chicken. More details here. Chef Paul departed that evening with some fighting words, “I can make better fried Chicken than Popeyes!”
Now this was no longer about the wine pairing… it was about the Chicken. I have no doubt in the world that Paul is a talented chef… if you’ve had his Shrimp Shrimp Cha Cha Cha (or mac and cheese, or chicken wings) you’d know. But compete with Popeyes??? His response: “I sez BRING IT ON!!!!!”
Last Saturday we gathered at my house for a Popeye’s Smackdown! Coast Soul Café had already rendered itself unworthy, so we did not bring that into the mix. In one corner we had Paul’s iron-skillet, buttermilk battered fried chicken. In the other: Popeye’s mild.
The Popeye’s Meal Pack came with biscuits and sides. I snuck a biscuit before the guests arrived – salty, greasy, tasty! But then Cynthia arrived with a homemade verison inspired by Martha Stewart's recipe. She brushed the tops with butter and sea salt. There’s just no comparison – the real thing wins every time. And Cynthia’s biscuits were light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
For the main meal, we had homemade coleslaw from Dina. I had sampled the Popeyes', and it was just too sweet and a little soggy. While I don’t like to waste food, I couldn’t justify eating it. Of course, Dina’s coleslaw was far superior with crisp cabbage, carrots and onions and a zingy mayonnaise dressing. I made salad with the garden tomatoes and cucumbers, and roasted beets.
But let’s talk about the chicken! As if looking at the two chickens wasn’t enough to differentiate, the taste difference was clear! As we tore into Paul’s chickens… juicy and seasoned to the bone, we knew we were eating real chicken. Popeye’s just tasted salty, with no chicken flavor. To Popeye’s credit, though, the crust was crunchy and tasty – a result of deep-fat frying and god knows what artificial chemical or process.
As I was cleaning up the next day, still thinking about chicken, I reached in the fridge for a snack. All that was left was the Popeyes. I guess everyone that night recognized a winner and ate every last morsel of the real thing!
Stay tuned.... coming next: Paul's Winning Recipe
Thanks so much to Paul for inspiring such a fun evening – and bringing the winning chicken. And a special thanks to Dina for the coleslaw and the caramel ice cream. And to Cynthia for the biscuits and apple crisp. And Dina and David for taking the pictures.