Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Under the Infuence

We are all influenced by those around us. Our personal circle of friends, family, and acquaintances affect how we view the world. In our jobs, professionally, we are constantly being pulled this way or that by our colleagues, superiors, and vendors. The media we consume—TV shows, movies, music, art, the national news, (food blogs!)—they all challenge or reinforce our views.

These forces are all, whether we realize it or not, constantly having an effect on what we like or don't like, what we believe to be true or false, and what we deem valuable or insignificant.

This of course happens in the restaurant world too. The food we eat today is influenced by that which came before it. Every chef, great and not so great, is building on those that came before them. They're taking those experiences which have influenced them, and adding their own spin, their own unique take, and creating something a little bit different, a dish that's perhaps more interesting, and ostensibly, more delicious.

There's a restaurant chain that is influencing chefs at not only fast casual joints, but also high end, expensive eateries. Chik-fil-A.

I'm madly in love with the chicken sandwiches at Chik-fil-A. The things are pure genius. They are comfort food boiled down to its essence. Like the BLT, their simplicity belies their magnificence. Toasted potato bun, pickles, and a boneless fried chicken patty. Just three simple components that come together to make culinary magic. All that's needed is to add a dallop of mayo. The chicken is tender, juicy, and super flavorful, and it's widely believed all that magic is the result of a pickle juice brine.

The chicken sandwich that has turned Chik-fil-A into a national obsession (I am by no means alone in my devotion to it), is so good, that big name chefs, and chefs at both expensive and fast casual restaurants are putting Chik-fil-A influenced sandwiches on their menus. And not only is Chik-fil-A affecting menus, one high profile chef in NYC has created an entire restaurant concept around selling chicken sandwiches that he openly admits was inspired in part by Chik-fil-A.

I'm talking of course about David Chang of momfuku fame and his new restaurant Fuku. Fuku features a menu of only 6 items, of which his spicy chicken sandwich is the featured item. It's a boneless fried chicken thigh, on a potato roll, with pickles and butter. As Steve Jobs is famous for saying, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Even Shake Shack, renowned for it's burgers, has introduced a fried chicken sandwich aimed at competing with Chik-fil-A.

So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover that Albany's own high end steakhouse, 677 Prime, has what appears to be a Chik-fil-A inspired sandwich on the menu. It's described thusly:

PICKLE BRINED FRIED CHICKEN — jalapeƱo, dill pickle and cabbage slaw, sesame seeds, sriracha mayo, toasted potato roll

Pickle brined chicken, pickles (in the slaw), toasted potato roll. Where have we seen this before? If this sandwich isn't inspired by Chik-fil-A I'll eat my hat. The good news, is that 677 Prime's chicken sandwich does justice to its apparent progenitor. Chik-fil-A would be proud.



Look at the breading on that thing! Calling it crunchy is an understatement of epic proportions. This is one of the crunchiest fried chicken sandwiches I can remember eating. I love that the chicken overwhelms the small potato roll. The roll rightly serves in a supporting role of just giving you something to hold onto. The chicken is the star of the show here, it's a tender and juicy hunk of thigh meat. The sandwich comes with a small banana pepper, pickled jalapeno, and thick, house made pickle slice on the side, which I promptly piled on top. They added a vinegary kick and upped the spiciness ante. The whole thing comes together in a delicious panoply of tastes and textures.

If I have one complaint, the breading could've used more seasoning. As a result I would put this number two locally, just behind the chicken sandwich from Hattie's Chicken Shack with its famously delicious seasoned breading.

As good as 677 Prime's fried chicken sandwich is, and it is very good, Chik-fil-A is still the master of the form. As the Bible says, "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord."


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