Portillo’s Craps the (coop) Bed

I am not a man who often goes wanting. My rotund figure and near endless appetite portend the fact that I have strong opinions about fast food, of which i’m often reliant on, as I’m sloth to eat my own food, even as i’ve cooked it. There are very few people on earth who were as ready for the great Chicken Wars as I was. The opening shots were fired, as all things are, on Twitter. The term “woke” was ruined through social media by conglomerate brands trying to be cool by turning their 140 characters of brand awareness over to jaded millenials, fresh off their graduation from Arizona State. The term was then co-opted by Tucker Carlson and his ilk, and now woke means “anyone that doesn’t get a throbbing erection at the sight of the flag.”

But I digress, as the only thing that that brings myself joy to the point of an unrequited pants skyscraper is a damn fine chicken sandwich.

For the better part of two decades, the best chicken sandwich was sitting in plain sight. Wendys just kind of had it. It was on the combo menu. They had a fried chicken sandwich and they had a spicy fried chicken sandwich. As goes most things for people of my girth, though, I had to watch it get put on the backburner as healthier options would occupy the commercials, the ad space, and the public conscious. An entire generation was raised to sacrifice taste for the sake of health. These people are, frankly, the reason atrocities like Twenty One Pilots exist. The consumption of healthy greens caused their ears to not be able to listen to music.

When the great chicken wars started up, it was a wonderful moment for people like me, ready for a form of excitement, eager to judge, happy to intake calories without the watchful eye an avocado toast enthusiast prattling on about the latest in Kardashian related drama.

We all know how it went. Popeyes launched the first salvo. Wendys would respond. Nihlist Arbys brought self awareness to society as regular Arbys made food that came seemingly launched out of an Insane Clown Posse fever dream. Mcdonalds, who decades earlier had no problem releasing the McRib, a war crime of a sandwich made out of old camel meat, took nearly two years to release their sandwich. Burger King was even later to the party.

Then, after the wars ended, Portillos barreled through the public eye with a new chicken sandwich, like a Kentucky Fried Kool Aid man. For those of you living outside of the midwest, Portillos is just the most wonderful fast food you could imagine. Everything on their menu is delicious and brings joy to my face and chins.

So you can imagine the happiness that washed over me when I found out that they had released a spicy chicken sandwich. The gods had obviously smiled on us flyover state human blimps. I had to have it. I didn’t know in the moment, but like most things in my life, I came to regret that feeling of joy.

First things first: they put lettuce and tomato on the sandwich. It’s a fried chicken sandwich. You don’t garnish it with lettuce and tomato unless you are actively trying to hide the abject mediocrity of what you are doing. You know what everyone else puts on their chicken sandwiches? A sauce and pickles. None of this “through the garden” bullshit, as if i’m going to be sharing this meal with a rabbit.

Why don’t you put those items on a sandwich? It makes them ruinous to the chicken when it has to be transported any further than back to the car. This sandwich spent ten minutes in the car before being eaten, and the tomato and lettuce were given proper time to ruin everything.

That’s because Portillos doesn’t know jack shit about fried chicken. They make a glorious Maxwell St. Polish. Their italian beef sandwiches are fantastic. Apparently they make something called a chopped salad that people enjoy. But holy hell, this wasn’t the fried chicken that Wendys has always done, Popeyes perfected, and everyone else attempted to imitate. This was just sad breaded chicken that you could find on Mcdonalds dollar menu. The crunch that helped make the Popeyes chicken so awesome is completely absent. It’s the kind of breading that people who don’t know how to fry chicken would create.

And that’s part of the reason this all falls apart. Because they thought that putting lettuce and tomato on the sad sandwich was a good idea, they opened up the gastronomy pandoras box. The chicken was sad because of the breading. The sandwich was sad because of the lettuce and tomato. Then the FUCKING VEGETABLES MADE THE SAD CHICKEN SOGGY! When you don’t use a correct breading/frying on a sandwich, you don’t double down on it by putting shitty vegetable nightmares on it. The resulting chicken portion of the bread was actually visibly discolored where the vegetables were making the most contact. I don’t expect that kind of horseshit out of the frozen food section. I definitely don’t expect it from a Ditka level Illinois icon.

Oh, and the sauce. Get the word giardiniera out of your goddamn mouths. OH, and get the word spicy out of your mouths, too. They were hyping the spice that would come from the giardiniera sauce, but that isn’t true because it was too pathetic to carry the word in it. The sauce was essentially ranch dressing with a flake of cayenne, and then bell peppers cut into such small pieces that it completely defeats the purpose of putting it in there, as part of what makes giardiniera good is the crunch derived from it. The sauce was neither spicy nor giardiniera, and they really should be embarrassed to call it a sauce.

The sandwich didn’t even really make me mad. It mostly just made me sad, like watching fast food Icarus get get too close to the sun and come careening down to earth.

It’s disappointing to know how new food comes to market. Extensive research is done. The audacity of Portillos to call it spicy can almost be forgiven due to their midwestern upbringing. I can assure you that paprika is too much for the average white person in the suburbs. But they aren’t writing this review. I, a psychopath with a death wish who puts carolina reaper sauce on everything, am FUCKING OFFENDED by you using the word spicy.

They used buzz words and fading cultural relevance to enter the market. But much like a typical Midwesterner, they slipped on some ice and landed on their ass. If I want servile, utilitarian chicken, I’ll go to McDonalds, get the dollar McChicken, and have them replace the lettuce with pickle. When I want a real chicken sandwich, though…

VIVA LA POPEYES.

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