For Southerners, fried chicken is something that’s a natural part of existing. Unexpected company coming over? Bucket of chicken. Somebody died? Bucket of chicken. Hangover from Hell? Two buckets of chicken. It’s one of those foods you don’t actually make yourself because it’s a giant pain in the ass and you’re probably going to get salmonella.
Growing up in the Nashville area, we had our share of chicken options, the most famous being the Colonel’s, but I stopped eating it in 1999 after an unfortunate incident on the London Underground. What can I say? I don’t like British cuisine. Or salmonella. Nashville Hot chicken wasn’t a thing yet and I’m actually glad because it’s very not good. Come fight me.
When I moved to Oxford, Mississippi, I discovered the glory that is gas station chicken (which I have shared before), the phenomenon of never ending lines at Chick-fil-A that move at light speed, and my personal favorite, the odd-smelling but always crunchy, gloriously spicy Popeyes. I’d carry buckets of spicy dark meat (legs and thighs for the uninformed) with me to the outfield during Ole Miss baseball games, and share biscuits with my dog, Ralph, who couldn’t eat chicken.
Popeyes has been part of my life for almost two decades. There is one location in an undisclosed Mississippi town that I can’t go back to. I can’t walk by the one on Canal Street in New Orleans without snort laughing and choking myself. I think both of those stories occurred on the same road trip, so there’s a chance I might be an addict.
The Oxford location is across the street from another Southern-based fried chicken sandwich chain, whose parking lots are eternally sprinkled with multiple church vans and sandwiches come with a side of Jesus. (Except on Sunday. They’re closed, which is the exact day of the week I crave fried chicken.) A few Sundays ago, I stopped at Popeyes and ordered a spicy chicken sandwich on a whim. I didn’t think anything about it — of course they’d have a banging spicy chicken sandwich — and carried on with my bad self.
Then I saw that chicken sandwiches were trending. Guys. It’s Popeyes. Did you think it would be bad? Beyoncé loves it so much they gave her a card for free chicken for the rest of her life. And that was back in 2003, before she was Queen Bey. You can get it with mashed potatoes and Cajun gravy, and let’s be honest, you could give me a styrofoam cup of Cajun gravy and I’d murder it.
Doing field research for this piece, I got another sandwich just in case I was crazy. Every parking spot was full, so I had to wait in an even more ridiculous drive thru line. Whenever I eat trash, I like to go inside the restaurant and take it home, because at least I feel a little less shame since I walked those 40 steps to get it.
The car in front of me (that only had two people in it…) ordered four sandwiches. What’s going on here? I was starting to sweat a little. Possibly because it was 104 degrees outside and Mississippi heat is more brutal than Sahara heat. Likely because I was afraid the two jerks in front of me who ordered four sandwiches got the last ones. How much chicken can one Popeyes hold?
I got my answer from Cheryl, the sweet woman who was owning that drive thru window: 500 chicken sandwiches. They sold out of 500 chicken sandwiches the previous day, and by 11:30 a.m., Cheryl moved 100 chicken sandwiches out of that window alone. They open at 10:00 a.m. There are 24,000 people in this town. That’s banana pants math I can’t even do…
Ladies and all y’all, after eating my second Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich, let me tell you — believe the hype. Embrace it. Get you a sandwich. (Just one, don’t be greedy.) Go early. Wait patiently. Love that chicken from Popeyes.
Thank you, Chicken Jesus, for this gift. We truly don’t deserve it.