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Spicy Chicken Sandwich Envy 

Where to get the hot stuff in Humboldt

click to enlarge The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at the Alibi.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at the Alibi.

At Popeyes drive-throughs and glass doors across the country this week, steering wheels were slapped and shoulders sagged as patrons read signs posted by beleaguered employees informing them the Spicy Chicken Sandwich was sold out. For those gentle souls sheltered from the fracas, after the chain introduced its new sandwich — a fried chicken breast atop sliced pickles and spicy mayonnaise on a brioche bun — it got a marketing boost only beef can provide. That is, Twitter shade from competitor Chick-fil-A, which set off a social media dunk fest (hats off to Black Twitter in particular there) and subsequent mass rush to try the sandwich everyone was talking about. (See what you're missing on Twitter besides presidential proclamations and my wicked gif game?)

It also set off a wave of fast food FOMO in Humboldt County, where nary a Popeyes can be found. Even if you braved wildfire driving to Redding, supplies didn't last. It's satisfying to see anti-marriage equality donor Chick-fil-A take a whooping and people from every walk of life swept up in excitement over food, but beyond that, I confess it doesn't inspire the same food envy as reading about a 24-hour Korean barbecue place or Italian ice carts. And watching the cresting wave of incoming chains rolling into Humboldt — In-N-Out, KFC, Chipotle, Mountain Mike's — it's a little disappointing to think this is the fruit of our collective vision board. Couldn't we have sent our energy into the universe and manifested a dim sum joint?

Some of my inability to get excited over fast food is about the corporatization of our food chain and the crushing of American farmers and restaurant workers, all for food that is fine but seldom as pleasing as a mom-and-pop shop's, and followed by minor regret. And, OK, some of it is about that 24-hour bus trip I took to Florida in high school, trapped with the smell of McDonald's and sweaty classmates. So as much as spicy fried chicken sandwiches have been on my brain, I found myself curious about what restaurants in our county are making from scratch. A couple sandwiches with buzz weren't available at press time (Southside Mike's, this isn't over) but here are a handful of freshly made spicy chicken sandwiches to quell your craving and, unless you're a better person than me, to lord over your friends in Redding.

click to enlarge The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Eel River Brewing Co. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Eel River Brewing Co.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Eel River Brewing Co. (1777 Alamar Way, Fortuna)

This chicken breast is grilled, then dipped in ERB's California Blonde Ale batter and fried before it's thoroughly soaked in the house wing sauce made with chili-garlic sauce and butter, and served with lettuce, tomato on ciabatta ($13.59). It may not be quite as juicy as straight frying but it's certainly not dry and shows up fast with a hot tang and a crust that magically maintains an audible crunch.

click to enlarge The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at the Alibi. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at the Alibi.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at the Alibi (744 Ninth St., Arcata)

This is the most Buffalo of the herd, served on a toasted white bun with a fistful of crumbled bleu cheese to take the sting out of what is a fairly hot sauce ($9.25). The house-seasoned panko coating on the breast delivers good crunch and if seeing that red oil seep into the bun doesn't make your jaw tingle, there's nothing I can do for you.

click to enlarge The Everyday Chicken at Arcata Pizza and Deli. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Everyday Chicken at Arcata Pizza and Deli.

The Everyday Chicken at Arcata Pizza and Deli (1057 H St., Arcata)

Hidden at the bottom of the burger section is a housemade dupe of Popeyes: a hand-dipped and fried breast atop pickle slices and spicy aioli on a brioche bun ($8.75). The chicken is tender and coated with a simple, crispy, salt and pepper crust. That I find the bun a little too sweet is another reason I'm not a fast food mogul — the ensemble hits all the salty, sweet, fatty and tart buttons.

click to enlarge The Fried Red Hot at Burger Joint. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Fried Red Hot at Burger Joint.

The Fried Red Hot at Burger Joint (835 J St., Arcata)

How wholesome can we get? The free-range Mary's Chicken breast is tasty on its own and only enhanced by the peppery breading and generous splash of Frank's Red Hot sauce and bleu cheese dressing ($14). Lettuce and tomato are tucked into the seeded bun and a couple of slices of lightly sweet house-brined pickles are speared on top. The sandwich is, as Elvis Presley's cook Mary Jenkins Langston used to say, "seasoned pretty high," and well balanced by a side of the excellent sweet potato fries.

click to enlarge The Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich at the Lighthouse Grill. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER FUMIKO CAHILL
  • Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
  • The Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich at the Lighthouse Grill.

The Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich at the Lighthouse Grill (355 Main St., Trinidad)

The thickest of them all is right here, a fat hunk of white meat dipped and fried daily that retains its juiciness ($9.99). The battered exterior is hidden, along with bits of smoky bacon (is this ... cheating somehow?), by a blanket of melted pepper jack cheese, and is utterly sopped with hot sauce. Don't be fooled by the pale bun — this one packs a punch and will stain your shirt if you get cocky.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Bio:
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal.

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