I tried Chick-Fil-A's Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich and lived to tell the tale
Plus: RIP Jimmy Buffett, the best to ever do it
Hey, we’re back! Been awhile. I missed y’all a lot. Big welcome to all my new readers who’ve shown up since my last dispatch. Let’s have some fun again, huh?
[Note: Just before I published this, word came over the coconut telegraph that Jimmy Buffett died. I’ll go deep on the Margaritaville worldview next week. Today, raise a cold beer and a frozen drink to the man who brought the beach to the world.]
A new front has opened up in the endless Chicken Sandwich Wars, and it’s cheesy as hell.
Last week, Chick-Fil-A announced its “Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken,” and brother, that was like standing on an Appalachian mountaintop and daring God to smite you. You throw around the word “pimento,” it’s like a young musician with a single gold record comparing himself to Elvis. You earn the right to serve pimento cheese to the public, you don’t just claim it.
Chick-Fil-A specializes in a commodified, brand-safe version of the South, the “Live-Laugh-Love” version of authenticity espoused by Buc-ees. It’s about as genuinely Southern as Taco Bell is Mexican or Panda Express is Chinese, but it’ll do for the drive-thru.
Southerners have a bit of a sideways relationship with Chick-Fil-A anyway. It’s local to Atlanta, so there’s a provincial protectiveness there. The restaurants offer clean booths and reliable wi-fi, which is a godsend to those of us who sometimes need to work from somewhere other than home. The closed-on-Sunday thing is one of those cute quirks that people have grown to accept, even though a biscuit sure would be nice on the way to church. The Chick-Fil-A across the street from Daytona International Speedway regularly gives up a good six months’ worth of revenue by staying closed on the day of the Daytona 500.
But here’s another side of the Chick-Fil-A truth. To start, the fabled chicken sandwich is, well … kind of dull now. I know, this is heresy to say in the South, but it’s true. Popeye’s has caught and passed Chick-Fil-A, and Zaxby’s is hot on the red-and-white trail in the Chicken Sandwich Wars. Plus, the restaurant’s avowed conservative leanings are a rallying point for some, but a dealbreaker for many across the country, even in an increasingly-blue South. Saying “it’s complicated” is table stakes for the SEC’s geographical footprint, but in short, Chick-Fil-A is much more than just a sandwich.
You can understand, then, why Chick-Fil-A would want to take a big swing, and it doesn’t get any bigger than pimento cheese, one of the foundational foods of the South. Sharp cheddar, mayo, pimentos, spices, a few other secret ingredients … everyone who makes it has their own spin on the recipe, and one bite of good pimento cheese will transport your mind right to a summertime picnic table or beneath the pines at Augusta National.
So … is Chick-Fil-A making good pimento cheese?
Here’s what mine looked like on Wednesday:
The first issue is that the cheese melts into neon orange sauce if it’s in contact with the warm chicken breast for too long. There’s a reason the sandwich comes wrapped tight; try to eat this out in the open and you’re liable end up covered in droplets that will glow with the lights out.
The flavors — sweet honey, spicy pepper, the thick cheese — have all the subtlety of an oar to the face. If a good meal is a slow dance, the Honey Pepper Pimento Sandwich is a backflip off the top rope through a folding table. You’re not meant to savor the Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich; you’re meant to devour it and wash it down with a half-gallon of Coke.
Which brings us to the chief problem with this sandwich: it hits your gut like a depth charge and keeps you full — or at least feeling that way — for most of the rest of the afternoon. If you’re looking for a fast route to unconsciousness, power down a couple of these bad boys and find the couch.
Look, if you want authenticity, you’re probably not in line at a Chick-Fil-A. And if you want real pimento cheese, hell, just make your own, it’s not hard. (Here’s a good recipe from the great Action Cookbook.) But if you’re looking to do Cheat Day up right, well, make peace with your gastrointestinal system and grab you a Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich. It’s better than another damn burger.
Song of the Week: ‘Boat Drinks,’ Jimmy Buffett
“Margaritaville” gets everyone singing, “Cheeseburger In Paradise” gets everyone grinning, “A Pirate Looks At Forty” gets everyone feeling sentimental, “Come Monday” gets everyone wistful and hopeful. But for me, the best of Jimmy Buffett’s big-dog songs is “Boat Drinks,” a song that isn’t about beach life at all. It’s about watching hockey in a bar somewhere very cold and very far from the beach, a place that has our narrator blasting away at his own freezer. He’s barely holding it together, and he knows he’s got to get the hell out of the cold to survive. “I’m heading south ‘fore my dream shrinks,” our singer declares, “I gotta go where it’s warm.” Gentle breezes and calm seas, Jimmy.
This section needs a better title, but the perfect is the enemy of the good, so we’ll send it now and come up with something catchy later. For now, some reading recommendations:
“Raylan,” Elmore Leonard: “Justified” is one of my favorite TV shows ever, a dead-bang adaptation of an old Elmore Leonard thriller that grew far beyond its literary origins. This is a strange little artifact, a collection of three barely-connected stories based on the TV version of Leonard’s character. Don’t think about it too hard, just enjoy the equivalent of three episodes of kidney stealers, horse racing blue-bloods and heavily-armed coal miners. You can find “Raylan” and the other books I’ve recommended here at the Flashlight & A Biscuit bookstore. Clean, comfy, and we don’t throw you out for reading the magazines without paying.
College football begins in earnest this weekend. I love this ridiculous sport that sprawls in so many different ways. For Yahoo this year, I wrote about the last year before college football vaults into a new era of sleek, amoral professionalism, abandoning rivalries and traditions in favor of money and frequent-flyer miles.
Over at Garden & Gun, Amanda Heckert has a hysterical pieece about sweating your way through southern football game days. (Beware the Peel Factor.) And, as always, Spencer Hall begins the college football year over at Channel 6 with the latest version of the magnificent essay he calls “The Opener.” This one, “Maybe It Was Utah,” is about the University of Florida, “Raising Arizona” and trying very hard to be better than you are. Always a must-read. (Yes, it’s behind a paywall. It’s worth it.)
As Georgia as it gets
These are days of chaos in Atlanta, with every week bringing a fresh round of indictments, hurricanes and vehicular assault. Feels a whole lot like missions in a video game …
(Via @gafollowersofficial / IG)
It’s the chicken wing bone on the asphalt that gets me. Now that’s attention to detail.
Enjoy the holiday weekend, friends. See you back here next week and for many more to come. Glad to be back.
Land Cat, Georgia
This is issue #104 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, jump right to our most-read stories, or check out some of our recent hits:
The spooky tale of The Witch Girl of Crittenden County
Peach Ice Cream and Pimento Cheese sandwiches, but not together
Tiger Woods once ate at an Augusta Arby’s for a whole week
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
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