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Battle of chicken sandwiches rages

POSTED: June 22, 2008 5:02 a.m.

McDonald's asked for it the minute the new Southern Style Chicken Sandwich debuted. No, not the "Hey, is McDonald's knocking off Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwich?!" gasps. We're talking about this Lunch Guys' ultimate food fight to decide which chicken sandwich reigns supreme: the Chick-fil-A original or the McDonald's knockoff. So who wins?

Chris: Tom, I think both of us were aghast at the audacity of McDonald's for replicating the famous Chick-fil-A sandwich without at least giving credit where credit is due. For Ronald's sake, this thing should be called the "Chick-fil-A-Style Chicken Sandwich." (And then rename the Big ‘N Tasty the "Burger King Big Whopper ‘N Tasty.")

Fine, if a sandwich can't be patented, maybe McDonald's has every right to swipe whatever intellectual digestible property its lawyers allow. But c'mon, did McDonald's really have to take the two pickles too?

So yeah, I came into this McDonald's sandwich a bit biased, ready to chew it up and spit it out. But eating both sandwiches side by side, I couldn't bring myself to do anything but chew then ... savor and happily swallow. I'm so disappointed in my lack of lunch integrity, but the McDonald's knockoff actually lost only a little of the flavor in the Xeroxing process.

What Chick-fil-A's has in steamed-in-the-bag warmth and that distinct fried-in-peanut-oil nuttiness, McDonald's can't replicate. But McD's does create a delicate-yet-crispity coating and a thick, moist chicken patty that - if I ever find myself in a town without a Chick-fil-A - will see me through.

In fact, it's such a good fake that only the trained eye and stomach of a Lunch Guy can tell it apart from the original work of art.

Tom: Barely. Even I can take the two sandwiches through a superficial checklist and see essentially no differences. Soft understated bun: check. Thick, juicy, tender breast filet: check. Two pickles: double check. To Ronald's credit, this is a pretty good knockoff.

So naturally, the McDonald's version is easily the best non-Chick-fil-A national chain chicken sandwich. The "clone" may be missing that hint of black pepper in the batter of the original but it gains something in the "lightness" of its coating.

Both sandwiches always are served hot and juicy, but as you pointed out, Chick-fil-A's foil pouch packaging keeps its sandwich steamy for several stoplights down the road. McDonald's needs a mole in Chick-fil-A's packaging department to compliment the one it has in their kitchen.

Yes, there is certainly something reprehensible about a copycat, but for those people not in a Chick-fil-A-serviced area, this sandwich is heaven-sent in the same way a local riverboat casino gives the Vegas-starved gambler a fix. Some may even consider this newcomer superior. For me, I'll take the Chick nine times out of 10.

Chris: Which is the better sandwich? Chick-fil-A, for having the feeling of originality and character rather than the kind of creepy stamped-from-a-food-replicator vibe. And I should actually award McDonald's zero sporks for violating the unspoken Lunch Code - thou shalt not steal another man's sandwich. But my happy stomach won't let me.

Tom: What the heck Chris. Maybe it's a sign. Maybe the good old days where franchises had their own specialties are over. Maybe this is the start of a Brave New World where every restaurant is a McDonalds. And if they keep stealing the best from the other guys, it might not be such a bad future.

Tom James and Chris Tauber are freelance writers. Their column on fast food appears on the second Wednesday of the month.


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