If you’re anything like us Lunch Guys, you’re probably still reeling from a holiday-food hangover. The sweet potatoes, the pecan pies, the many McRibs (yeah, they’re back!) — they did a number on us this year.
So in the spirit of returning to healthier fare, we went to Chili’s for the Guiltless Chicken Sandwich — just chicken breast with no-fat condiments, a side of black beans and a side of broccoli. This time of year, it’s a can’t-go-wrong lunch, right?
Tom: Chris, I hate guiltless season — those two weeks after the holidays when everyone orders cauliflower instead of french fries and a bacon sighting is as rare as a Big Ten victory in a bowl game. Who are we kidding? With every guiltless lunch served at noon, there’s a bag of Doritos from the snack machine bought at 3 p.m.
Chili’s small but sufficient breast of chicken on this sandwich isn’t the problem per se. Sure, it’s hard to keep a small piece of chicken from being overcooked and it doesn’t help that the honey mustard sauce gets burnt onto the chicken on the grill, but at least it’s got some flavor.
The problem is there’s nothing to back it up. Hundreds of years of lunching has proven that you need some fat — lubrication if you will — to wash a lunch down. It could be cheese or chips or fries, but this sandwich left me wanting.
The best part about this dish is the bowl of black beans, which is almost a spicy black bean and salsa soup. I poured a little of this on my sandwich and it was moist enough to choke down. Still, this dry chicken sandwich with steamed veggies won’t be on my lunch menu again — I don’t care how much weight I gained over the holidays.
Chris: Tom, I know what you mean on all counts. This lunch could have been called "The Party’s Over, Don’t Bother" Chicken Sandwich. It’s rare that we lunch on something this joyless, as if not just the calories but the simple pleasure of food has been sucked dry from this chicken little.
At first bite, all I tasted was char. Sure, that proved those grill markings weren’t just for looks, but that’s about all there was for flavor too. Even the lettuce, pickle and tomato looked like they didn’t want to be there as their sickly colors drooped off the yellow bun.
C’mon, with the magic of Splenda and that book that Jerry Seinfeld’s wife just wrote about hiding pureed veggies in cake, isn’t there a better way to create guiltless food that still tastes guilty?
As for the sides, the black bean soup and the steamed broccoli do each earn a spork from me. The black beans especially had a smoky heft with a mellow spiciness going down. I would have preferred the broccoli drowning in cheddar instead of sprinkled in Parmesan, but still, I got my veggies. Nothing guilty about that.
Tom: I know the average American gains several pounds over the holiday season, but those pounds weren’t gained at lunch and they won’t be lost at lunch. I say the only way to make this chicken sandwich right is to bring on the bacon, mayo and cheese, please.
Chris: Absolutely. This sad sandwich left me feeling so deprived, I was ravenous for saturated fat and empty calories. Chili’s, please listen to us on this — one dollop of mayo could make 2008 a happier year for this sandwich.
Tom James and Chris Tauber are Orlando, Fla.-based writers.