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Popeyes opens a new front in the chicken sandwich wars
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Popeyes is gunning for Chick-fil-A's crown with a new chicken sandwich intended to give the Georgia-based chain a run for its money. - photo by Nick Bowman

The drive-thru line was wrapped around the building, almost into the street, and the line inside was no shorter. There was a 25-plus minute wait for customers all hoping to get their hands on a chicken sandwich.

But it wasn’t at a new Chick-fil-A opening in town, that Georgia staple — it was at Popeyes for its new fried chicken sandwich.

One customer, Shuntay Franklin, got there just before the noon lunch rush and was sitting at a booth inside with her mother, Shontae Barnes.

“I decided to get it because of Facebook,” Franklin said, a bite or two of her sandwich left in front of her. “There were a whole bunch of people talking about it.”

She was referencing the social media chatter going on comparing Popeyes’ new sandwich to Chick-fil-A’s. Popeyes posted on Twitter about the new item and then Chick-fil-A posted a week later, advertising its own sandwich. Popeyes had to respond.

And Franklin had opinions of her own.

“It’s good,” Franklin said of the rival sandwich. “It’s better than Chick-fil-A, and I eat Chick-fil-A every day.”

Popeyes has converted Franklin, who said she liked the sandwich better because it’s crispier than Chick-fil-A’s and there was something special about the pickles.

“I think this might be my new spot,” Franklin said.

The sandwich at Popeyes is what you’d expect from a fried chicken sandwich. It’s the same premise as Chick-fil-A’s — fried boneless chicken breast, pickles, bun — but everything seemed a little elevated, a little new, a little different.

The chicken breast was thicker than most Chick-fil-A sandwiches. The pickles were what seemed like real pickles — they used to be a cucumber that grew on a plant and had been picked and pickled with dill in vinegar. And the breading was definitely crispier. There was a crunch with every bite. Nothing was soggy.

“I tried it last Saturday,” said Derrick Doleman, who was at Popeyes again for another sandwich. “For whatever reason, I just like it better. For me, it’s more crispy.”

The only disappointment was the bun. With a chicken breast that thick, the bun needed to be more substantial than it was. There’s also some sort of mayonnaise-based sauce that comes on the sandwich that didn’t add much flavor.

If the line at the Gainesville restaurant and the reaction on social media is any indication, Popeyes may be the new go-to spot for a chicken sandwich. And even if it’s not for you, at least you know where to get your chicken sandwich fix on Sundays.

“It’s a big sandwich,” Barnes said as a half-eaten sandwich sat in front of her. “I’m full.”