I finally tried Chick-fil-A, guys.
I was driving through Erie, Pa., on my way home from an assignment in Cleveland and just had to see what all the fuss was about.
Long story short: It was good. It was very good.
Would I drive 190 miles round trip for it like some diehard Buffalo fans are known to do on occasion? No. But I also haven’t driven to Columbus, Ohio, since I found out they still have a York Steak House, so go ahead and judge my life choices accordingly.
I had been meaning to check it out anyway. When you work the retail beat, sometimes eating waffle fries counts as research. Hey, I don’t make the rules.
When I was in graduate school, there was a Chick-fil-A about a block from campus. I remember hearing other students whimpering about their Chick-fil-A cravings from time to time, but it was no different than the way I had expressed longing for the comfort of a Taco Bell hard shell supreme after a long, trying day. Besides, I was broke. So, I never tried it.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out so many people here have such an obsession with the Georgia-headquartered chain.
Before Chick-fil-A announced it will open a restaurant in the former Famous Dave’s, 1753 Walden Ave. in Cheektowaga this fall, its local fans mounted a mission to bring it here.
People wrote letters, started Facebook pages and petitions, and friends pranked each other with photoshopped “Chick-fil-A coming soon!” announcements. Fans watched closely for any signal a restaurant could be headed for the Buffalo Niagara market. As locations opened and inched closer in New York State, the rumor mill worked overtime. A sign even appeared on vacant land in Wheatfield, announcing it would soon be home to one of the chicken chain’s restaurants – but the official-looking sign wasn’t put there by Chick-fil-A, and whoever did put it there is still a mystery.
Despite the hype, I had low expectations going in. Whenever I saw a picture of a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, I saw what I thought would be a dry chicken sandwich on a dry bun. The only thing that intrigued me was the dill pickles between the chicken and the bottom bun because, hey, I’m Polish. But I was dead wrong.
The bun, which is buttered, was not like other fast food buns, which turn hard and stale the minute your food cools. And the chicken! The chicken was juicy and flavorful, with just the right amount of spice and crunch in its seasoned breading. The waffle potato fries were fresh and hot, too. It was all delish, and it came to $7.27 with a large soft drink (prices vary by location). I sampled some Chick-fil-A nuggets ($2.70 for six), which tasted like real pieces of fried chicken, unlike other kinds of nugget-formed chicken scraps I’ve had elsewhere. The giant chocolate shake I got for the ride home ($3.55) tasted like it came from a blender at a diner. It was topped with a mound of whipped cream and a cherry.
So, in my humble, frugal opinion, Chick-fil-A was a giant step up from typical fast food and a great value for the price.
All the claims about their fantastic customer service also turned out to be true. The place was staffed to the hilt when I was there Tuesday night. There were at least six people working the front end and they were all smiles and thank you’s and my pleasure’s. The employee who handed me my milkshake looked like she was excited to do so. The cashier was friendly and helpful when I asked my 50, stupid, newbie questions. She didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked for one of each of their seven dipping sauces (for research purposes, I swear) and kindly declined my offer to pay for them. She even asked which one was my favorite before I left (Polynesian sauce for the win!). No one seemed rushed or worn down, though everything moved quickly.
Some locations even have a mom valet, where parents can order at the drive-thru while their kids are conveniently strapped in the car, then go inside where a table with the requested number of high chairs awaits. Their food is served by an employee, as are drink refills.
Raise your hand if that sounds amazing.