TELL ME IF you've heard this: "I've searched for years for the perfect chicken salad!"
What is it about this dish that causes so many hearts (and stomachs) to flutter? Since I’ve told people about Chicken Salad Chicks, a great new lunch place off Hodgson Memorial (sharing the Toys R Us lot), this is a common theme.
Usually accompanied by hopefully raised eyebrows and ending with a sigh, people express their love of chicken salad with a glow of passion in their eyes—amazing!
You can look around in just about any culture and find chicken lovers—even P.J. O’Rourke, travel/political writer for Rolling Stone, refers to the fact that chickens seem to be ubiquitous—and he should know, having seen them scurrying off the road and across yards from Seoul to Bogota and other far-flung territories.
Chickens are small, fairly easy to feed and raise, simple to execute, and have a mild yet delicious flavor and naturally tender texture that lends itself to any cuisine you can mention.
Add to this the versatility the American appetite, their love for mayonnaise and tasty fast food and you have a foodie phenomenon in the making. If you’re a native Southern soul I can just about guar-on-tee that your mama or grandma or Aunt Bessie has a rockin’ recipe for the stuff that has family members looking forward to the yearly reunion.
My hubby from Peru swears by his and when he brings his mini-chicken salad sandwiches to parties they disappear fast.
This enormous love of chicken salad is one of the reasons I waited a few days after the grand opening to make a hit on the place—didn’t matter though. Upon entering I encountered a sea of people smiling and exclaiming over their chicken salad plates and sandwiches—“Marvelous!”, “Awesome!”, “Ohmigod!”—there was one table left, so my foodie buddy and I grabbed it, perusing the menu while in line.
This is a place that shines with gracious Southern hospitality, tasteful displays of kitchenware and cookbooks, soft light, and an elegant calligraphy across the celery green wall which tells the true story: “Good food brings people together and nourishes the soul.”
There is a preponderance of women here, granted, many of them wearing tasteful Papagallo outfits and giving off a strong Junior League vibe, but the sprinkling of gentlemen seemed happy, if a little puzzled—as if they could not delve into the mysteries of this passion for chicken salad, but, hey, lunch with the wife/girlfriend/daughter ain’t such a bad thing, especially when they’re happy!
Stacy Brown from Rome, GA, an alumna of Auburn, a beautiful blonde Southern girl with a family history of serving others— and a lifelong preoccupation with chicken salad—began making up her recipe in the kitchen late at night, to sell to neighbors and friends, and gained a quick following. After her divorce this was a good way to stay home with the kids and bring in a family income.
When the health department shut down the home operation she expanded to a tiny take-out. They sold out in less than two hours, day after day, and word got around: the business began to grow exponentially—folks just couldn’t get enough.
The Perfect Chicken Salad is a bit different for everyone. Stacy recognized this right away and developed a set of 15 different salads, all with names of friends who supported her along the way: Classic Carol, Fancy Nancy, Jalapeno Holly and Jazzy Julie are just a few of the ones offered.
There are four accompanying sides to choose from, some of which are distinctly Southern, like the very sweet Grape Salad lavished in cream cheese, brown sugar and pecans, or the (also quite sweet) Broccoli Salad with cheese and bacon. Each dish comes with Lance’s Wheat Crackers (even more addictive than their Captain’s Wafers!) and a pickle. Desserts are the Cookie-of the Day and only 89 cents.
I love the addition of four deli sandwiches to the menu. Choose a Turkey Hoagie, Cajun Roast Beef, Virginia Ham, or that Old South fave, fresh Pimento Cheese, or pick a Gourmet Soup of the Day, if you’re not into chicken salad.
My foodie buddy and I both choose the Chick Trio so we can taste a variety of flavors. This is not the chunky chicken salads you find in downtown spots or even at Arby’s, its chicken shredded off the bone, mixed with mayo and a variety of flavorings—the taste is mild, pleasing, not drenched in mayonnaise yet creamy on the tongue. There was not as much difference as I thought there’d be in the flavors I picked: Dixie Chick (for onion lovers), Fancy Nancy (with apples, pecans & grapes) or Cranberry Kelli (dried cranberries & slivered almonds)—but all of them were tasty.
My dining partner’s choices had more differentiated pizzazz, though the smooth texture and delicately homogenized taste shines through them all. His picks: the Jalapeno Holly has a definite savor of jalapeno without much of the bite; the Kickin’ Kay Lynne is distinguished by its richness: ranch dressing, bacon, shredded cheddar, jalapenos and buffalo sauce combined (don’t even think about if you’re on a diet); the Barbie Q stood out for me among them all—the smoky flavor in this salad makes it intriguing and truly delicious.
Prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is refined yet casual, employees still imbued with that grand opening enthusiasm and the menu small but specialized.
They close at 6 p.m. so this is a lunch or take-it-out-for supper kinda place. I can see that they are gonna be BIG for tailgaters and picnickers alike, a total MUST for chicken salad lovers everywhere.