As a connoisseur of all things Chicken, I was tempted to try out the Colonel’s new grilled chicken. Finding an outlet in Washington DC meant strolling from the comfortable confines of my posh M street office through the transitional wilds of 14th Street, past Bohemian mid-century used furniture stores, shabby chic new restaurants simply titled “Cork,” and spontaneous sidewalk chess championships set up on card tables. Ten blocks later I was quite out of my demographic. Safely inside the store, I realized I was in for a long wait.
Fifteen minutes later, after several ill-intentioned patrons had connived to get more than they had paid for, it was time to dig into my three-piece combo meal, served on ubiquitous black plastic, with compartmentalized sides of coleslaw and mashed potatoes. The Colonel’s distinctively synthetic potatoes, toped with that browned corn-starched concoction that he passes off as chicken gravy, never fails to disappoint, and this visit was no exception. The coleslaw, a little on the sweet side for my liking, probably containing as much sugar as a candy bar, nevertheless satisfied the craving for something crunchy, and provided the necessary deception that I had actually eaten something healthy. But the sides, as deliciously predictable as they were, weren’t the main attraction.
The grilled chicken, I must say, did not make a strong first impression. First, the portions are small. Are they getting these parts from pygmy chickens? Are they harvesting their poultry before it’s fully grown? One can only imagine how the dollars and dollars of savings-in distribution, in plating, and in preparation-must add up when millions of undersized breasts, legs, and thighs are served each year. After a while, American consumers may no doubt accept and believe in Orwellian fashion that chickens are smaller than they actually are.
The first bite was equally un-inspiring; this chicken, displayed on harsh metal racks behind the counter, had definitely been sitting awhile. Nevertheless, as I tore through a toughened breast, dismembered a wing, and sampled the seasoned skin, the fare began to grow on me. Was it one of the Colonel’s many special spices, perhaps the one responsible for addiction, beginning to work its magic on my palette? Was I trying to somehow compensate in my mind for the outrageous $8.50 that I’d paid for this despicable fast-food creation? Was it decades of fast-food conditioning kicking in, that deep-seated American contentment with all things fast and plentiful?
No. As I pulled apart the breast rib bones to extricate the last remaining shards of flesh, as I doubled back on the thigh bone to consume meat I might have missed, as I dug through the bones on my “plate” to find any undiscovered morsels, I realized that this chicken wasn’t half-bad. And as any chicken addict knows, that’s enough praise to keep you coming back for more and more. No Roy Rogers this. But at least you don’t have to make it yourself.
Reprinted by permission from All Things Chicken magazine.