CHICAGO (WLS) -- While everyone was going crazy last year for Popeye's fried chicken sandwiches, a couple of local chefs were planning on creating their own versions of this Southern staple. The result is a pair of new options - for takeout or delivery - offering crispy chicken sandwiches several notches above traditional fast food offerings.
Both of these sandwiches are produced by chefs with strong credentials, which means they're buying from smaller farms and making all of the condiments in-house. But the real difference comes in the form of brining, dredging and frying, as well as how they choose to add flavor with homemade sauces.
The kitchen at Boka, in Lincoln Park, buzzes with multiple concepts these days. There's takeout, of course, but also a menu for dining on the patio, as well as one for GG's Chicken Shop, a concept Chef Lee Wolen added in the spring. They make a glorious Southern-fried bird, buttermilk brining chicken breast overnight, then dredged in flour, followed by more buttermilk, seasoned flour again and then fried. Hot honey adds sweet heat, but pickles and cabbage provide crunch. Spicy mayo complements the 3D Baking buns, and the sandwich has a great ratio of bird-to-bun.
Inside the South Loop Food Company - a ghost kitchen operation with about a dozen concepts - Cluck It is the brainchild of Cainan Edwards and his wife, Samantha.
"We kinda took what Nashville hot chicken is and did our own version of it," said Edwards. "It's inherently Japanese. Traditionally people just use an egg wash or go straight from the buttermilk into what they would bread their chicken in. We take it a step further, where we tempura batter it and then we bread it."
The fried thighs get a slice of American cheese, melted briefly, then a dunk in their homemade sauce.
"Very similar to a 'come back' sauce that Nashville typically has but we put our own little twist on it," he said.
A shake of seasoning, then assembled with spicy mayo-topped griddle buns, homemade pickles and tangy slaw.
"It's not overly sweet; nice balance of acidity and salt," he said.
Even their regular quarter chicken gets a dusting of French sea salt, showing their commitment to quality. But nothing in town comes close to their banana pudding. Samantha's been working on it for years.
"Nothing comes from a can or box. Madagascar vanilla goes into it. We make our own caramel for it. And then the pudding - we steep it with ripe bananas for 24 hours. Really let the bananas and the ingredients shine through on their own. It's crazy good," said Edwards.
Both chicken sandwiches have to be ordered ahead online, and can be either picked up or delivered. But you don't want to wait too long to eat them.
GG's Chicken Shop
1729 N. Halsted St. (pickup at Boka Restaurant; they also deliver)
2537 S. Wabash Ave. Suite K1
Chicago chefs at GG's Chicken Shop, Cluck It, create own versions of chicken sandwich following Popeyes craze