Launching a chain of chicken joints while calling itself a champion of off-the-beaten-track family dining is an inherently risky move. But gregarious celebrity chef Guy Fieri was happy to take the risk, and now he’s brought his own Chicken guy! franchise to Pittsburgh. So how does it hold up?
The concept of an upscale fast food chicken restaurant requires maintaining speed and affordability while at the same time introducing a certain standard of quality. Take any of it away and its purpose disappears.
This is, in any case, the rubric I’ve set for Chicken Guy!, with the best possible result being something like a food truck standard, and the worst being an overpriced KFC.
My first attempt at a tasting was thwarted by an excessive line that no sane person in pursuit of fast food should have to endure. But it’s still the first week of business, so let’s not blame them for this crazy popularity. I returned two days later at a deliberately inconvenient moment in the middle of the day. The wait is long, but acceptable given the lingering hype from the first week’s opening.
I order the CG Classic Sandwich combo which comes with fries and a drink. Yes, I know the concept emphasizes chicken tenders and sauces, but to me, boneless, battered chicken strips are not serious food for anyone over 10 years old. But add them to a sandwich with the right balance of toppings and I’ll take them for any pretentious offering lauded in the fine dining world.
The sandwich is attractive and well-proportioned, with two fried chicken fillets sandwiched between slices of a lush, golden bun and topped with a thick blanket of lettuce. Bite-sized chicken ledge shamelessly offers itself, so I tear it away to try the main ingredient without palliative care in the form of sauce and salad.
Although the meat is superior to the usual fast food offerings, it is unavoidably dry. Not dry-in-your-mouth, but below what you’d expect from what the chain’s marketing describes as “tender, marinated in fresh lemon juice, pickle brine, buttermilk and drenched in fresh herbs.”
The dough is crisp and the seasonings are light but well balanced – not overly salty like the competition.
The next slice contains a thin slice of cheese, a layer of finely chopped lettuce, glimpses of tomato and onion, a dollop of special sauce, and two slices of airy bread that’s sweet but not cakey.
This combination is much more satisfactory. The light tang of the mustard-based sauce comes through without overpowering the mild flavor of the chicken and masks its dryness. Texturally, the dense web of lettuce offers a crunchy counterpoint to the mushy masses of bread and meat. It’s a decent sandwich.
For French fries. They are served thin – a little crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. By default, they’re covered in a homemade seasoning blend modeled after a Cajun spice blend, but to no great effect. The result is earthy with a hint of sweetness, but the balance feels a bit off. My gut is that they like the garlic powder too much, but you’d have to check with a real food critic.
I respect Chicken Guy for defaulting to something other than regular (which doesn’t seem to be an option for non-adventurous diners), but the fries didn’t quite do it for me.
The total before tax for all of this (including the fountain drink) is $12.49. Seems a bit heavy handed for fast food, but calls for fairer pay, and inflation means the days of $5 fast food are long behind us. By comparison, Burger King sells its chicken sandwiches for $9.98. In this case, I’d say the extra $2.50 is worth it for a much higher quality product that stretches without breaking the bounds of reasonable fast food pricing.
Summarizing the experience, moderately dry chicken is the only noticeable sore spot. This is something that can reflect the novelty of the staff being trained, so I won’t think that my next batch can be tender and juicy. If it succeeds, I wholeheartedly support it. In the meantime, try it yourself.
Chicken guy!. 4 PPG Place, Suite 150. Downtown. chickenguy.com/locations/pittsburgh