Chickenjoy? Not so much.
Can two franchised fried-chicken joints stand up to local greats like South, even with those low prices?
Sacramento, CA 95823
Now that I’m regularly cruising Mack Road for my Cuco’s pozole and ceviche fix (see Dish, May 10), I noted two fried chicken restaurants only blocks apart. Jollibee I had heard of, since there was hoopla when this Philippines-based chain opened one of its 1,200 outlets here. Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken was new to me, but sounded intriguing when I found out that this franchised chain was started by a white man from Michigan in L.A. in 1976, bought in 2009 by a Cambodian man who had worked there since he was 18, and now is mostly run by Cambodian franchisees.
In a 1989 fast-food chicken roundup, Ruth Reichl, patron saint of Boomer foodies, declared it to have “a certain amount of character.” I concur with her tepid-yet-vaguely-positive assessment of the fried chicken ($4.99 for two pieces with side). The skin is dark, crunchy and slightly spicy, yielding to juicy meat. It held up through the trip home in the car—I was surprised to find that LFFC was a takeout-only joint, and staffed by a jovial security guard. The side of battered, fried shrimp ($3.25) was too expertly fried and garlicky to not eat in the car, as my friend and I did.
Of the side dishes, the dirty rice (small sides $1.25) was absolutely bland and not worthy of the name, but the rice was used to much better effect in the tasty chicken-fried rice. The gumbo ($5.99) was topped with shrimp and heavy on the celery, onions, and green pepper, and was probably the healthiest option on the menu.
At Jollibee, the “Chickenjoy” ($5.99 for two pieces with side)–their Orwellian name for fried chicken—decidedly lacked character. The outside was pallid and very crispy, the inner meat bordering on slimy and of a grayish hue. I’ve heard of dark meat, but gray meat? The corn was swimming in margarine, and the side of spaghetti ($3.99) was Spaghettios-sweet with flavorless hot dog-type sausage in it. This is fast food, so I’m not sure what I expected, but the sweetness threw me off.
Also tooth-achingly sweet was the halo-halo ($4.99), but this is to be expected from this dessert concoction composed of shaved ice, condensed milk and jelly candy. The best part was the small piece of flan on top, and the sweet beans at the bottom, which made me feel like I was at least getting one mouthful of vitamins and fiber. The Filipino dish pancit palabok is dubbed “fiesta noodles” ($5.19) for Western customers, but whatever you call it, this rice noodle dish topped with pork and shrimp gravy is satisfying salty and savory. This may be due to the tinapa (smoked fish) flakes and chicharon bits scattered on top to up the umami, or more likely copious amounts of MSG, as most fast food contains.
LFFC is dirt cheap, and you could feed a family well on a bucket of chicken, some gumbo and a big side of chicken-fried rice; despite the interesting backstory it’s not worth a special trip there. Jollibee is beloved comfort food to some, but Jimboys remains the one-and-only fast food place I will eat.
I’ll continue to find my chickenjoy at South.