Chicken sandwiches are on a roll, and Americans are flocking to chain restaurants to get their hands on them.
To taste for ourselves how chain chicken sandwiches fly, we ate at quick-serve and full-serve chains all over Long Island. In the process, we learned that the best chicken sandwiches actually tasted like chicken; the worst smacked of preservatives and chemicals. Overall, we found breading and frying boneless breasts yielded a crisp cutlet that was moist and juicy within. Grilling chicken was a skill not many chains had mastered, with too much grilled poultry either wet and slimy or dry and tough.
In the end, we came up with these top 10 chain chicken sandwiches. Here's the pecking order.
Chili's Bacon Avocado Chicken sandwich, featuring the ingredients in its name, stars a generous grilled boneless breast. The meat, though, is a bit dry, the roll somewhat overwhelming. Comes with fries. Calories: 1190; Price: $10
Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is a reliable choice at this burger chain. The boneless breast is coated with peppers, spices and bread crumbs, fried and served with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato on a soft roll. Satisfying. Calories: 520; Price: $5
The Chicken Little, as its name implies, is a diminutive sandwich. Inside a sweet (perhaps too-sweet) roll are crunchy little fried chicken "tenders" made with Colonel Sander's 11 secret spices. Like the sandwiches at Chick-fil-A and Popeyes, this one has pickles inside, too. Calories: 310 calories; Price: $1.50
7. Ruby Tuesday
The Avocado Grilled Chicken Sandwich at this full-service chain features grilled "all natural" chicken with avocado, Swiss cheese and applewood-smoked bacon on a shiny, fresh, nicely proportioned brioche roll. The flavors come together well. Calories: 831; Price: $12
6. California Pizza Kitchen
The California Club (which alternatively may be ordered with turkey) works beautifully with "pulled" chicken -- which, here, means boneless breast that's been marinated, spice-coated, grilled and sliced. It's served on crusty ciabatta with avocado, tomatoes and applewood-smoked bacon. A felicitous combination. Calories: 730; Price: $13
5. Panera Bread
The Frontega Chicken Panino at this counter-serve bakery cafe chain stars smoked pulled poultry (said to be raised without antibiotics) in harmonious combination with red onion, tomatoes, red onions, fresh basil and chipotle mayo, everything grilled together on house-baked focaccia. Here, it's all about the synergy of the components. Calories: 740 calories; Price: $8
Popeyes' Chicken Po'Boy is made with two crunchy fried "tenders" (strips) tucked inside a soft baguette with lettuce, pickles, and mayo. Encasing the moist, juicy poultry is a nubbly crust with plenty of zing. The pickles offer a nice contrast. In short, a sandwich that's hard to resist. Calories: 660; Price: $5
The Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich (which just edges out the classic Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich) features a boneless breast of chicken that's spiced, breaded and fried to a crisp. It's moist and juicy with just the right piquancy and comes on a toasted, buttered bun onto which two dill pickle chips are strategically placed. High comfort factor here. Calories: 490; Price: $3.85
2. Shake Shack
Shake Shack's Chick'n Shack is a winner. It consists of a battered and deep-fried chicken breast, lettuce, pickles and buttermilk-herb mayonnaise slid onto the same potato bun that cushions its burger. The chicken itself was tender but not unnaturally so, and the crisp crust was a good counterpoint to the soft bun. The garnishes were harmonious and, rare for a fast-food sandwich these days, not at all sweet. Calories: 595; Price: $6.29
1. The Cheesecake Factory
At this full-serve chain, we found our favorite sandwich -- which, not surprisingly, is also the costliest and most fattening. The Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich features a crunchy fried chicken breast just bursting with savory juices. The cutlet is covered with melted Fontina cheese and chipotle mayo, all elements coming together well. Served on a well-proportioned round brioche bun, the sandwich comes with fries or salad. Calories: 1,184; Price: $14