At 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, the doors opened at Long Island's first Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson Station, the cash registers were ringing up sales, and within minutes people were sitting down to fried-chicken biscuits and scrambled egg platters.
Jennifer Tanner and sons Jacob, 11, and Owen, 6, of Holbrook were eating hash browns and chicken nuggets -- Jennifer and Jacob's nuggets were fried, Owen's grilled and gluten-free. "He has food allergies and Chick-fil-A is the only restaurant where he can order off the menu without special requests," Tanner said, adding that the family had moved to Long Island from Georgia last year. "We've missed this," she said.
Half an hour earlier, though, the scene was all about the lure of a year's worth of free fried-chicken sandwiches.
The hardy souls who spent the night in the parking lot were lined up in the order they had registered, ready to claim their free certificates for a year's worth (52) of Chick-fil-A meals, the reward for camping out the night before. Most were jauntily attired in Chick-fil-A T-shirts and hats that were distributed earlier. A costumed cow wearing a sign that read "Eat mor chikin" roamed about. Amid clanging bells and whoops, the doors opened, and franchise owner Stan Abrahamsen gave each of the 100 a meal card.
First in line were Anthony Viscuso and Katie Chuber of Port Jefferson Station, who had been camping out since 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. "We've driven to New Jersey for Chick-fil-A," Viscuso said. "It's amazing."
Among the last to receive their cards were Kathryn Babacan and Michael Valenti of Nesconset. "We came at the last minute, 11 o'clock last night," said Babacan, who was given the number 103. The two, who slept on a massage table and a folding chair, became winners when 10 people dropped out overnight.
To look at the celebratory crowd, one wouldn't know that there has been ongoing controversy surrounding the chain, centered around disapproving comments made by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy about same-sex marriage. "These are his personal beliefs and don't represent the brand," said Brenda Morrow, regional communications manager for the Northeast. "We are inclusive and do not discriminate." The focus, she said, was on "great food, great service and, also, community."
A new book drive to benefit kindergarten through second-grade students in the Comsewogue School District spoke of community service. But what about the food?
I sampled a few items to find out. The classic Chick-fil-A sandwich features a moist and well-seasoned breaded fried chicken on a toasted buttered roll topped with two dill pickle chips. It's a simple but ingenious formula that's hard to resist.
At breakfast, you can get a smaller cutlet on a hot and flaky house-made biscuit, a top choice. The more virtuous grilled chicken sandwich features marinated boneless poultry on a multigrain bun with leaf lettuce and tomato; it has a lot of flavor but, somehow, not as much appeal as the original.
The new branch of the nation's No. 1 fast-food chicken chain features a drive-through and seats 126 in its dining room. There's also an indoor playground.
Future Chick-fil-A openings in Commack and Hicksville are projected for 2016.
Chick-fil-A is open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and is closed Sunday. Find it at 5184 Nesconset Hwy., Port Jefferson Station, 631-476-8100.