Josh Gatewood is on a mission to get Northerners as excited about fried chicken tenders as are Southerners. He established three Yankee Doodle Dandy’s food trucks in Manhattan to spread the news, and last week, with partner Anthony Mastrantonio, he opened the first brick-and-mortar location, in Islip.
Gatewood is at pains to point out that tenders (or tendies, as they are called at Yankee Doodle Dandy’s) are a specific cut of chicken on the underside of the breast. “It’s the filet mignon of the chicken,” he declared. And while some chicken fingers are made from other parts of the chicken — or even ground, reconstituted chicken meat — and are often purchased already breaded and frozen, his are brought in fresh, brined on site and then hand-breaded and fried in peanut oil.
At Yankee Doodle Dandy’s, the tenders can be had on a platter such as the “Winner Winner” with fries, thick-cut and griddled Texas toast and your choice of potato salad, coleslaw or a pickle spear. The proffered “Spirit of '76” sauce starts with ketchup and mayonnaise and then proceeds into undisclosed territory. There are salads such as the “Nashville hot” in which chopped tenders are tossed with hot sauce and served atop leaf and romaine lettuces with shredded cheese, cucumbers, tomato, peppers, coleslaw and fried onions. The “Love Me Tender” sandwich comes on a toasted brioche bun. Other sandwiches include the “Texas honey BBQ” (on Texas toast with sweet barbecue sauce and ranch dressing) and the “Louisiana purchase” (blackened, Cajun-spiced tendies on a brioche). There is also a grilled cheese sandwich and shakes. Nothing on the menu is more than $15.
It was during Gatewood’s college and business school years in the South (at University of Tennessee and the University of South Carolina) that he fell in love with the chicken fingers at three iconic chains: Raising Cane's (which is planning to open at least four locations on Long Island in 2025), Zaxby’s and Guthrie’s. When he returned to the Northeast, he became convinced that Yankees wouldn’t be able to resist them either.
A short stint on Wall Street convinced Gatewood that he’d rather work in the chicken tender sector than the financial sector, and he took an unorthodox route to finding financing: In 2012 he appeared on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” game show where he announced his intention to “open an All-American chicken restaurant called Yankee Doodle Dandy’s” and managed to win enough money to seed it.
The first truck, Betsy, hit the streets in 2013, Dolly followed in 2016, Molly in 2017. While the trucks’ day jobs were in Manhattan, Yankee Doodle Dandy’s also started showing up at Islanders games and other events. That’s where Gatewood met Anthony Mastrantonio and his Dang BBQ truck. Mastrantonio owns two Dangs on Long Island (Islip and Seaford) and is a committed pitmaster, but he could not deny the popularity of the tenders, and the two men decided to partner up to open in Mastrantonio’s hometown of Islip. They took over the former Sal’s Artisan Pizza and decked it out in red, white and blue.
Both hope that Islip is the start of something big and that when Raising Cane’s shows up in 2025, they’ll be ready for the challenge.
Yankee Doodle Dandy's, 454 Main St., Islip, 631-859-1776, yankeedoodledandys.com. Open Monday to Sunday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.