Fast Food

Would you like fries (or onion rings or chicken tenders) with that?

Popeyes' New Louisiana Leaux Menu: 'Healthier' Naked Chicken Options

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[Photographs: Will Gordon.]

Every time I mention fried chicken on this site, you guys tell me I need to go to Popeye's. When it comes to fast food, I generally trust the tyrannical insistence of the majority—I've already declared In-n-Out my favorite burger place even though I've never been—but last week's Popeyes trip obeyed only the letter of your command, not the spirit: I went to Popeyes, but I didn't get fried chicken.*

Popeyes has a new "Louisiana Leaux: Get Up and Geaux" menu of lower-calorie grilled chicken options. Ridiculous name aside, I actually expected good things from my leaux-down dinner of a Naked BBQ Chicken Po' Boy, Naked Chicken Wrap, and Naked Tenders Meal.

Note: And another recent instance in which I visited Popeyes but didn't order the fried chicken: for the fried fish'wich tasting.

Many people scoff at the notion of light fast food, and with good reason; many more people scoff at white-meat chicken for no good reason. The reduced-calorie soups and salads that do most of the light lifting on fast food menus tend to be garbage, but there's not a thing wrong with a chunk of chicken breast. No, it's not a fried thigh, but the year's not made up of 365 Saturdays in July, either. Grilled white meat has its place.

I liked the leauxered Po' Boy ($2.99, 340 calories). The baguette isn't as special as Popeye would have you believe: It's not so distinguishable from the bun on a McRib, and I only knew it was toasted because I watched my sandwich's assembly. Otherwise I'd have guessed the bread was steamed warm by the chicken. But it was still acceptable, which is all a fair man can ask of a fast food bun.

The chicken was better than acceptable, though short of great. The two somewhat skinny tenders were very flavorful, particularly for a "naked" food. The marinated white meat tasted heavily of black pepper and paprika, with the obligatory notes of dried onion and garlic thrown in for whatever measure. It was well above-average for its kind, and the only thing keeping it out of chicken heaven was a slight sogginess.

Here's my grilled chicken dryness theory: for too many years, too many dads had too many beers and burned too many breasts, so chicken marketers appealed to our collective childhood memory with nonstop promises of tender, juicy meat. We're constantly warned of the dangers of inferior dry poultry, to such an extent that many of us have forgotten how gross a word "moist" really is.

I hate desiccated chicken as much as the next guy, but the commercial poultry industry has long since overcompensated for the problem with all manner of lubes and injections. You know where you can find some really moist turkey? In Lunchables.

It's time we find a new battleground so the pendulum can swing back to a point where we no longer compel our chicken-givers to needle outside moisture into white meat or goo up the exterior after the fact. Just don't burn it and we'll be cool.

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The wet bird problem was more pronounced in the Naked BBQ Chicken Wrap ($1.99, 200 calories), which doesn't have as much bread for distraction. About the bread: Why does Popeye go with the "cheese tortilla wrap"? Is the cheese an excuse to color it yellow? There's no cheese flavor whatsoever in this wrap, which has little taste beyond raw flour. So that leaves the good but slick chicken, shredded lettuce, pickles, and the BBQ sauce. The lettuce surprised me by actually serving a purpose. It provided a nice crunch in an otherwise smooshy sandwich. The pickles were fast food pickles, and the BBQ was a thinner version of McNugget sauce.

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The Naked Tenders Meal ($4.99) consists of three pieces of chicken, a drink, and two sides (the official Leaux version calls for green beans and a piece of bread, but I'd already tried the bread and I'm done with fast food green beans). I got a pleasantly flaky, yeasty buttermilk biscuit and crappy red beans and rice. The rice was overcooked and exploded and there weren't any intact beans, and it was all soaking in salty brown gravy. Popeye's should have better rice and beans.

I know I haven't really been to Popeye's until I've had the fried chicken, but I was satisfied with my Louisiana Leaux meal. The aggressive seasoning makes up for the lack of frying, and the prices and calorie counts work out pretty well.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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