The Popeyes Red Hot Popcorn Chicken combo meal kicked my ass.
I eat fast food once a month, maybe less. Until this most recent adventure, I had never even been to a Popeyes. This probably makes me a terrible American. Having publicly admitted to these failings, I doubt theyâ€™ll let me back into the Midwest unless I overcompensate with an NRA card and at least two prominent Jesus-themed accessories.
It wasnâ€™t the heat that got me. In fact, I fear my Sriracha sauce addiction is beginning to screw with my heat sensors. Itâ€™s just so delicious on everything! Today, I think I may have some on chocolate. Maybe a Sriracha s’more. This wonâ€™t even be a new low for me, assuming it doesnâ€™t taste worse than canned Chinese water bugs or KC Masterpiece on a Twinkie.
Based on my damaged sensibilities, I felt that while the popcorn chicken offered a nice kick, the heat didnâ€™t ever seem to build, likely thanks in part to the biscuit and ranch dip, both of which offer up tongue relief in addition to scary quantities of buttermilk (more on those supporting characters in a few paragraphs).
In the end, it was the sheer amount of greasy carb-loaded things that brought me down. The meal itself comes in a box roughly the same size and shape as a brick, which is exactly how it felt once it hit my stomach.
No one warned me that combo meals are a thing one needs to train for. I shouldâ€™ve started on this months ago with a small order of Cajun fries every few days, maybe a sweet potato pie on the weekends. But I like my new jeans and wish to continue fitting into them, so itâ€™s probably better that I didnâ€™t make that much of a commitment.
The oh-so-convenient brick box is supposedly designed to be easy to eat on the go. I ate a good portion of it on the way home without incident, only to spill ranch all over my coffee table ten seconds after getting home. To my roommates: I am sorry if the Swiss army knife on the shelf smells like rancid buttermilk forever. Just try not to get it near your faces. Itâ€™s not my fault that those things have so many strange, hidden crevices. Point being, dip will always be the downfall of on-the-go meals.
Oh â€“ and sorry everybody else. I never properly introduced the cast of todayâ€™s lunch. The meal includes Cajun fries, the new Red Hot Popcorn Chicken, a signature biscuit, and ranch dip (the nameless character actor visible in the background of so many of chickenâ€™s greatest appearances). The ranch felt like an afterthought, at worst the lazy answer to an otherwise one-note tub â€˜o carbohydrates, at best a beacon of salvation for the stereotypically wimpy American palate. When the girl at the counter lovingly flung my ranch dip into the bag as she handed it over the counter, even the best five star service was put to shame, and my mounting ranch doubts were all but confirmed. Thatâ€™s not to say the goop didnâ€™t function as a delightful contrast to the spices in the chicken. Thereâ€™s a reason ranch has earned its place of high acclaim alongside chicken bites and wings from sea to shining sea. I just wish Popeyeâ€™s had used this opportunity to shine by offering up some sort of creative twist harkening back to the bayou, perhaps gator sauce or fresh, warm oil.
The Popeyeâ€™s website describes the Red Hot Popcorn Chicken as being marinated in a “unique four pepper blend of Cayenne, white, black, and Habanero peppers.” Right. Okay then. For starters, black and white pepper are technically the same thing: shriveled almost-berries on a vine. For real. I found this out when I moved to California. Habaneros and Cayenne, like all other chili peppers, grow as flowering plants and are part of the nightshade family. Those guys also offer capsaicin, which makes them hot, unlike black peppercorns, which just sit there looking like a cluster of sun-baked BBs. So really weâ€™re dealing with two heat-producing peppers and two standard, under-achieving spices in this red hot popcorn chicken. Color me unimpressed and pour me another shot of Sriracha. This concludes your horticulture lesson for today, kids.
What else have we got here in this box of wonders? Oh yes, the biscuit. I kind of love the extraneous biscuit thing Popeyeâ€™s does. Itâ€™s like a little acknowledgement that there is no hope in your meal choice. At this point, the most they can do is go ahead and throw the buttery behemoth in the box from the get-go to save you the shame of ordering it separately. So thank you, Popeyeâ€™s, for understanding me so well and reacting with discretion.
Everything inside the box was flavorful, providing the illusion of variety. The combo even seemed to hit all three of the main fast food groups: meat, starch, and sugar.
Iâ€™d declare this box my food of choice for bad days if the nearest Popeyeâ€™s wasnâ€™t inconveniently far away, in the opposite direction of my workplace, nestled back into that one strip mall out by San Diego State where everyone goes for the good FroYo.
If youâ€™re looking for nutritional sustenance or the five-star treatment, look elsewhere, but if youâ€™re feeling rebellious, either toward your digestive tract or to the world at large, this is your winner. Remember to allow for the standard post-fast food bathroom time the next morning, and to bring along an extra dollar on your Popeyeâ€™s trip for some sweet potato pie. The unassuming little sign at the register burrows into oneâ€™s heart like a sad puppy and does not let go. Mmmâ€¦ pie.
(Nutrition Facts â€“ conspicuously impossible to track down, which is probably ultimately for the best)
Item: Popeyes Red Hot Popcorn Chicken
Price: $2.99 with chicken, fries, biscuit, and ranch dip ($3.99 with drink)
Purchased at: Popeyes
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Excellent crunchy/meaty ratio amongst all the popcorn chicken bites. Good baseline spice level. Sriracha. Black pepper vines. Chicken is juicy. Cajun fries-based training regimen. Biscuit!
Cons: Sad puppies. Barbequed Twinkies. Bringing shame to my Midwestern relatives. Sriracha not already present in this meal. Half the featured peppers not actually the hot kind. Buttermilk funk permeating certain areas of my living room. Oil spill joke too late to be topical, yet not outdated enough to no longer be in bad taste.