How Well Does Popeyes Hold Up via Delivery? We Ordered & Found Out.

We revisit some of America’s most iconic fast food items in the age of social distancing.

A Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich, two drinks, chicken tender combo with Cajun fries and a biscuit, and a mashed potatoes with gravy
Editor’s Note: In the age of social distancing, one of the only ways to safely get fast food is via delivery. We all know that a lot of foods aren’t quite the same by the time they reach your door, but which fast food staples fare the best after traveling in a delivery bag? We’re trying major fast food menu items to help find the best bets when ordering fast food to your door, with a new series of delivery-only taste tests called How You Holding Up?

Having had my fill of burgers (is a Big Mac or a Whopper a burger, per se? @ me.) for the time being, I was looking forward to tacos. I was looking forward to Taco Bell tacos in particular. It’s another fast food giant who’s flavors, textures, and appearance are full-on Americana canon. Plus, in a craven click grab, I was going to run it on a “Taco Tuesday.” 

But! As of this writing, Taco Bell would not deliver to my address, even though it has a location just 1.5 miles from my home. More desirous than ever, it is now my quarantine mission to acquire Taco Bell tacos via delivery, even if that means breaking the ‘How You Holding Up?’ series procedure and engaging an outside platform rather than ordering through the restaurant’s website. But for now, I’d be moving onto an equally exciting burger diversion: Popeyes!

Like the Impossible Whopper I sampled for a previous edition of this series, Popeyes’ spicy chicken sandwich is a newer icon, having ascended the fast food chicken sandwich ranks in 2019 to emerge the cock of the walk before the year’s end. Here’s how the new fan fave -- and a few classics -- held up from Popeyes’ Louisiana kitchen to my Brooklyn countertop. 

Louisiana fast: Ordering, wait time, and delivery experience 

At the height of Popeyes’ fried chicken sandwich mania, the location a half a mile from my place had a sign in the window promising that, although it was sold out, the zeitgeist bites would be back soon. That was back when “next time” seemed to be a given. I probably walked by dozens of times between then and the Inside Times and never noticed whether the sandwich had returned. But now I could have one delivered to my door in an estimated 28 minutes, if I could manage to get the order in. 

These online delivery platforms might become more user friendly some day (look how quick and easy it is to order through Seamless and bleed restaurants already operating on thin margins dry), but today is not that day. I’d come to expect to be waylaid by a nebulous delivery operating system that would prompt me to start a new account even after seeming to have my information in its system, and that came true. I knew this would all take longer than just mashing up a can of tuna, which it did (27 minutes from starting to finishing the order). The new fun hiccup would be misleading combos that logged what appeared to be inclusions as add-ons.

I wanted a spicy chicken sandwich, a mild chicken tenders (for variety!), and a mashed potatoes. I figured I’d be able to combo the tenders or the sandwich with the potatoes and get the other item a la carte. I added the sandwich and chose the potatoes and a diet Coke to complete the combo. Then I added the chicken tenders, which were not available a la carte. Fine, I’d add the mashed potatoes here instead and un-combo the sandwich. That’s when I noticed that the site divided included combo options (regular Cajun fries, Coke, or sweet tea, and nothing else) from add-ons (meaning more $) like mashed potatoes and three other sides and diet Coke and seven other beverages. You probably wouldn’t notice the distinction if you weren’t looking for it, and it meant that any combo was mandated to come with fries and a biscuit. I'd be paying extra for the mashed potatoes no matter how I ordered. Pre tax and tip, my total was $27.73. 

A short time later, the conscientious delivery person sent me an apology text because they were at the restaurant, but the order wasn’t ready. I felt deeply guilty and messaged back that I was sorry for the inconvenience. I hoped they knew I meant it, and I hoped everyone else was tipping “extra” like me, and I worried that there isn’t enough “extra” in the world to compensate for what should be standard corporate hazard pay. I’d still tip “extra” if I knew corporations were paying fairly, but it would at least make this dynamic seem a little more equitable. A little. The delivery person called me right on schedule to tell me they’d left the order at my door. I said thank you. 

Love that chicken: Taste, presentation, and how it holds up

Wrapped in paper and plastic, the order was radiating fryer-heat. Unwrapped, packaging trashed, I had a very handsome spicy chicken sandwich on my hands. Its brioche bun shone and the golden buttermilk batter encased what appeared to have come from a once live chicken, rather than a processed, reconstituted protein slab. The chicken tenders, visibly seasoned French fries, and biscuit did right by their commercials, too. The mashed potatoes and gravy looked like mashed potatoes and gravy. They aren’t, like, a sex food. 

The sandwich had the ideal crispy-to-juicy ratio that every fried chicken sandwich should aspire to. A light touch of spicy sauce and a few pickle slices served as subtle flavor enhancers. But this was not a spicy sandwich to my bite. I like a more pronounced heat. The Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich has a subtle heat that stops shy of building. It’s designed to please a sweeping variety of preferences and please it does. Someone like me, who treats spice and heat like a sport, can always add more of whatever hot sauce or peppers or seasonings we have lying around. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can only think of one person with whom I’ve ever dined who would find this sandwich too hot. And that person isn’t very much fun to eat with, anyway. 

Popeyes chicken tenders, Cajun fries, and biscuit on a plate

The chicken tenders had real food appeal, too. I very much enjoyed the McNuggets I ordered for a previous edition of How You Holding Up?, but tenders are closer to approximating a whole food. Tenders elevate the form, and these were among the best I’d ever had -- even at fancier fast casual joints. Their batter was just the right, middle of the road density, the white meat inside was of uniform high quality, and they were tasty alone or with the ranch dressing I’d selected from a handful of other dipping sauces I more or less already had in my refrigerator.  

This is not a surprise, but a reminder -- there is as much nuance among fast food French fries as there is among independent restaurant French fries, and, although I’m lamentably going on memory here, sometimes more. Anyone with a glancing prior exposure to McDonald’s, Burger King, and Popeyes fries would be able to identify two out of three on sight and the whole trio by taste. They’re more distinctive than the fries I’ve had at some of my neighborhood spots, I’m annoyed to admit. And Popeyes' are the most flavorful of the bunch. 

The biscuit is peak Popeyes in appearance and flavor. This baby isn’t going to pass for homemade. It’s too dense. You aren’t going to trick anyone into thinking you whipped up those potatoes, either. Their fluff quotient is too low. And both are too obviously mass produced to pass for from-scratch. But, by not trying to be anything other than themselves, they are overwhelmingly themselves almost to the point of mimicry. Think of a Popeyes biscuit and it shall appear in your mind’s eye; gaze upon one and you can almost conjure its flaky, buttery mouthfeel. The potatoes, too, are saltier than you’d probably make for Thanksgiving, and the gravy is too synthetic, but they are familiar, and isn’t that the point of all this right now? The latter, in particular, aren’t much to look at, but mashed potatoes and gravy will never be a sex food. 

Final thoughts

By now it's clear that ordering delivery is going to be a time consuming headache at most fast food restaurants. I’m three for three in the order process taking about as long as the delivery process, but I’m still optimistic. These have all been first time orders so far, so if you have a favorite, like, say, the marvelous spicy chicken sandwich from Popeyes, your repeat orders will probably be easier. And if you initiate delivery through a platform with which you already have an account and choose from whatever they have available rather than go directly to specific restaurants' sites you might have an easier time, too. The only certainty is that this will likely take longer than you’d hoped, so order at least half an hour before you’re hungry. And remember, your tip goes to the actual person ferrying your French fries all over town, not to the buggy website that deleted your order, snuck in a last minute service fee, or fudged an ETA. So tip good. 

Join us again next time when we (try to) ask Taco Bell: How You Holding up?

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Amber Sutherland-Namako is an editor at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @AsaSutherland.