By Keith Shaw
Secretary of Snacks
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I'm not going to debate this. Chick-fil-A has the best chicken nuggets in the world. Hands down. No other restaurant even comes close.
If you live in the South — or even in parts of California — where the Chick-fil-A restaurants are in every mall or just down the block: Consider yourself blessed. You truly do not realize the treasure you have before you.
Part of my obsession with Chick-fil-A is probably because the restaurants are not readily available to me. We crave most that which we cannot readily achieve.
It wasn't always like this. About 13 years ago, I was visiting family in Tampa, Fla., when I went to an area mall and discovered the holy restaurant of Chick-fil-A. By the way, it's pronounced "Chick Filet." I've heard people butcher the name, calling it "chick-a-flick," "Chicken Filet" and "that chicken restaurant you're obsessed with."
Anyway, back in 1988 I hadn't heard of this restaurant, the one in the mall that was putting pickles on chicken sandwiches. I was hungry, so I ordered the sandwich, sans pickle. There's another long story there, but let's just say I'm a bit choosy when it comes to ordering food.
I can't say I necessarily loved the sandwich — it's a good sandwich, but I had also grown up with the Burger King Chicken sandwich (especially good with cheese). The obsession hadn't started yet, but the seeds were planted.
Fast forward a year, I found myself working at the Sun-Herald newspaper in Port Charlotte, Florida. Port Charlotte is near Sarasota, and at the Sarasota Square Mall they have a Chick-fil-A. I was walking around and they had someone in front of the restaurant handing out samples of their nuggets.
This was the beginning. I tried one, fell in love with the nuggets, and the rest is history.
Of course, it's not just the nuggets. I tried to explain this to my wife Melissa when we were dating. It's three things that make the Chick-fil-A nuggets meal a perfect combination:
Melissa calls this the "Chick-fil-A Troika". Since I can't think of a better phrase, I'll agree.
OK, so I end up working down in Florida for a couple of years, and I take the Chick-fil-A restaurants for granted. I go occasionally, whenever I am in the mall during a day off. Then, after getting sick and tired of covering the Charlotte County School Board, I left the area and moved back up to New York to take another newspaper job (the now-defunct Hudson Valley News in Newburgh, N.Y.)
My big mistake, of course, was not realizing that Chick-fil-A was not in New York, nor close to anywhere I was living. Thus began the long, dark longing for the Chick-fil-A food. Oh sure, every now and then I would visit family in Florida (after my parents moved back down to Florida in 1995 I was able to go back more often); the first thing I would do upon arriving would be to visit the Chick-fil-A.
I described the obsession to Melissa when we began dating in 1996; she accompanied me on a trip down to Florida in October 1996, where I think we ate at the Melbourne, Fla. Chick-fil-A a total of five times out of the six days we were there. At the end of the trip, Melissa said, "OK, really, no more Chick-fil-A on this trip."
We probably would have gone six out of six had Chick-fil-A been open on Sundays, but they aren't. Due to company policy set by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, who believed that his employees should get Sunday off, whether to go to church or just to have the day off. I respect that. [Or they could buy chips on Sunday — Ed.]
Anyway, we were now living in Massachusetts, and would basically visit a Chick-fil-A whenever we went down to visit my parents in Florida. We went at least once a year, as we had tickets to the Pepsi 400 race in Daytona over the July 4 weekend.
Melissa and I got married in 1998; as part of the wedding reception, Melissa had secretly contacted the public relations department at Chick-fil-A and arranged to have a giant plate of nuggets, waffle fries and some lemonade to be shipped up to the reception. It was quite a surprise, and made the wedding even more special.
At the reception, the wedding coordinator had a special announcement — Chick-fil-A was finally coming to New England. They opened a store at the North Shore Mall a few months later — Melissa and I were able to drive to a Chick-fil-A to fill the obsessive need for this food.
By the way, Melissa has grown fond of the chicken sandwich, even with the pickle.
A couple of months after the North Shore Mall store opened, Chick-fil-A opened restaurants in the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, N.H., and the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass. The Burlington Mall one is the one we visit the most often now, as it's only 30 minutes away from our house. We try to go at least once a month for our fix.
So I've become an impromptu evangalist for Chick-fil-A. In talking about the obsession, I've recruited others in this cause. Stewart, a native of the South, was a quick convert — he also introduced me to the joys of Krispy Kreme, another franchise from the South that is finally making inroads into New England.
That's my tale. If you have a Chick-fil-A near you, head there tonight and eat some nuggets. You won't be disappointed.
Finally, if anyone from Chick-fil-A is reading this, please open a store at the Natick Mall. There are two spots open in the food court, and I'll be at the ribbon cutting. I promise to go there at least once a week to buy the 12-piece nugget meal. Make sure you get the waffle fries, and ask for extra Polynesian sauce.