As any semi-literate billboard cow will tell you, the chicken sandwich appears to be having its day. Nashville-style hot chicken on white bread has become as much a Southern menu staple at night as fried chicken biscuits are at breakfast.
In New York, people line around the block and wait hours for a taste of Fuku, the new fried-chicken-sandwich-only restaurant from Momofuku’s Dave Chang. Here in Atlanta, the nightly pop-up at West Egg Cafe, called Oddbird, does such a brisk business that you have to get there early if you want to secure one of the enormous, fluffy butter-lard biscuits for your fried chicken breast sandwich.
And, yes, even the chicken sandwich is making news. According to a widely reported survey conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A earned the title of the most popular fast-food restaurant in the country. This, in its first year on the list.
So, I’m here to talk about another chicken sandwich that has been in the news lately.
Before you take this recommendation as a desperate stunt from a food writer who has run out of oyster bars and gastropubs, let me state up front and without irony that the chicken parmigiana breadstick sandwich at Olive Garden is kind of delicious.
Breadstick sandwich? Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t. Let’s assume you don’t. Olive Garden, that once-invincible chain of 800-plus Italian restaurants, has been in a year-over-year sales slump. Its parent company, Darden Restaurants, gave it a major makeover. They remodeled their properties, redrew their logo and reinvigorated their menus. Lighter, fresher, brighter, busier. Goodbye Tuscan villa, hello buzzy trattoria.
As a big part of their renovation, the Olive Gardeners introduced breadstick sandwiches. They launched a social media campaign (#breadsticknation, yo), and a Breadstick Nation truck plies the streets of America, raising awareness.
Now, Olive Garden breadsticks are nothing like an Italian grissini, crunchy little sticks you nibble with your aperitivo. They are oblong loaves about the size and shape of a hot dog; slick with oil and rough with salt, they are delicious because of the a priori fact that all warm bread is delicious.
If Olive Garden breadsticks are the size of hot dogs, then Olive Garden breadstick sandwich breadsticks are the size of hot dog buns.
Conceivably, one could construct an all-breadstick sandwich, which is something I might like. The two varieties one can actually order are meatball and chicken parmigiana.
The meatballs don’t appeal to me because they have no texture or bite. The chicken, on the other hand, is breaded and crunchy. It comes piled haphazardly on that toasty breadstick hot dog bun with sweet marinara sauce and clingy mozzarella cheese. I ate it all and licked my fingers clean.
You can only get the breadstick sandwich at lunch, and you can’t just enjoy it by itself. Instead, it comes as part of a Tuscan Duo with soup or salad, french fries and two of the breadstick-only breadsticks, because one can never have enough Olive Garden breadsticks.
Or maybe one can. I admit to being impressed by the sheer heft of this lunch. Only $7.99! So much food! But so much not-good food. The minestrone soup was a morass of beans, flabby pasta and acrid dried basil. The fries limp and greasy. The two breadsticks so, so unnecessary because the breadstick sandwich was all a body could want.
The body does want it. A week after first trying the sandwich, I kind of wanted another. So I called up the Olive Garden near my office and asked if they could just sell me a breadstick sandwich to go. The guy on the phone listened patiently and tried to sell me on the delights of the Tuscan Duo. “It’s only $7.99!” he persisted.
No, Olive Garden, no. That’s not the point. If I see the Breadstick Nation truck rolling by, I’m going to stop it to give the driver a piece of my mind. Free the breadstick sandwich. You could beat Dave Chang at his own game.