Atlanta Orders In: Taiwanese fried chicken a game changer for Java Saga Coffee

A selection of takeout items from Java Saga Coffee includes fries; the BFC (large Taiwanese fried chicken cutlet); classic Taiwanese chicken nuggets; and a hot chicken sandwich. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A selection of takeout items from Java Saga Coffee includes fries; the BFC (large Taiwanese fried chicken cutlet); classic Taiwanese chicken nuggets; and a hot chicken sandwich. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Atlanta is living in a golden age of chicken sandwiches. Few of them are as biographical as Alvin Sun’s ABC fried chicken sandwich, which stands for “American-born Chinese,” and tells his life story between two buns.

Sun was born and raised in Atlanta by Taiwanese immigrant parents. His mom, Amy Lee, always wanted to run a cafe; instead, she became a fixture at the Atlanta Lunar New Year Festival, where she sometimes served her Taiwanese salt and pepper chicken, a popular street snack showered with fried basil and picked up with little wooden skewers. She got her recipe from a friend who ran a popular chain restaurant in Taiwan.

Sun, meanwhile, came up with an idea for a food truck while studying business at the University of Georgia and working at Starbucks. He remembers taping a layout of a food truck to the floor of his fraternity’s living room. He recruited fraternity brothers to role-play running the various stations, “to see if everyone could fit.”

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The ABC chicken sandwich and fries are on the Java Saga Coffee menu. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The ABC chicken sandwich and fries are on the Java Saga Coffee menu. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After graduating, he worked in real estate for a while, but ultimately concluded he wasn’t very good at it. So, he persuaded his mom that a food truck would be cheaper than opening that restaurant she’d always dreamed about.

In 2016, Sun launched Java Saga Coffee. He soon realized it would be hard to pay the bills on coffee alone, so he added his mom’s Taiwanese fried chicken to the menu. That was a game changer.

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Java Saga Coffee’s BFC — a butterflied chicken breast cooked the classic Taiwanese way — is a terrific value for $9. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Java Saga Coffee’s BFC — a butterflied chicken breast cooked the classic Taiwanese way — is a terrific value for $9. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

In February of last year, Sun moved Java Saga to Prep, a warren of commercial kitchens in a Doraville office park. With a walk-up window and a few sidewalk tables, Java Saga is modeled after the family-run, hole-in-the-wall places Sun fell in love with in Taipan, where he went to expand his coffee-making skills after working at Starbucks.

Getting established in the middle of the pandemic was a soul-crushing experience, Sun said. Many days, he’d stare out the window for hours, and never see a single customer. Over time, however, he has been able to build up business and establish a loyal clientele. Often, on weekends, you’ll find people waiting in line for coffee drinks and Taiwanese street food.

“Now, I am more optimistic, because all the bad stress has been replaced by good stress,” he said. “We are so busy.”

At Java Saga Coffee, Alvin Sun serves Taiwanese fried chicken the traditional way, like his mother and grandmother taught him. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At Java Saga Coffee, Alvin Sun serves Taiwanese fried chicken the traditional way, like his mother and grandmother taught him. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Sun uses his mom’s MSG-free fried chicken recipe for a variety of snacks and sandwiches. The bird is soaked in a 13-ingredient, egg-based marinade for two days before frying. It’s breaded with gluten-free potato starch, which makes it a welcome option for the gluten-intolerant.

At Java Saga, you can sample the chicken as Chick Bits — a $7 box of dark-meat nuggets served the traditional Taiwanese way, with wooden skewers.

The Notorious BFC is a ginormous butterflied chicken breast, cooked in the same style, but served whole. “Some pieces come out bigger than your face,” Sun said. At $9, the platter-sized mess o’ bird has got to be one of the best fried chicken deals around.

Java Saga Coffee serves Taiwanese breakfast crepes, as well as coffee drinks and chicken. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Java Saga Coffee serves Taiwanese breakfast crepes, as well as coffee drinks and chicken. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Observing the popularity of Nashville hot chicken, Sun decided to create his own version. His Taiwan #1 hot chicken comes at four different heat levels, plopped on brown-sugar milk toast with sweet pickles. I tried the Crypto level, made with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and loved it. The hot sandwiches also are mammoth in size.

His piece de resistance, though, is the ABC.

Java Saga Coffee’s ABC chicken sandwich reflects the heritage of owner Alvin Sun. It stands for American-born Chinese, and it mixes Asian and American ingredients. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Java Saga Coffee’s ABC chicken sandwich reflects the heritage of owner Alvin Sun. It stands for American-born Chinese, and it mixes Asian and American ingredients. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Made with a slice of jalapeño-American cheese and an Asian slaw of apples, basil and ginger, plus sweet pickles and a nicely prickly mango-habanero sauce, it’s a crazy-delicious cultural mashup. Like Sun, it’s part Asian, part American — and 100% deserving of a top spot in Atlanta’s chicken-sandwich hierarchy.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Alvin Sun is the owner of Java Saga Coffee, which operates out of a commercial kitchen in Doraville. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Alvin Sun is the owner of Java Saga Coffee, which operates out of a commercial kitchen in Doraville. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

JAVA SAGA COFFEE

Menu: coffee and Taiwanese street food

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: Chick Bits, ABC sandwich, Notorious BFC, Diggity Dan Bing (Taiwanese breakfast crepe), Taiwan hot chicken, fries, Boba Tiger’s Blood drink. The food was ready on time, nicely packaged and terrific!

Service options: order online, by phone or in person; no dine-in; delivery via Uber Eats and Grubhub

Outdoor dining: yes; three tables on the sidewalk

Mask policy: yes, for staff; optional for patrons, who are separated from the pickup window by plexiglass

Address, phone: 3781 Presidential Parkway, Doraville; 678-825-2438

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-7 p.m. Sundays

Website: javasagacoffee.com

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