BUFFALO, N.Y. — You might want to keep it quiet next time you're near a chicken coop, but chicken sandwiches are having a moment.
We went around town to check out a few of Buffalo's most talked about chicken sammies, starting in Niagara Falls at Dirty Bird Chicken N' Waffles.
Dirty Bird's fleet of food trucks have been on the streets of Western New York since 2016, when Niagara Falls Police Officer and Owner Raul Parker started his side hustle. Their brick and mortar takeout location came three years ago on Buffalo Avenue.
"Seven days a week," said Dirty Bird Teammember B.J. Smith. "Open 'till midnight Sunday through Thursday, then Friday and Saturday we're open till 2 a.m. So we're like the only establishment that's open that late, at least in Niagara Falls."
But even in the middle of the day on weekday, the place is busy, with new orders flying in every few minutes. One of the most in-demand dishes is the signature chicken and waffles sandwich, but the options don't stop there. There's also a Nashville hot chicken, chicken tacos, dessert items, and more.
So whether you're trying it from the truck, or takeout...
"We want everybody to just come and try our food," Smith said. "Come check us out, get a Dirty Bird or two or three."
The Dirty Bird food truck will return to the 2022 Erie County Fair.
A "Covid Baby" is Born In Williamsville
At Britesmith Brewing, Chef/Partner Ross Warhol affectionately refers to immensely popular chicken sandwich on the menu as one of his "Covid babies."
"That's what we call all of our creations during when we were shut down for our first closure," he explained.
It was one of those early days in lockdown when Warhol made fried chicken sandwiches, a favorite of his own as a kid, for staff meal.
"I had two cooks at the time, so I always made sure I fed them, because you know, they were doing us a favor coming in," he said. "So we made a couple fried chicken sandwiches, and we did 'version one' and 'version two.' Version one was the winner," Warhol said.
Served with deviled egg filling and tomato jam on a bun that's toasted until it's "GBD" - Brite Smith's acronym for "golden brown and delicious," version one earned itself a place on the menu and has been there ever since.
"It actually beats out our burger some weeks," Warhol said. "We're hovering around maybe 200 to 240 chicken sandwiches a week. During our peak season in the summer, we're upwards close to 300, 380."
Clucking its Way to a Cult Following on the West Side
From the suburbs to the West Side of Buffalo, Mister Sizzles on Connecticut Street hasn't even been open a year yet, but it's already become a destination for chicken sandwiches.
"We want to create a brand," Chef Jason Ramos said. "We want to create an image. We want to create something with the same notoriety that a Paula's Donut has when you come to the city. People see that, and they go, 'where can I get a good donut,' and they go, 'well, you gotta go to Paula's.' We want that same kind of image for Mister Sizzles."
Ramos teamed up with Owners Casey and Chris Casas for a revamped version of a classic burger joint, which opened in late May of last year, specializing in smash burgers, fries, and shakes.
"I didn't know what a smash burger was, but he did, and so I trusted him," Casey said about her husband.
Casey's one request for the menu: to add a few fried chicken sandwiches to their offerings.
"Yeah, three fried chicken sandwiches," she said, "Then everybody was saying, you think Mister Sizzles is a burger spot, but it's really a fried chicken spot."
Her husband fully admits his wife's instincts were right.
"He didn't want fried chicken," Casey said.
"I didn't, but I was wrong," Chris said. "I'll admit it."
Now, Mister Sizzles is up to six chicken sandwiches, with some rotating specials.
"My favorite is the 'Queen City,'" Casey said. "Obviously, that's the nickname of Buffalo, so this is our Buffalo sauce fried chicken.'
"It's like a chicken finger sub," Chris added.
Other popular choices are the 'I Love Honey' and the 'Westside Hot.' If you want to graduate to something more extreme, there's the 'Melted Hen,' which is served in between two grilled cheese sandwiches.
With their welcoming decorations and catchy "Buffalo Since Always" slogan, it didn't take long for Mister Sizzles to develop a following.
"It's kind of just taken a life of its own," Casey said "We have a little bit of a cult following now, which is cool."
As the couple approaches their one year anniversary, they can't help but look back at how it all began.
"Our first service we were packed. Full bar, full dining room, line out the door, my wife and I had to excuse ourselves and go to the office and just kind of cry," Chris said. "We were just like, bawling. It was so overwhelming. Just the love that people are giving us."
In true City of Good Neighbors spirit, Mister Sizzles has donated a portion of proceeds to local charities almost every month they've been open.
"We like to look at ourselves as Buffalo's burger joint," Chris said. "The city's been so great to us, and so we're just giving it back."