I am a true omnivore, an all-inclusive devourer. As much as I get off on finer comestibles, I can't deny that there's enjoyment to be found in humbler chow--as long as it tastes good, I'll eat high on the food chain, low on the food chain and every place in between.
My encounters with fast food, however, have been limited. Strict parents kept me away from the wonder of McDonald's french fries until I was old enough to be in a food court unsupervised, and I didn't taste my first In-N-Out burger until I was well into my 20s. These days, my fast-food exploits are kept to semi-desperate late-night and road-trip meals, mostly because I find most convenience foods kind of suspect--it's called junk food for a reason. Too often, fast food outlets goo up their offerings with special sauces and unessential toppings intended to disguise sub-par meat or meat-like items they're serving. I'm all about eating, but consuming some of that stuff is a waste of stomach space.
So I was more than a little wary when the foodie community started buzzing about the arrival of Chick-fil-A. The Atlanta-based chain, in operation since the '60s, has opened a handful of new restaurants in San Diego. As the name suggests, the quick-service joint serves chicken. They're so chicken-centric, their mascot is a cow who encourages people to 'lose that burger belly and eat more chicken' (actually, they spell it 'Eat Mor Chikin,' which, one can only assume is how a semi-literate cow might spell it). They even have annual events where they give free food to anyone who shows up dressed like a cow, so you can get a side of fries with your public humiliation.
Chicken also happens to be my least favorite meat, and chicken-esque meat patties rank at the bottom of the list. When it comes to fast-food nuggets and sandwiches, they're usually tough, dry and completely forgettable.
Needless to say, I drove out to Chick-fil-A's Sports Area location with some trepidation, even plotting where to have another lunch option in case it all went bad. But when my friend and I arrived, we found the place packed. We'd happened upon Milkshake Monday, a promo running through October. Order a milkshake and you get chicken nuggets for free.
Not one to pass up free food, I went all in and ordered a cookies-and-cream milkshake, a thick homemade-tasting blend crowned with real whipped cream and a cherry. It was an auspicious beginning to my meal. I took a few swigs and moved on to the chicken nuggets--normally a scary prospect, but these pieces of chicken actually looked like a human, not a machine, had a hand in portioning them. The nuggets were very lightly breaded and moist, almost juicy on the inside--a nice surprise. Even the dipping sauce, the Polynesian, was better than the average sweet-and-sour glop.
My friend ordered Chick-fil-A's classic fried chicken breast sandwich that came topped with two pickles on a soft, heated bun. The sandwich comes dry, but they offer a lot of condiments on the side, including a honey-roasted barbecue sauce should you feel the need to doctor it up. I tried a bite plain and, honestly, it was pretty tasty as is. The boneless breast was well-seasoned and pressure-cooked in peanut oil so it stays warm and tender. If you get 'em hot, the waffle fries are pretty good, too. The portion sizes aren't obscenely huge, which also made the whole fast-food eating experience more pleasant.
Chick-fil-A also offers salads and wraps (with chicken), but do you really come to a place like this for your health? I did order a side of carrot-raisin salad that wasn't too shabby. The fresh-squeezed lemonade and freshly brewed iced tea, sweetened Southern-style, are a refreshing change from the syrupy mix that comes out of drink dispensers.
Granted, none of this food is much better for you than a drive-thru burger, but the two of us left Chick-fil-A only $12 poorer and didn't feel too guilty about what we ate. When it comes to fast food, I guess that counts for something.
The Sports Arena-area Chick-fil-A is located at 3570 Sports Arena Blvd., 619-758-1555. For other locations, www.chick-fil-a.com.