Competition and televised sports excite me. But there are too many commercials, so I record games and enjoy cool evening neighborhood bike rides.
Southeast Denver’s my home turf. Downtown Denver’s been my work-hood since 1980.
That explains the geography of the competition I hatched while biking through the forlorn Happy Canyon Shopping Center. Our neighborhood Safeway closed years ago. Even the Burger King at 4996 East Hampden was shuttered. But there are signs of life.
On the old BK site were banners announcing the imminent arrival of something named Birdcall. I asked Siri for information while pedaling east over I-25. Several Birdcall locations were already open in Denver. Who knew?
Crossing Hampden toward Bible Park and the Highline Canal, I noted the crowded drive-through lines at Chick fil-A and its new next-door competitor, Raisin’ Cain’s Chicken Fingers. There was a chicken war on Hampden.
To maintain slenderness, I rarely order chicken sandwiches because of the bread. I adore bread. And potatoes. Anything, really, with butter. Excellent fried chicken thrills me. I pedaled home hungry. My wife, Trish, served a delicious dinner of salad, salmon and broccoli.
Time for post-dinner sports, but the chicken advertising distracted me. This foul war was extending well past Hampden. McDonald’s is spending tons touting its new Deluxe Crispy Chicken Sandwich on a “buttered potato bun.”
Burger King has countered this June with its own massive media campaign, hyping its brand-new Ch’King. BK’s declared intention is to not only win the chicken sandwich war, but to surpass its own Whopper.
Coming out during Pride Month, the Ch’King campaign immediately attacked Christian-Sabbath-observant Chick-fil-A with an LGBTQ+ promotion. BK further taunted that Ch’King would be served “even on Sundays.”
My competition would not be about politics, religion or anything but taste. Eligible outlets needed a nearby drive-through serving spicy chicken sandwiches.
I’m chicken when it comes to certain foods. Misplaced pickles have ruined many restaurant experiences. It’s wrong and presumptuous to place pickles on or near someone’s food. All these chicken sandwich commercials featured pickles. I worried.
That’s why I started with Burger King, which understands pickle-phobia. Remember “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.”
“Spicy Ch’King please. No pickles,” I announced.
He repeated. I confirmed.
The service was prompt. The first bite was ultra-crunchy perfection. Each bite got better. The pleasure was prolonged because it was gigantic. Ch’King!
My next day’s DeLuxe Crispy sandwich at McDonald’s was pitiful. Unsightly spicy sauce was unevenly slathered by some distracted worker or malfunctioning machine. Semi-soggy gristly chicken was exposed and quickly discarded after three bites. This DeLuxe failure was puzzling given McD’s superb fries and smaller spicy McChicken sandwiches.
The following day was Chick-fil-A, and I decided to get the family involved. Dad would bring home dinner. Trish wanted their healthy Southwestern salad. My sons and I ate spicy chicken sandwiches without pickles (that’s my boys). The Chick-fil-A was fine, but not huge, hot and crunchy like Ch’King.
Arby’s seemed like fine dining compared to unfinishable spicy chicken sandwiches I encountered in Aurora on Havana at Church’s and Carl’s Jr. My regular Wendy’s on South Syracuse served up a decent spicy chicken filet, but not crunchy or big enough to win.
Birdcall awaited, and the competition was rejoined. I went to the Evans location near DU and the original Chipotle. The drive-through was clever, as was the menu. I ordered extra spicy Nashville hot. The sandwich was juicy, tender and tasty, but not fried, crunchy and gigantic like Ch’King.
Popeyes on East Colfax was up to that challenge. Their Spicy Chicken Sandwich cost slightly less than Ch’King but seemed equally enormous. The crunchy tender filet overflowed the bun and demanded immediate chomping. Pure deliciousness followed. All that seemed lacking was lettuce. Such omissions could be overlooked in a lesser competition.
It was only fair for me to finally visit Colonel Sanders at Evans and Colorado. Memories flooded back as I bit into 11 extraordinary herbs and spices surrounding a splendid hunk of white-meat chicken. Damn, it was good, but gone too soon. I wanted to reach my hand back in a KFC bucket. But I was disciplined. No more for now.
It turns out this chicken war has hidden alliances. BK and Popeyes tasted so similarly sensational because of common ownership by Restaurant Brands International Inc., a Canadian-based conglomerate seeking worldwide chicken sandwich domination.
With my competition concluded and this column nearly finished, I biked to the historic Saturday night Juneteenth commemoration in Five Points. I celebrated at the original Birdcall at 26th and Clarkson, back on my diet of breadless chicken. I celebrated civil rights with a Birdcall Pride shake.
Ch’King had won the taste test wire to wire, but I long-term prefer healthy, local and sustainable. Denver’s a definite winner when it comes to spicy chicken dinners.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.