Chick-fil-A is a giant corporate chain that would like to be seen as a small, family-owned business.
Its strict policy of Sunday closure, donations to select Christian organizations and promotion of the Cathy family as owners all support Chick-fil-A’s carefully crafted image as a food chain that is set apart in its values and, tacitly, its quality.
For better or worse, though, politics don’t affect taste, and in the domain of food, the only meaningful difference between Chick-fil-A and McDonalds is that you can’t get a burger at Chick-fil-A.
The recently opened Chick-fil-A in Augustana’s Morrison Commons looks like any other location, but its sleek white interior seems out of place on Augustana’s campus. It also offers very little seating, and the few tables it does have are often dirty, meaning food usually has to be taken to go.
The campus location’s biggest difference from other Chick-fil-As is the limited menu. People-pleasing chicken nuggets and sandwiches are the only meals available. Those hoping for a chicken wrap or biscuit best take their business elsewhere.
Chicken sandwiches come with just pickles or lettuce and tomato. Anyone feeling particularly adventurous can pay a little extra to add a slice of cold American cheese and two thin strips of flavorless bacon or get a rust-colored “spicy” chicken sandwich with a hint of heat.
The minimalist toppings and vapid white bun seem to be meant to bring out the flavor of the chicken, but the homogeneous white meat doesn’t taste like much besides salt. Two small pickle slices drown out any unique taste that may exist in the fried chicken sandwich.
In its favor, the fried chicken has a satisfying crunch and the meat is juicy. The grilled chicken is dry, but the tomato and lettuce add moisture.
Chick-fil-A’s nuggets are unique in that they aren’t really nuggets. The bite-sized pieces of breaded chicken breast aren’t made of processed ground meat and are far more akin to small chicken tenders. In quality, they may exceed a normal nugget but aren’t quite on par with a good chicken strip.
Chick-fil-A’s wide variety of sauces is the real draw to the restaurant and one of the few ways Chick-fil-A distinguishes itself. Its signature golden Chick-fil-A sauce is generally regarded as the best, but the creamy, saccharine mix of barbeque and honey mustard was not for me. Sugary sweetness overpowers all but the barest traces of smokiness and tang, a problem shared by many Chick-fil-A sauces.
Chick-fil-A’s barbeque, Polynesian and sriracha sauces similarly prioritize sweetness over spice to their detriment. However, only the Polynesian sauce, reminiscent of candy coating, is outright bad.
Chick-fil-A’s buffalo sauce is insipid and watery but, to its credit, tastes like buffalo sauce and doesn’t feel like a spoonful of sugar was added to the three-quarter-ounce packet.
Ranch and honey mustard are solid options, delivering just what one expects from them.
Side dishes at Chick-fil-A are limited: fries are offered alongside every meal with a seldom used option to replace them with a fruit cup or salad at a slight upcharge. The waffle fries are slightly over-salted to my taste but warm and crispy on the outside with a tender center. As far as fast food fries go, these are on the high end.
Choices for desserts are surprisingly expansive for a restaurant with an otherwise limited menu. Brownies and cookies are available, but Chick-fil-A’s trademarked “icedream” makes up the basis of most of the desserts. Icedream can’t legally be called ice cream due to its lack of fat, but somehow it tastes and looks just like the real thing.
Milkshakes come in five flavors, each tasting strong and distinct. Even the hard-to-nail artificial strawberry tastes like strawberry. They aren’t quite as thick as I would hope, but they can be sipped through a straw and easily taken on the go.
The frosted lemonade, a mixture of lemonade and icedream, is the most intriguing of the desserts, similar to an Orange Julius. It works far better than any combo of lemon and dairy should.
A frosted coffee adequately combines coffee and icedream but can’t compete with caffeinated drinks at the Starbucks just a stone’s throw away.
Beyond the food itself, the workers at Augustana’s Chick-fil-A are friendly, but their performance is poor. Sauces are often missing from orders, and crispy nuggets once came out as a grilled chicken sandwich.
Prices are comparable to other fast food options. A chicken sandwich or eight nuggets with fries and a soda costs $9.35. The deal is even better for Augustana students who can use dining dollars or meal swipes for food.
Many praise Chick-fil-A for its strong Southern Baptist values while others condemn it for its donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations. Most students at Augustana decided their opinions on Chick-fil-A long before they ever took a bite, and the unremarkable fast food fare on offer isn’t going to change any minds.