1 Arnold Mall
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I don't recall the exact moment it happened, but Angel made this choice. It had to be that way, I'd never even think of it.
The elephant in the room.
Not because of that anti gay marriage thing or the being closed on Sunday thing though.
I'm not saying I support or even agree with the owner's position on gay marriage. That's a whole different matter. Positive change takes time, sometimes a lot of time.
No, the reason I wouldn't ever have thought about Chick Fil A as a meal choice is that I really don't care for chicken sandwiches. Why? Two words: Breast meat. More on that later.
During this past week Angel had another round of post-surgical checkups. She's still not able to comfortably drive for long distances, so I took part of the day off to escort her to the medical center in that vague region called 'South County' near Lemay Ferry Road. There may be a named town there, I don't know. St. Louis County has 90 municipalities and 10 unincorporated census designated places. As you travel up and down or back and forth through the county, you hop from one to the other, mostly seamlessly and unnoticed. I suppose if you are from one of those towns or places, you know them apart. I'm not from here though. I'm so not from here that people are very disappointed when I struggle to answer the first question everyone in the area asks each other when they first meet. "Where'd you go to high school?" I think it's the basis for some sort of local caste system.
During our little trip, we knew we'd be able to grab a lunch while in the area. So a few days ahead of time Angel asked me if I liked Chick Fil A. I answered that I'd never been to one before and told her about the not caring for chicken sandwiches thing.
"They have other stuff." She answered. So I went online and hunted up a menu. They didn't really have other stuff, it was really just chicken as a wrap, in a salad and as nuggets.
Another problem. I have modified my weekday meal regimen to accept very light lunches, just enough to get me through to the next meal. Disrupting this pattern has proven gastronomically disruptive. She suggested the nuggets instead, but I had to also try the waffle fries.
So we headed up the road to Arnold, just this side of the Meramec river from South County. There may have been one in SoCo, but she knew the one in Arnold.
I'd seen these places before, just never been inside. It was apparent that a lot of other people knew about it, it was three quarters full when we stepped in. A real mix. A few lunching contractors, elderly couples and groups, and several moms with sticky, smelly and noisy preschool children. I got that, chicken nuggets are great kid-food.
We stepped (actually I stepped, Angel hobbled) up to the counter and were properly greeted. Angel knew the order, so she took charge. I noticed the overhead menu listed the calorie count for each item. So did the kid's menu. You don't see that so prominently posted in other places. Good on them.
Angel ordered the 8 nugget combo, with waffle fries and lemonade for both of us. I'm not sure they even offered tea, nor do I think I would have asked for it anyhow. I've not had a lot of luck with fast food tea. Angel paid up and we found a table. We grabbed some napkins and ketchup on the way.
Pretty soon, our number was up, I fetched the food at the counter. A nice young lady had brought out our lemonades during the wait. Meanwhile, sticky, smelly and noisy preschoolers ran and squealed up and down the aisles. I tried to ignore them. I'm good at ignoring children, just ask my own kids, wherever they are.
It actually looked pretty good. These nuggets weren't the cookie-cutter processed version you find at most fast food places, this was actual, irregular chunks of chicken breast. The golden brown breading was not too thick. The waffle fries looked okay. I would rather they had fried a bit longer, they looked a little pale and not crispy.
The obvious question lies on the near horizon. "What kind of dipping sauces did you get?" I can almost hear you asking.
The thing is, that of all the tasty parts of a dead chicken, the thing that has been the focus, for a very long time, of selective breeding is the breast. That's where the largest part of a chicken is now, so the more one single bird has, the greater the meat-profit it becomes. The downside? It is virtually tasteless. A drumstick, wing or other darker meat parts have their own flavor. Breast meat does not. It's the tofu of the poultry world. If the whole breast is breaded and fried, there's never enough coating taste to carry through to the last several bites. Chicken nuggets, almost always breast meat, (because there's more of it and it is easier to harvest than dark meat) but there's just not enough flavor there to get all worked up over. So nuggets are pretty much always dipped into a sauce of some kind. The lady at the counter had asked which sauce we wanted and rattled of a list. I had her repeat it since I didn't catch anything after 'Ranch'. Not because I like Ranch, quite the opposite. I don't get ranch, on anything. It's almost like a universal sauce, added to everything, hot wings, potato chips, occasionally a salad. I don't hate Ranch, I just think there's too much of it.
The lady opened her litany with 'Chick Fil A sauce'. I asked her what that was. She struggled with a
coherent answer, Angel suggested it was like a barbecue sauce. I nodded, which in my culture signifies 'yes' or 'I agree' or 'I'm pretending to listen' depending on the context. Angel passed that on and also asked for Honey Mustard as a backup. She assumed, wrongly, that I like honey mustard. She so doesn't get me sometimes.
Back at the table we peeled open the sauce packets, not a minor task, neither was opening the needlessly complicated ketchup packet (pour from this side or peel from the other side to dip.) Way too much effort went getting into these overthought packets. I read the sauce packet to verify the ingredients. It read like 'War and Peace' Sure enough it started with sugar, oil and 'bbq sauce'. After that was a list of spices that pretty much every spice I'd ever heard of. They dragged this bbq sauce through an entire spice rack.
For the first nugget, I went commando, no sauce. I wanted to taste the chicken itself so that you, my fickle fans, don't have to.
It was pretty good by itself. Not quite as pronounced as KFC, but similar in taste, pleasantly peppery.
The next nugget went into the Chick Fil A sauce. Yeah there was a bbq taste, but it had been dragged through an entire spice rack. Most noticeably, unfortunately was the mustard. You remember how I said earlier that I don't care for Honey Mustard? Yeah that's it. My brain will only properly process the taste of mustard if it is thick, yellow and most often squeezed onto a hot dog or hamburger. I don't even care for Dijon, nope, just the cheap yellow stuff. I did accidentally dip a couple of nuggets into my ketchup, that was probably the best sauce at the table. Go with your own weird taste choices though, don't go by me on this.
The waffle fries were quite good, if not a little under-cooked. I would have liked them just a bit crispier, but I liked them enough to finish them.
It served quite well as a 'light' lunch. Not too much food for a noontime sitting. The chicken was indeed far superior to those dubious sourced cookie-cutter nuggets at most places. Angel enjoyed hers quite well, but we knew that was the case going in. The place was clean, though busy, the staff was cheerful, friendly and competent. All in all, a pleasant experience. Except for all the children, I think Chick Fil A should not allow children. It would make for a much nicer meal for us hard working, tax-paying, non-sticky grownups.