Few foods on campus stoke genuine delight for me anymore. This is partially due to my eating habits, as I tend to eat the same dish until I get bored. I’ve also lived on West Campus since freshman year, so I’ve tried just about every dish available, even obscure ones like Sprout’s French toast sticks and Tandoor’s dosas. My taste buds have been craving something new and different for a while now.
Then I tasted the Pitchforks fried chicken sandwich.
This is a meal imprinted on my mind like witnessing the initial bloom of cherry blossoms in the spring or hearing "Everytime We Touch" echo through Cameron. When I return to Durham as an alum, my first stop is not going to be Vin Rouge or Shooters II. It’s going to be Pitchforks, where I can relive the joy of biting into that chicken sandwich for the first time.
There are definitely better fried chicken sandwiches out there, like at the Popeye’s at RDU or Cane’s on Franklin Street. But the Pitchforks sandwich is bewitchingly delicious, easily accessible and better than its on-campus competitors.
The brioche bun is smooth, shiny and as soft as a baby’s bottom. The pickles aren’t much to write home about, but I think that’s the way it should be. I rarely remember amazing pickles, but I do remember ones that are limp or an ogreish shade of green.
I rarely mess with chicken on campus unless their last name is cutlet (or 65). The chicken in this sandwich overcomes common chicken shortcomings (too thick, too fishy tasting or too dry). The ultra-thin cutlet is crispy, crackly, delightfully juicy and slathered in garlicky aioli.
Compare that with Gothic Grill’s Gothic Southern fried chicken sandwich. The Bryan Center restaurant opened to much fanfare earlier this year, but to the chagrin of Loop lovers. Unfortunately, Gothic’s comparatively lackluster fried chicken sandwich further rubs salt in the wound. In contrast to Pitchfork's bouncy, pull-apart brioche bun, Gothic’s corn-dusted bun is a little dry. The chicken too is toothsome and stringy. The behemoth hunk of chicken overpowers the poor pickles’ feeble attempts to inject some much-needed juiciness into the meal.
I hoped a pump of mayo might help to lubricate my parched throat. I actually hate mayo, so I was pretty desperate. Unfortunately, the condiment quickly overpowered the rest of the sandwich, which was a bit bland.
In this campus dining oligopoly, the Pitchforks fried chicken sandwich is the better of two options. As someone without a car, it has become my ultimate comfort food.
Of course, eating at two in the morning feels a little wrong. It's salty, greasy and quite hefty. I should be asleep, but instead I’m having an out of body experience in the basement of McClendon. But eating this sandwich also feels just right. At many points in this semester, I felt ready to give up and veg out. But this meal is like a beacon of light for the weary student. There’s no better feeling than tucking into a fried chicken sandwich after a long week. It replenishes my study stamina and re-illuminates the path toward my academic, personal and professional goals.
Duke students have already lost Panda Express, a beloved Duke institution and purveyor of comfort foods found nowhere else, like juicy teriyaki chicken and fragrant stir-fried veggies. Like Panda Express, Pitchforks also serves high-quality, comforting and unique dishes: banh mi sandwiches, veggie lasagna and a delicious fried chicken sandwich. I’m a senior, but for the sake of future students, I sincerely hope that Pitchforks stays open and protected from the consolidation, duplication and bowl-ification of Duke Dining. The fate of fried chicken depends on it.
Jessica Luan is a Trinity senior. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.
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