Scratch that. I DO know what it is. It’s several things, actually.
Mainly, of course, it’s the food itself. More specifically, it’s that heavenly Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Betty (who is really a Chez Panisse alum who hails from Australia, named Alison Barakat) has created an incredible Fried Chicken Sandwich that has garnered raves from almost everyone who has tried it, and with good reason. This is one case where the hype is fully warranted. Fried chicken may seem like a decadent choice for a sandwich and could easily become a greasy, soggy mess, but that’s simply not the case here.
Betty’s fried chicken is crisp with a crust that is never greasy, never too thick and floury and always wonderfully flavored and spiced. And the buttermilk soaked chicken breast underneath is juicy, tender and moist. She could easily sell these fried chicken pieces on their own and they’d go flying out the door.
Then there is the coleslaw. This is not your summer picnic version covered in greasiness and sitting in a pool of watered down mayo. Again, this tangy, slightly spicy salad could totally stand on its own. Betty’s coleslaw is flecked with thinly sliced red onions and jalapenos to create just enough kick for you to notice it, but not enough so you ever have to stop and take a drink of water. The vinegary dressing is light, fresh and adds almost a pickled flavor to the always crisp cabbage.
The genius in this sandwich is how they take two separate dishes and made them the best they could be. Combined, they make an extraordinary sandwich. One that feels familiar yet tastes reinvented.
Second, it’s the people. You stand in line for this crazy sandwich all the way down the block. You ask if it’s worth it. You question if you’re crazy to wait this long for a mere sandwich. Then a Bakesale staffer walks alongside the line to offer everyone a free slice of their banana bread, or a cookie that just came out of the oven. How nice of them to offer a tasty treat! It almost makes the wait, dare I say, enjoyable because you’re chowing down on the best banana bread you’ve ever tasted. But it also says, “Hey we realize you’re waiting a long time for some of our tasty food. But we appreciate it, and we appreciate you. Have a cookie.” (BTW, get yourself some Strawberry Shortcake if it’s in season when you order that sandwich. It is almost as exceptional as that sandwich.)
Third, it still feels like a secret cultish thing that you’ve become privy to. The ominous black painted storefront is still without a sign. All the menu items are handwritten. There are only a handful of items available daily and if you don’t get there early enough, you’ve missed out. That’s it. Tough luck. And it’s almost like the Bay Area’s version of the infamous New York City “Soup Nazi” where you have to know what you want because the line moves ever so swiftly. You have to keep pace. (But the people who work there are so much nicer.)
I never pass up the chance for one of these sandwiches. And yes, her sweets and baked goods are absolute heaven as well. But my heart belongs to that Fried Chicken Sandwich.