Chicken salad may not be the first dish that comes to mind when you think of traditional Southern cuisine, but you’d be hard pressed to find a family potluck or church dinner on the grounds that’s not serving up some version of this versatile dish. Especially this time of year, when hot, heavy days have us craving something light and crisp.
And much like our barbecue, cornbread and peach cobbler, Southerners tend to have some strong opinions when it comes to how chicken salad should be made and who makes it best.
That certainly seems to be the case around here, anyway. A few weeks ago, we asked The Star’s Facebook followers who they thought had the best chicken salad in Calhoun County.
In less than 24 hours, the post had received 121 responses. Some were inevitable (“My mom’s kitchen,” commented Jennifer from Anniston). Some were puzzling (“Oxford airport,” suggested Dave from Birmingham). The rest of the responses make up a bucket list of sorts for the chicken salad lovers of Northeast Alabama.
But for those who’d rather not wait till retirement to find their perfect blend of chicken and mayo, fear not. A few Star staff members agreed to do the leg work for you, sampling the five most popular chicken salad sandwiches and reporting back on the good, the bad and the fruity of Calhoun County’s chicken salad.
The Peerless Grille’s chicken salad lunch special, served on toasted bread, is the closest of the five to what’s generally considered classic chicken salad.
Its traditional mayonnaise base makes for a creamy blend without obscuring the flavor of the chicken.
Star staff writer Paige Rentz described the 10th Street hot spot’s version as “evenly seasoned” with “good, big chunks of chicken.” Although she normally goes for what she calls the “fruity” chicken salads, this simple recipe works without all the extras.
“The grilled bread set off the sandwich,” Rentz added.
The fan favorite
If social media is to be believed, the chicken salad at Solid Rock Café is definitely worth the drive to Piedmont. The Ladiga Trail stop was the Facebook favorite by a long shot with 21 comments.
“Solid Rock Café has amazing chicken salad,” said Kelley from Oxford. “Hands down,” Kimidawn from Jacksonville agreed.
Before trying the wildly popular version, Star copy editor Michael Martin said he’d never before had a chicken salad that contained walnuts and grapes. The recipe’s conservative smattering of extras was “different,” he admitted. But in a good way.
“Less is better,” Martin said. “You don’t want to overpower the chicken.”
Classic on Noble’s unique approach to chicken salad has many a loyal advocate, including Benita Duff, a graphic designer in The Star’s advertising department. She summed up her take on it in two words — “tres magnifique.”
To fans of the conventional chicken-mayo-celery model, the upscale eatery’s blend of chopped lettuce and dill-seasoned chicken served on a croissant might seem to put the “salad” in chicken salad. But fans say that’s part of its charm.
“I like my chicken more nuggety,” Duff explained, so its large, meaty chunks hit the spot.
“The lettuce was really crispy,” she added.
The game changer
The dill chicken salad receives star billing on the lunch and dinner menu at Damn Yankees. Those who prefer easier-to-blend, easier-to-eat shredded chicken will appreciate the Noble Street pub’s style — not to mention the generous portion size, says Star staff writer Patrick McCreless.
McCreless says he usually likes his chicken salad the old-fashioned way — “plain, with nothing in it.” But the Damn Yankees’ blend might just change his admittedly open mind.
“I kind of liked the dill added to it,” he said. “It gave it a little kick.”
The wild card
The owners of Solid Rock opened Café McClellan, and though the McClellan location has since been sold, the two’s chicken salad recipes still share a few similarities — most notably the addition of fruit and nuts.
Assistant Metro Editor Bill Edwards was already a fan of these more inventive interpretations. “I like it with all the stuff in it,” he says.
So he was naturally pleased with Café McClellan’s bold blend of grapes, walnuts and chopped chicken — a combination he described as “individually delectable yet blended into a scrumptious whole.”Assistant Features Editor Brooke Carbo: 256-235-3581. On Twitter @star_features.