GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is no shortage of incredible restaurants in West Michigan. But with so many options, how do you choose where to indulge? I – Riley, a 13 ON YOUR SIDE digital producer – have set out to find the tastiest spots in the area and am documenting my journey in a series called 13 Eats.
13 Eats is all about highlighting the best restaurants in the West Michigan area. This week, I’m putting two Grand Rapids staples head-to-head to see who has the best fried chicken sandwich in the area – and I turned to you all for recommendations.
Right off of Wealthy Street in Eastown, you’ll find Hancock; a family friendly chicken paradise, bathed in sunlight, with a bar, outdoor games and a dreamy patio.
Hancock is known as a destination for serving up some incredible chicken sandwiches. Their chefs start with fresh Amish chicken, which is brined for 36 hours in their seasoned coating. Then it’s dredged through flour and set in the cooler to slack for 24 hours, which helps the skin dry out to get super crunchy when it fries.
Their menu offers sweet, Nashville hot, regular or gojuchang chicken sandwiches, to appease any type of craving. After you determine your level of sweet or spicy, every sandwich includes cheese, lettuce, mayo, pickles and is topped with a toasted bun.
Right in the heart of Grand Rapids is the Downtown Market. They have a variety of vendors, but tucked right in the back is Juju Bird, a hotspot that draws customers in throughout the market with the wafting scent of fried goodness.
Juju Bird prides itself on serving all locally sourced ingredients for their chicken. Their farm fresh chicken takes a bath in the flour coating mixed with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and is set to rest before the most important part – the deep fry.
We took special note of their hot chicken sandwich, which is dredged through a spicy oil sauce. But it doesn’t stop there – what makes their hot sandwich truly different from the crowd is they also slather it in cayenne pepper powder to get an extra hot flavor before putting it on its bun throne. After that, it’s all topped with a spicy mayo, slaw, pickles and a tomato slice.
It was finally time to take these babies home so my taste buds can put them to the test. Smelling these fried chicken sandwiches in to-go boxes and having to wait to test them was treacherous, but in the end, it was all worth it.
I started by tasting both restaurants’ regular chicken sandwiches. My first impression was YUM, but the second was the difference in each of their deep fry.
Hancock’s sandwich had a classic taste, and with crispy tenders crammed under a bun rather than a chicken patty, its fried coating had a much more prominent presence.
Juju Bird had a doozy of a chicken breast on each sandwich, with extra inches of meat poking out of either side of the bun. Their fried coating was still present, but their seasoning was what really shines.
After much mouthwatering anticipation, it was finally time to turn up the heat and add our spicy chicken sandwiches into the battle.
When we’re comparing the two, you need to go to Juju Bird if you’re looking for spice. There’s no question about this. This sandwich had my lips burning, my nose running, my ears hot in the best possible way. The slaw, vegetables and bun piled on top helped to round out the sandwich, but the chicken is the star of their show, and they truly knock it out of the park.
With Hancock, they presented more of a mild spice, which is a much more accessible sandwich for many fried chicken lovers. Their spice slowly seeps onto your taste buds after you’ve taken a few bites, and you can tell their focus is on a whole bite of their sandwich, rather than one ingredient. When you take note of all the toppings in there – the pickles, the cheese, the lettuce and mayo – coating their warm, crispy fried chicken, it really makes a well-rounded sandwich.
The winner of this chicken showdown has to go to Hancock for their classic chicken sandwich. Taking into consideration the atmosphere of the restaurant, the intense preparation and the balance of the sandwich, they would take the crown.
Juju Bird, on the other hand, would make a landslide victory in a spicy chicken sandwich showdown.
In the end, though, I think I speak for everyone when I say we are lucky to have both restaurants in our area, no matter which your favorite is. Truly, we have a winner both ways, West Michigan.
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