If I had to pick an iconic American food that would suddenly enter the junk food hype machine, I would have never guessed that chicken and waffles would be the next Big Thing. But here we are, with chicken and waffle-flavored chips (which lost Lay’s Do Us a Flavor contest but are now back on shelves – don’t even get me started on that), Torani Chicken ‘N Waffles Syrup that you could theoretically put in your coffee or on your ice cream or whatever you want to turn disgusting, and now Popeye’s Chicken Waffle Tenders.
I give kudos to Popeye’s for this concept. They’ve taken a pre-existing platform – their chicken, as opposed to something like chips or syrup – and added the waffle aspect in a rather unique way.
Oh, sure, they could have just chucked a few pieces of waffle in with their chicken, but Popeye’s got creative. According to their commercial, Chicken Waffle Tenders are all white-meat tenders marinated in Louisiana spices and hand-crafted with a light, crispy waffle coating.
What this basically means is that the tenders are dipped in waffle batter instead of traditional egg wash before they’ve been coated with Popeye’s signature seasoned coating and fried up.
Pretty ingenious, right? Okay, maybe not ingenious, but at least not outright lazy.
I have to admit, I came into this biased. I’ve never had actual chicken and waffles, which means I should probably shut my mouth right now. But I’ve had fried chicken and I’ve had waffles, and it just doesn’t seem like a combination I’d like. In general, I like my savory and my sweet separate. It’s just a personal preference. It’s part of the reason why I disliked Lay’s Chicken & Waffles chips.
I really wanted to give Popeye’s a fair shake, though, so I put my on my Objective Journalism Cap and went to work.
Actually, before I put the objective cap on, one more thing – Popeye’s customer service sucks. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience there that went smoothly. They get my order wrong. They’re out of whatever it is I happen to be ordering. They do that thing where they make me pull around from the drive-thru and park in front to wait for my food.
This last incident happens almost every time, and wouldn’t bother me that much, except as I sit there the a/c in my car gradually starts to grow warmer until I’m marinating in my own distinctly not-Louisiana spices.
You could chalk this up to one bad location, but I’ve had several friends from different parts of the nation have the same experiences. I dunno what it is about Popeye’s, but it seems they just can’t get their shit together.
On this trip, I decided that, in addition to my Chicken Waffle Tenders, I’d get some Zatarain’s Butterfly Shrimp as a backup lunch in case I really hated the tenders. Even though it’s still featured on their website, I was informed that they no longer carried them, because that was last month’s promotional item.
You know what? Fair enough. I was willing to give them a pass on that.
Other than my crustaceous disappointment, things actually went smoothly. I was a little irritated that the Chicken Waffle Tenders were only available as a combo with a biscuit, fries and drink, but that was a minor complaint. I was in the mood for lemonade anyways.
Then I got home and pulled this out of the bag:
Before my Rageometer reached critical mass, I opened up the box:
Oh, okay. Fairly new item. Using up old boxes. Whatever. At least my order was correct. I could tell, because the smell of Popeye’s seasoning was mixed with a faint waffle scent. Plus, I got the Sweet Honey Maple Sauce that is advertised specifically for this item. I had to sit down for a moment, in shock that I’d received the correct order.
The tenders also had a darker coating than normal Popeye’s fried chicken, which I took as an indication of the presence of waffle batter.
I tried the tenders without the sauce first. The chicken was moist and tender, which is not unusual for Popeye’s. They may suck at customer service, but then generally deliver some pretty darn good chicken.
The fried coating had just the right amount of crunch and was not at all soggy. It did have an annoying tendency to flake off the tenders more than regular fried coating, though.
Of course, the important part here is the Waffle part of Chicken Waffle Tenders. I am pleased to say that, despite all my predictions, I actually liked the waffle flavor. When I first bit into a tender, I tasted those Popeye’s Louisiana spices right off the bat. As I got through the bite, the waffle flavor came through, almost as a finishing taste. It was distinctly and authentically waffle, but it wasn’t very sweet at all, and I was so happy Popeye’s decided to keep their spices and add the waffle batter, because the two worked really well together.
Enter the Sweet Honey Maple Sauce. This seems like another smart move on Popeye’s part, since what is chicken and waffles without syrup? It seems the perfect dipping compliment to Chicken Waffle Tenders.
Except for the fact that something went horribly wrong. While I really enjoyed the tenders on their own, the Sweet Honey Maple Sauce ruined the whole thing for me. It did, indeed, have a strong maple flavor, and I liked the touch of honey, but it was cloyingly sweet.
Now, if you like your chicken and waffles smothered in syrup, this sweetness may not be an issue for you. What I consider to be a completely objective problem with this sauce was the texture.
Have you ever tried a dip that was so thick in all the wrong ways that whatever you were dipping either came out of it with no dip at all, or just one giant glob of dip? That’s exactly what Sweet Honey Maple Sauce is like. A small cup of ectoplasmic goo far too thick for a chicken tender, and also far too sweet for my taste.
I’m a dipper by nature, but I wound up eating all three of my tenders straight after my initial bite of the sauce. The spices and the waffle batter combined with the moist chicken were all the flavor that was needed. I really couldn’t think of a substitute dip that would outshine the flavor of the tenders themselves.
This was my first taste of actual chicken with actual waffle (if in batter form), and I definitely see the appeal. I thought the waffle flavor would ruin the chicken, but instead, it enhanced Popeye’s spices and didn’t overwhelm the moist chicken or the seasonings with sweetness. The waffle batter may have caused the fried coating to flake off too easily, but it was still nice and crunchy, even if I had to sort of cobble it back on to the tenders.
While I considered the Sweet Honey Maple sauce subjectively too sweet and objectively too goopy, I don’t fault the Chicken Waffle Tenders for it. Popeye’s took a trending flavor and managed to put a rather clever and successful spin on it, and I consider this a pretty high bar for future chicken-and-waffle-flavored concoctions. (Note: I’d really rather not see any more chicken-and-waffle-flavored concoctions. I’m glaring at you, Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos.)
Popeye’s Chicken Waffle Tenders with Sweet Honey Maple Sauce