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What's on Tap

After testing about 2,000 options, Ashley Christensen debuts her entry in chicken sandwich wars

Posted October 28, 2021 8:39 a.m. EDT
Updated October 29, 2021 1:08 p.m. EDT

— James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen is entering the so-called "chicken sandwich wars" this weekend.

Christensen's first fast-casual fried chicken restaurant BB's Crispy Chicken opens Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Midtown East shopping development off of Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

The venture, a partnership between Christensen and Raleigh-based MDO Holdings, took more than two years to develop.

Christensen said Wednesday that the concept's focus is to be able to deliver a good sandwich that is just as good for to-go customers taking the food home. That all started with the right fried chicken recipe.

"That led me and a team of folks I worked with down this path of discovering a 'new fried chicken,' and we tried so many different ways of doing it," Christensen said. "I think we estimated about 2,000 fried chicken sandwiches that we tasted."

"At the end of the day, I ended up with something that I was very happy with, but 45 minutes later, wasn't quite where I wanted it to be," Christensen said.

So Christensen reached out to James Beard winning restaurateur Mike Solomonov, one of the founders of Pennsylvania's Federal Doughnuts. The restaurant is known for its twice fried, super crispy chicken.

"I'd had that chicken and I went to Mike and sort of asked his advice and he gave me some advice about some specific things he does," Christensen said. "We ended up kind of taking a inspired technique from him and adding buttermilk in and adding different temperatures and ended up in a place that, just to me, is exactly where we want it to be."

Christensen is using Pennsylvania-based Bell & Evans chicken breasts which are brined, dipped into a wet batter then fried. After resting, the chicken is fried a second time at a higher temperature. The result is a thick, even breading.

BB's menu includes five signature sandwiches:

  • BB'S Pick - Classic chicken sandwich with shredded lettuce, Duke's mayo and pickles (Out and About sampled this one and it is a solid pick!)
  • Deluxe - Romaine lettuce, tomato, red onion and dijonaise
  • Pimento Please - Crispy chicken sandwich topped with house-made pimento cheese
  • BBQ Cheddar - Texas smoky barbecue and cheese sauce. You can upgrade by adding pickled jalapeños and bacon (Out and About had the grilled chicken breast version of this one, and it was really good.)

BB's Crispy Chicken

And four spicy sandwich options featuring TABASCO sauces:

  • Hot Honey - TABASCO® Buffalo Style Hot Sauce and honey with notes of cayenne peppers and garlic highlight this sandwich. (Out and About got to try this one and it was sweet heat heaven!)
  • Green Jalapeno - Featuring a TABASCO® Green Jalapeño Sauce and Duke’s Mayo blend.
  • White Hot Buffalo - TABASCO® Buffalo Style Hot Sauce, Duke’s Mayo, and a splash of TABASCO® Scorpion Sauce help give this sauce a major kick!
  • Scorpion Red Fire - This is really hot! You've been warned! The sauce on this sandwich includes a mix of TABASCO® Scorpion Sauce's blazing-hot scorpion peppers blended with chili sauce and agave.

The four Tabasco-based flavors are among 13 house-made sauces on hand, including a standout mango sweet and sour, buttermilk ranch and Yum Yum.

While the fried chicken sandwich options are the stars of the menu, they aren't the only options worth trying.

Chicken nugget fans will want to try the Crunchy Dunkers, which are bigger than a traditional nugget and closer to a chicken tender size. The nuggets are covered in a gluten-free panko breading or available grilled.

BB's Crispy Chicken

There are two salad and two wrap options on the menu, including the “Pimento Toastie,” which can be filled with crunchy or grilled dunkers. (Christensen's pimento cheese is one of the menu highlights, so we recommend adding it to anything you can!)

Side items include sweet potato waffle fries, sea-salt brined French fries and North Carolina’s Ashe County cheese curds made with a gluten-free panko breading. The curds are much lighter and more airy than typical curds that come heavily breaded.

MDO Holdings CEO, Michael Olander Jr., said work has been put into the back-end technology and ordering process to make it more efficient. Guests will be able to order via BB's app for iPhone and Android or through its online ordering system. In the restaurant, guests can use the regular register or order from their table by scanning a QR code.

There are two more BB's locations under construction — one in Durham’s University Hill and another in west Cary’s Parkside Town Commons. Christensen said those locations should be open by March.

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