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Fried chicken every day, or everyday fried chicken? From the chains, a little of both

A taste of Church's, Popeye's and Kentucky Fried chicken whets our appetites for a local sampling

Mike Sutter
From left: Popeye's, Church's and KFC serve up fried chicken every day of the week, with variations on spice, size and crunch among the chains.

Beyond the drive-through, fried chicken is an elusive beast. Not many places do it, and even fewer do it every day.

I chased the wily yardbird through a dozen Austin restaurants for a story running in our Austin360 magazine Thursday. But first, let's talk about the Big Three: Church's, Popeye's and KFC, where a $5 box of chicken with a side and a biscuit is close at hand seven days a week. On one stretch of East Riverside Drive, you'll find all three within a half-mile of each other.

How do they compare to the locals? The common wisdom is that Church's bags the big pieces, Popeye's brings the spice and sides and that nothing tastes quite like KFC's Original Recipe. I set out to test that wisdom with American-Statesman food writer Addie Broyles,

• Church's: Generously cut pieces, all right, with a medium-crunchy crust distributed like clumps of oatmeal. Bland, except for the "spicy," which was zestier than Popeye's. Glutinous sides of mashed potatoes with gravy and mac and cheese in salty shades of tan and yellow.

• Popeye's: Smaller pieces with the look of melted amber. Finger-searing hot, salty-crisp. Red beans and rice brought a Styrofoam feast of smoky pork notes to make it the day's best side dish. Best biscuit, too, unless you prefer the hardtack charms of the other two.

• KFC: Original Recipe tasted the same as it did when I was 6 years old: soft copper skin with pepper, salt and something deeper. But the best of the Big Three was a KFC Extra Crispy breast piece the size of your open hand, with gossamer breading like downy feathers and pockets of pull-apart meat. But be warned: An employee told Addie that Austin's a test market for the idea of ending that style. A KFC spokesman would say only that "Austin is one of the many markets involved in research for KFC; they are testing some potential new menu configurations."

Thursday in Austin360, see how local restaurants feed our need for fried chicken.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902