Oh, Canada, what are you doing?
I don't believe in guilty pleasures. If something brings you even a sliver of joy in this increasingly dysthymic reality, enjoy it without any apology. God knows what will happen tomorrow. Here's what happened to me yesterday: the KFC Waffle Double Down. Eight years after the dawn of the original Double Down—a breadless sandwich constructed of two fried chicken patties stacked around bacon, cheese, sauce, and whole lot of media teeth-gnashing over the excess of it all—KFC Canada announced the birth of a sibling sandwich with a Belgian waffle core drizzled with maple aioli "a sweet nod to KFC’s Canadian fans," per a press release from the company.
The original incarnation had done spectacularly well, selling 350,000 sandwiches across the country in its first ten days to become KFC Canada's best-selling new menu item of all time. I was in Toronto speaking at a food symposium this week, and took a long stroll down Dundas St. one afternoon to catch a little flavor of the city. Crossing an intersection, I was slightly baffled when I saw Colonel Sanders' face emblazoned on a giant chicken bucket outside a franchise, and even more perplexed to see the sign below touting a Waffle Double Down, which we don't have in the States. I grew up in Kentucky, and while the company amputated the state from the restaurant's name in the '90s, when it needs to, it'll lean into kitchy Kentuckiana. It's my born duty to see how my home state is being repped abroad.
It sounded like a gloriously extravagant sandwich and I wanted to get my gaping American maw around one as soon as physically possible, but I'd just eaten lunch. The next day, I set out from my hotel on a quest to increase my personal bliss via fried chicken, which—if I'm being honest with myself—wouldn't be the first time. I sought out a KFC closer to me in the slightly schmancy Urban Eatery food court of the Eaton Centre, giddily selected the latter when offered "regular" or "spicy" (might as well sign on for the full sensory onslaught, what with the potential brevity of mortal existence and whatnot), and handed over my $10.50 CAD. Several minutes later (presumably they had to craft the "real" Belgian waffle as touted on the electronic sign), with trembling hands, I bore my prize to a tall counter seat, unwrapped it, photographed it, lifted it to my slavering mouth, and took a hearty bite.
It was clucking awful.
There's no reason on Earth that this should be the case. No one is looking to KFC to be a pillar of health in the food firmament; their sole job is to make food that's freaking delicious while it fills you up. They're historically fantastic at that. Chicken and waffles—the dish it's based on—is, too. It's a savory-sweet pas de deux with a rich cultural history and what should be a foolproof formula for delight. It's got the crunchy, salty, spiced bite of the fried skin giving way to juicy, tender chicken, then crisply-griddled batter and pillowy dough pocketed with sumptuous syrup. Hot sauce inevitably plays nice with it. Even if you're stuffed to the gills, your body begs you to take one more bite, just for the sensory thrill of it.
The Waffle Double Down made my whole body sad, from my tongue to my stomach to my soul. The chicken "buns"—usually KFC's strong suit—were not just dry, but simultaneously tasteless and stinging, with a one-note spice that felt like a curious bee had bumbled into my tongue. The waffle was a spongy nothing, caked with tooth-shocking hunks of sugar, and that “Canadian maple aioli.” Oy. Or possibly eh. The note I typed to myself said “maple aioli is just sweet snot." I don’t understand why it exists when they could have gone with the country’s iconic condiment. The only reason I can imagine it was summoned into being is that KFC was too chicken to call it “syrup mayonnaise.”
Canada, I’m so very sorry. As a longtime Kentuckian and a mostly-proud American, I feel the need to apologize that we haven’t shared our very best junk food with you. We're ridiculously good at it, and while this "sandwich" had a kernel of a good idea to it, the missed opportunity of the textural awfulness and that unforgivable maple glop make it a double don't. And I do feel kinda guilty about that.