Popeyes’ 24 Karat Champagne Wings Are Gaudy, Unnecessary, and Perfect in Every Way
As a proud New Orleanian, I’m no stranger to Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits. Now known officially as Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the chain launched humbly in the Crescent City and quickly became an important string in the fabric of life here. Whether you prefer yours with red beans, French fries, or mashed potatoes, Popeyes can be found at nearly all celebratory occasions in this city, especially Mardi Gras, during which it is consumed with unabashed glee Fat Tuesday morning in between parades. It is a heralded Carnival tradition held dear by Garden District bluebloods, Metry yats, and Treme whoadies alike.
So it was with great curiosity and enthusiasm that I greeted the announcement that, to commemorate the opening of their 3,000th store, Popeyes would, for one day only, at four locations nationwide, serve spicy boneless chicken wings dipped in a batter that contained Champagne and 24 karat gold. The sole location in New Orleans offering this once-in-a-lifetime chicken-tunity was the Canal St. store. Hence, I headed directly to that spot, nestled on the outer edge of the French Quarter, to snap up this golden delicacy.
I arrived breathless in anticipation just after the ten o’clock opening. Customers were abuzz with gold-chicken fever. The staff, however, were markedly nonplussed at the new menu addition. A gentleman in front of me was summarily denied his order when the cashier mistook his request for “the twenty-four karat wings” for “twenty-four orders of wings.” When I stepped from behind him to help cut through some of the confusion, she agreed to give him his single order, though not without an extra helping of attitude. Not that I’m surprised; given the location, if I were the one who had to serve fried chicken to a neverending throng of tourists hammered on Hurricanes and Hand Grenades, I’d probably live in a perpetual state of chagrin as well.
On first inspection, there’s no doubt that these wings were, in fact, flecked with gold, and not stingily. The 24 karat flakes glistened in the morning light like a prospector’s delight. This is what Scrooge McDuck would eat if he were three sheets to the wind down in the Quarter. In fact, the whole concept of gold-and-Champagne-fried chicken is a study in gaudy contradiction, completely ostentatious and unnecessary—but a hell of a lot of fun, like installing a chandelier in an El Camino.
I received a fresh batch, hot and crispy, right out of the oil. The texture of the skin was that all-too-familiar flaky crunch, without being overloaded by grease, complimented perfectly by juicy, tender chicken meat. There was a sweetness unfamiliar to Popeyes chicken, followed by black pepper and lingering cayenne. I was pleased to see that Popeyes didn’t just treat this promotion as pure novelty. The chicken tasted distinctly different than their standard offerings, a delightful change of pace. All things told, it seemed like a fine way for the chain to celebrate its 3,000th store, and I was proud to have been a part of it. Mostly, though, I went away satisfied with the knowledge that I’m going to poop 24 karat gold tomorrow.