The crunch of properly fried breading, the juicy chicken lurking beneath, and the sloppy combo of secret sauces and toppings sandwiched between two squishy buns all make a good chicken sandwich a joyous mess to devour, especially when sided with fries or tots and a cold beer.
Ivy Pham knows this, so she's been working on renovating a former Subway at West Alameda Parkway and South Union Boulevard into Kickin Chicken, which will specialize in fried chicken sandwiches and tenders when it opens in the coming weeks.
Pham has been in the Denver restaurant business for fifteen years, and her family ran Pho Hau for much of that. "The reason I transitioned to fried chicken is that I wanted to do something quicker but still with fresh, quality ingredients," she explains.
Kickin Chicken has been in the works for months, since well before the pandemic started. "We have completely gutted [the Subway] and added a whole new kitchen," Pham says. The timing on completing the renovations could work out well, as the new restaurant owner expects to have her final inspections with Jefferson County toward the end of May, for a possible June 1 opening. She also notes that Jefferson County has been very easy to work with, so she doesn't expect any delays: "We will be open for takeout and delivery orders to start with, and then will follow whatever regulations we're given for opening to customers."
The secret behind the crunch for Kickin Chicken's sandwiches is a rice-flour batter, which makes the chicken gluten-free. The menu will also offer up globally inspired sides such as fried rice and Mexican street corn.
"Having been in the restaurant business for so long, it's tough to read about the places that are closing — it's just heartbreaking," Pham says. So it's a good thing she'll be there to fill a need and warm people's hearts.
In the heart of downtown Denver, another business has been perfecting its fried chicken recipe for the past three years and will soon offer an expanded menu of sandwiches with service built for social distancing. Mike Fogarty opened the first Choice Market as a new kind of convenience store in 2017; the idea was to stock the shelves at 1770 Broadway with Colorado-made products and artisan foods while still providing fast, efficient service for shoppers and people looking for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Since then, a second Choice Market was added at 1015 Osage Street, and both locations have been cooking up a cheap and tasty fried chicken sandwich good enough to land in this year's Best of Denver: A Survival Guide for Best Convenience-Store Fried Chicken Sandwich. It's a tasty number that would give even some of the chicken specialists in town a run for their money.
The popularity of this single item (Choice is also known for well-made vegan dishes) led the mini-market to launch Chicken Kitchen as a delivery-only "ghost kitchen." The menu encompasses seven different fried chicken sandwiches, including one vegan version, as well as fries, mac and cheese, salads and ice cream sandwiches. So you can get a Korean sandwich topped with Korean barbecue sauce, sriracha aioli and carrot-fennel slaw, or go with classics like the Buffalo, Chicken Parm or Club.
Getting a sandwich from a convenience store usually involves reaching into a cooler or freezer for something that was probably made days or weeks before. But Choice makes its sandwiches to order from scratch. "We use antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken that we brine in buttermilk," Fogarty explains. "And it's a healthy, five-ounce piece of chicken, so it needs the right bun to hold up." For that, the market uses potato buns from Harvest Moon Baking Company.
What makes Chicken Kitchen a ghost kitchen (or "virtual kitchen," as Fogarty calls it) is that you'll only find the menu on UberEats, and you can't just walk into Choice Market for the whole menu — though the original fried chicken sandwich can still be ordered on choicemarket.co for contactless pick-up at the Broadway shop. It's one of many ways food-service folks are finding to adapt to a new way of doing business in a harsh economy.