Apr 2, 2021 | OPINION | By Hank Bedingfield
Eating out is life or death. Restaurants are being choked off by an indefinite pandemic, and palates across the country are growing bored and restless. A night out is the only cure. In the face of a tasteless fatigue, it’s time to push back. I’ll ramble around the Springs and find which restaurants are worth the risk and which aren’t. Dining in or taking out, I’ll be hungry, and I’ll write about it.
6510 Tutt Blvd, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Lunch and Dinner
11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Take-out, Dine-in, Drive-thru, Delivery
The “chicken wars” are well underway, and while I hate the term itself — due to the mind-numbing ad campaign of Wendy’s — it’s impossible to deny this cultural phenomenon. The fast-food chicken sandwich has taken over. There’s a certain energy around it that feels like a political uprising.
A trip to get a chicken sandwich is a revolutionary march, flipping the yoke of the hamburger and reclaiming a sense of long-lost dignity in the fast-food realm. Competition is fierce, and birdcall, a regional chain specializing almost exclusively on humanely sourced, Colorado chicken sandwiches, is right in the middle of that competition.
While it’s impossible to ever declare a victor in the ongoing chicken wars, unfortunately, birdcall is a sure loser.
For weeks now, leading up the grand Colorado Springs opening on March 22, local foodie Instagram @cospringseats, had been jamming birdcall-related content down our throats, in an onslaught of delicious images. Posts of saucy and crisp chicken, beautiful shakes and airy, well-toasted buns filled my head with restless fantasies and ideals.
I was a road-weary man, ready to settle down with one chicken sandwich for good. No more shopping around, no more drive-thru hopping, no more tired explorations of tired menus. Had I finally heard of a chicken shop worth my loyalty? No, I hadn’t.
The Instagram posts and subsequent fantasies were as empty and plastic as the infomercials of my youth and, frankly, made me question the journalistic integrity of CO Springs Eats at large. Could the account simply be a bunch of college-student grifters, whoring themselves out to local restaurants for nothing more than a free meal, free of any loyalty to the eating community or the value of a decent meal? Maybe, on the other hand, it just wasn’t my day?
My chicken sandwich, the Nashville Hot — “crispy chicken tossed in Nashville hot or ‘extra hot’ sauce, Tru dill pickle chips,” according to the menu — was disappointing on all fronts. Not only was the chicken flaccid and almost pathetic, as opposed to crispy, it was untossed in any sauce.
Actually, the Nashville hot sauce was completely missing, and it seems I paid the extra dollar for the expectation of sauce and not the sauce itself. The batter was caked-on, seemingly applied like cement or the first coating of paint on a bleak wall. There was nothing airy, nothing light, and not a crunch to be heard from the first bite. I wanted to curse, scream then break down crying. It was like a dear family member just had a heart-attack, and I had to get my eulogy ready. This wasn’t the chicken I was promised, and my dreams died in a rushed, shallow grave.
The bun, on the other hand, delivered, though only by humble standards. It lacked the well toasted barrier I wished for — essential for preventing saturation — but tasted perfectly decent. Pickles were as expected.
The shame of this pathetic poultry, beyond my personal dissatisfaction, is that this is a brand you really want to like. The chicken is “all-natural,” and the buns are fresh from Aspen Baking Co. They’ve got vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian iterations of the classic sandwich that actually don’t look half bad.
Better yet, birdcall is socially active. They claim to be zero waste and the company donates 1% of all sales to nonprofits operating around their locations. They created 100% charitable t-shirts to fund wildlife rehabilitation after the rampant 2020 brush fires. In response to COVID-19, birdcall has donated over 15,000 meals to Denver hospital workers and, in their project “Birdcall Lockdown” they have sponsored over a dozen livestream concerts showcasing local, Colorado artists. This company is dedicated to Colorado and should be properly highlighted and emulated as a rare case of corporate benevolence.
Despite all the things that make birdcall commendable, there is an unavoidable underbelly of mediocrity.
The menu is random and haphazard for what seems like just a hipster-oriented chicken shack. The only thing linking the menu’s bizarre sections and seemingly random offshoots is a neck-bearded, beanie-wearing caricature of Colorado, like that guy at the dispensary shoving some strawberry, vanilla, monkey hybrid strain down your throat talking about the “fifth dimension” when you really just came for something with enough THC to knock you on your ass and put you to bed.
Anyway, there’s something lovable about this menu, even if its idiosyncrasies recall some irritating images. Beyond just chicken sandwiches, of which they sell eight versions, there’s a list of five different salads, each mouth-watering and creative.
The sides, beverages and sweets are equal parts strange and exciting. Not totally strange, just strange for a semi-fast food chick joint. Sides range from chicken strips, to a seasonal fruit cup, to tater tots, to a shaved brussels sprout salad. And while I have a strict rule against getting fruit from a drive-thru which permitted me from trying some of these, such unordinary inclusions on a fast-food menu are worth noting.
The sauces at birdcall, along with the beverages, are the only parts of this place beyond scrutiny. The birdcall sauce, slightly less tangy than Chick-fil-A sauce but comparable and much more morally appetizing, steals the show, but buttermilk herb mayo and habanero aioli are a welcomed intrusion to the usual sauce cannon.
Beverages. There’s no wrong choice here. Shakes, beer, wine and cocktails in a nice little to-go carafe are equally tempting and delicious. While I also have a rule against wine from the drive-thru, cheap wine is unimpeachable and goes straight to the head like no other booze.
Despite the dangerous allure of a buzz at the drive-thru, the chocolate peanut butter cookie dough shake may top the list of “best beverage.” Another outside-the-box addition from birdcall. You can’t go wrong.
Unfortunately, even all of these small successes do not redeem a flabby chicken sandwich — as much as I wish they could. The bar is high right now for chicken, and if the sandwich is not properly sauced, crispy, moist and lending the eater a certain unique vitality, then the sandwich isn’t worth eating. I’ll be at Popeye’s, thank you. Creative sauces and tasty cocktails can only get you so far. Go elsewhere for your chicken.