Cluck Yeah! Two New Downtown San Francisco Fried Chicken Sandwiches!
Downtown San Franciscans were treated to not one but two new fried chicken sandwiches this week in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Two new restaurants, Organic Coup and The Bird are both located a mere 2 blocks off of Market Street. Organic Coup North of Market at 224 Kearny and The Bird South of Market located at 115 Montgomery.
The Bird is open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 10pm.
Organic Coup is open 11am to 3pm Monday through Friday for lunch.
Since who the cluck doesn’t like fried chicken sandwiches, I tried both this week and thought I’d write a few thoughts on each of these fine new chicken coops. My co-worker Sam Greene joined me (because birds of feather stick together) and I’ve added his thoughts on each section of this review.
Let the great San Francisco Cluck Off begin!
Ordering. (Winner: tie)
Although it’s probably not fair to compare the foot traffic at both of these restaurants on opening week, plan on spending a lot more time waiting for your chicken sandwich at The Bird than Organic Coup.
I arrived to a line already 50 deep at 11:10 am Friday at The Bird. The wait was approximately half an hour from start to finish. By contrast you get in and out of Organic Coup much faster. I went to Organic Coup on Wednesday and Thursday at 11:10am and there was no line. On Friday I went to Organic Coup after the Bird at around 11:45am and the wait still was only about 4 people for about 5 minutes.
Organic Coup had a very efficient ordering system. An order taker walks you through your order on an iPad. You make your designation side by side and then when you swipe your credit card the system automatically pulls your name and then uses your name to call you when your order is ready. The Bird offers a more formal across the counter cash register based system where they print out a receipt for you to sign. They do capture your name from your card as well though and use it to call your order.
Organic Coup has a sign up by the order taker that says no cash / no tipping. On their website they say that they are committed to paying their workers a livable wage and say that they “pay the highest wages in the industry.” With tax their sandwich is $11.
By contrast the Bird has you either write in or decline a tip on your credit card receipt when you sign. Their sandwich is cheaper at $9 with tax no tip.
I will write more on the whole tip no tip thing below, but I will say I liked the fact that Organic Coup doesn’t allow cash. Cash tends to slow things down and pretty much everybody has a credit or debit card these days.
I would clearly give the win to Organic Coup here based on the faster service, except for the fact that The Bird had a server come outside to the line and give everyone in the line a free sample of their clucking amazing ice cream sandwich, one of the best I’ve ever tried. Not only did they hand out free samples to the line, the guy handing out the samples came by afterwards to take everyone’s trash from the sample that was handed out. Such thoughtfulness and such an amazing treat made the line totally worth it. That was very smart. So the verdict here is a tie but both were pretty clucking great.
Ordering (winner: Organic Coup)
I’m a big believer in the holistic evaluation process so it is hard for me to say which restaurant offers an absolutely better ordering system. I would start by saying the ordering systems are different. The Organic Coup offers a clucking-efficient iPad based self-service ordering system while The Bird offers the more traditional cash-transaction at the register system. I personally like the iPad self-service system much better for a few reasons. For starters, the pressure of having to field a barrage of questions at the counter is completely removed with the iPads. Additionally, what’s nice about ordering on the iPad is that it gives me a little more time to consider what options are available before making my selection. This way you don’t have to fumble over your words dictating your order to the cashier while you’re looking at the menu. Sure, it may be a bit awkward and anti-social to prefer the iPad system, but the reality is that ordering through the iPad is much easier and simpler for all parties involved and saves everybody a little bit of time.
However, since the fried chicken sandwich itself is a bit simpler at The Bird in that there is only a spicy and non-spicy option as opposed to an overwhelming assortment of sauces to add and choose from at the Organic Coup, I didn’t feel like the register-based system slowed down the ordering process significantly. Overall, I think the two are tied for the best ordering system. The Bird’s products don’t complicate ordering at the register, and Organic Coups iPad system nicely handles more complicated orders.
Cost (Winner: tie)
Sure the sandwich at Organic Coup is two clucks more, but the fact that there is no pressure to tip and apparently you can feel ok about not tipping because of the living wage thing, it sort of makes up for the extra cost. If you tip a buck at the Bird, the sandwich still comes in a dollar cheaper, but I’m sort of a fan of including gratuity in the price of a product which feels more like what Organic Coup is doing. It would be interesting to know how much each place pays their workers, but to me there’s not much difference between paying $11/no tip or $10 or $11 with manual tip.
Atmosphere (Winner: tie)
Both sandwich shops feel really nice although just a little crowded. Organic Coup feels a little more like a chain/corporate (and with multiple locations it sort of is) vs. the pop up feel of The Bird. The Bird (which is in the space that the old Melt use to use) has some seating which is nice if you want to eat your sandwich there. Seating is very limited, but at least they have some. I usually take my lunch to go though so seating didn’t matter to me. The Bird offers you a water cup which is nice. Organic Coup is more open and airy and light in my opinion — both are very nice and clean.
Both restaurants had people with menus outside greeting you. Both restaurants had friendly employees. Both restaurants were marketing with the San Francisco “Cluck Yeah” tag line sure to appeal to millennials everywhere. The Bird uses a hashtag based #CLUCKYEAH while Organic Coup chose to go with an exclamation point based CLUCK YEAH!
Both shops were nice, clean and up to snuff. However, I feel like the Bird may have a slight edge in the overall atmosphere. Fist and foremost, the Bird has a larger space that is big enough to offer counters, seating, and complimentary water and bathrooms. Keep in mind though that around 11:00am when we went the place was hustling and bustling so it was difficult to find a place to stand and lean let alone sit and dine, so if you’re looking for a place to enjoy a leisurely meal I would look elsewhere. That being said, the fact that seating is available for less rushed and frenzied times during the day is a huge plus for me.
In contrast, the smaller, more cooped up space at the Organic Coup (no pun intended), did not feel large enough to adequately handle the 11:00am rush of lunch-goers who inevitably end up waiting on the sidewalk. Granted, the line at the The Bird wound around the block as well when we went — however, once all the hype dies down from the opening weeks for each location I think The Bird will be more attractive to a larger percentage of the lunch-going population since it does offer a place to sit. In light of all that, the smaller space offered by the Organic Coup is nice in that it sort of naturally moves folks along in and out of the building faster since nobody likes to stand around in claustrophobic, shoulder-to-shoulder, tight-knit spaces for long. If your intention is to grab your food and go, the Organic Coup is perfect. However, given the choice, I would rather have the option to sit and schmooze over a quick bite with a co-worker than feel rushed in and out of the place.
Secondly, the Bird felt like it actually had a personality. The interior design maintained what appeared to be the original look and architecture of the establishment that preceded The Bird. As a matter of personal preference, I thought it was nice that The Bird chose to maintain the integrity of style rather than give it a radical makeover to conform to the recognizable and modern look. There is an aura of traditional, classic fried chicken sandwich shop that emanates from the old-school single-letter-insert-menu hanging down from the ceiling. Overall The Bird presents itself as more of unique local, self-sufficient, one-of-a-kind joint while the Organic Coup is more of a modern and contemporary fast-food chain.
I have to hand this one to The Bird.
Nutrition (Winner: Organic Coup)
Organic Coup markets itself as America’s first USDA certified organic fast food restaurant. What’s more, they provide you with calorie nutritional information on their website. According to their website their Chicken Sandwich is 500 calories. For such a big fried sandwich I almost can not believe it is only 500 calories. They also offer a bowl, which is more like a fried chicken salad, with only 320 calories. For someone like me trying to maintain my sleek physique, those numbers are very reasonable and I appreciated that they shared them with me on their website.
The Bird does not provide nutritional information on their website. Based on the taste of their sandwich though (and the fact that it has mayo on it), I’d suspect it’s more than 500 calories.
I have to agree with the Hawk here. I think it’s clucking-smart that the Organic Coup makes an effort to disclose nutritional facts on its website to its frequenters. In the age of the IoT, information is data and data is power to the consumer. As a consumer, I feel clucking-empowered by nutritional information in what I’m choosing to buy and eat, even though the information may not necessarily ultimately drive my decision. For example, I may find that the Organic Coup is less calories than The Bird, but I may still like the bird better since it has those incredible pickles. Merely the fact that Organic Coup openly shares with us the nutritional facts so transparently makes me more trusting of them as a restaurant regardless of whether or not their sandwich is any healthier, less caloric or has overall more nutritional value than The Birds. Props to Organic Coup on this one.
The Sandwich (Winner: The Bird, by a beak)
First off, I have to say I liked both sandwiches. I will definitely be back to both in the future.
Organic Coup’s sandwich reminded me very much of one of my favorite East Bay secrets, the fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland only on a tasty bun instead of a roll. Organic Coup uses a vinegar based slaw with jalapenos in it just like Betty does. This is also the base for the slab of fried chicken that they serve with their bowl (which is more like a fried chicken slaw salad) and it is clucking delicious. You get a choice of four sauces for your bowl/wrap/sandwich. I got my sandwich with the vegan mustard vinaigrette sauce. The sauce was good but the irony that they were marketing my choice of sauce as “vegan” when I was eating a fried chicken sandwich was not lost on me. The spicy BBQ sauce seemed the most popular.
Organic Coup’s piece of friend chicken felt a little bit bigger to me than The Bird’s and hangs out of both sides of the sandwich.
As much as I enjoyed Organic Coup’s sandwich, The Bird edged it out here by a beak. Given the mayonnaise on the sandwich it definitely made it taste a bit richer. More than the mayonnaise though the chicken itself was more tender, flavorful and succulent. The Bird’s bird was a juicy, flavorful, delicious piece of mouthwatering bliss. The Bird’s sandwich had less slaw than Organic Coup’s but the slaw itself was a cabbage-onion-apple based slaw which gave it just the slight amount of sweetness that went perfectly with the spicy flavor. It also had Super Duper pickles on it which added a nice finishing touch.
The Bird had two versions of their signature sandwich, spicy and non-spicy. I of course opted for spicy and I’m glad I did.
The Sandwich (The Bird, it was beak-and-beak the whole way through)
Both places offer un-clucking-believable fried chicken sandwiches. Both offer great, high-quality sandwiches sure to satisfy any afternoon deep-fried craving San Franciscan dropping by for quick bite to eat. The Bird differentiates itself from the Organic Coup in a few notable ways. While both offer delicious crunchy deep fried gustatory experiences, The Bird seems to let their birds simmer a bit longer in the pan allowing a thicker, deeper-fried coat to form. The deeper-fried coat made it all the more delicious and rich, though perhaps slightly less healthy. Additionally, the sandwich served at the Bird championed an artfully infused African Berber spice in the batter that was a flavorful and interesting homage to the origins of the fried chicken sandwich.
The coleslaw prepared at the Organic Coup offered more intense, spicier coleslaw than The Bird though. It beautifully complimented the spicy BBQ sauce served with the sandwich that I had chosen. Additionally, the Organic Coup offered a much larger chunk of chicken than The Bird which made me feel like I was getting better value for the two extra clucks I paid.
However, although Organic Coup made an eggs-ellent final product, the bird at the The Bird was slightly more succulent and juicy than at The Organic Coup. I’m pretty sure there was an element of marketing responsible for this perception though. Since I knew in advance that the Bird only made 200 sandwiches a day for the lunch crowd I think I was primed to believe they put more TLC, attention and energy into making each sandwich perfect than the Organic Coup. Upon deeper reflection, however, I do not think the modern fast-food nature of the Organic Coup takes away from the quality of their artfully though more industrially crafted sandwiches. It was just an observation I made when writing this review. I simply think I got a bit luckier at the Bird at the time I went in regards to the juiciness factor of the chicken. All in all, The Bird stood out to me as overall slightly tastier due to the tenderness of the meat and the deliciousness of the deep-fry recipe despite its shortcoming in size compared to the Organic Coup.
The Logo (Winner: The Bird)
Very hipster San Francisco looking fox with a chicken sandwich in his mouth, would also look good on a Bon Iver album cover.
I didn’t really get into the extras beyond the fried chicken sandwiches in this review, but it is also worth pointing out that The Bird sells beer which may be a plus for some while by contrast Organic Coup offers fresh squeezed lemonade. I have a general rule that I don’t consume alcohol before 6pm so I can’t imagine having a beer at lunch, but for more thirstier friends that might be a good option to know about.
The bottom line is both of these new fried chicken sandwiches are abso-clucking-lutely delicious. So the next time you and your cluck buddy get a craving for some fried chicken sandwich for lunch try one of these two hen houses. You won’t be disappointed and you might even get a free sample of some ice cream sandwich to go with it.