Last year Winnipeg saw the arrival of two new chicken chains. Mary Browns Chicken’s & Taters, out of Virginia, via Newfoundland*, and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, out of Arabi, Louisiana. Being in the fast casual chicken business I figured that it might be interesting to review them in a compare and contrast style review.
*I’ve since been informed that there has been a Mary Browns in the Transcona area of Winnipeg for a few years.
I must admit that Popeyes had stayed under my radar, until just around Christmas when two Twitter users I follow, Adrian E. Miller, The Soul Food Scholar, and Soul Phoodie, posted about the chains hilarious Support Chicken announcement. On top of that, since I first read Michael W. Twitty’s, The Cooking Gene, my interest in Southern Cuisine has grown.
So, with the post-Christmas time at church allowing me a bit of spare time, I thought I would hop on the bus and visit the two places. The bus route is one of the advantages that Mary Browns has, as the south transitway, got me to the restaurant in about 45 minutes. Popeyes is located out by the Outlet Collection(further proof that Winnipeg hates pedestrians) and was a full 75 minute, 3 bus trip, even stepping right onto the first bus the moment I stepped out of the church.
If the idea in a fast food restaurant is to make the diner eat and leave as quick as possible, Mary Browns has certainly accomplished that. The Pembina location has a limited number of tables, and the decor does nothing to add to the appeal.
On the other hand, Popeyes is bright and colourful, there is a good selection of booths, and there is even a two sided bar, which includes USB ports and outlets for plugging in your device. For a guy who dines alone, that’s a nice little touch.
Then there is the music. At Popeyes, they were streaming a channel that featured Delta Blues, and R & B, music to fit the food. To be fair I did get a bit of Canadiana at Mary Browns, on my second visit. Yes, a loud, speaker splitting dose of…wait for it, Nickelback. Music is definitely a win for Popeyes.
Mary Browns, Popeyes Dining
My first trip to Mary Browns, I decided to order the three piece chicken with the taters. Taters is the term that Mary Browns uses to describe their potato wedges. The wedges were quite good. They were well seasoned, and they were uniform in size so that you didn’t end up with some that were well-cooked with some being almost raw, as you sometimes get at places like Chester Fried.
As for the chicken. I found it well-breaded, and the skin, nice and crispy. This is one place where I would give Mary Browns a slight edge over Popeyes. My meal came with a breast, thigh, and leg. I really enjoyed the breast, the white meat was moist and tender. On the other hand, I found that the dark meat, tasted like it had been parboiled prior to being deep-fried. The combo came with a salad choice, and I went with coleslaw, which wasn’t bad.
On my second visit I decided I would give the chicken tenders a try. This time I went with the fries with my chicken. One thing I liked about Mary Browns is that they are very generous with their portions of potatoes, whether wedges or fries. They also gave me two containers of Sriracha sauce which meant I had plenty for my chicken as well as my fries(given my dislike of ketchup, this is alway a good thing).
Last night, after my lengthy bus journey, I finally made it to Popeyes. Despite not getting there until after 7 pm, the line up was about half a dozen deep, and stayed that way for the best part of the next 45 minutes. Fortunately the place was well staffed and the line continually moved quickly.
The menu at Popeyes is considerably larger than at Mary Browns, but I figured the best thing to do was to order the chicken for a better comparison. Although it’s such a hard place to get to I do intend to get back to try some of the seafood options. The other thing that confronted me is that Popeyes offers a greater variety of sides. I ordered a 3 piece platter which come with two sides, but wanted to try them all.
In the end I decided on the Mac and Cheese and the Mashed Potatoes, with Cajun Gravy. The platter also comes with a biscuit, and a large beverage. On the whole, when it comes to the amount of food, I’d call it a saw-off with Mary Browns, but Popeyes has better variety.
When I ordered the chicken the manager asked if I wanted spicy or regular. I had forgotten that there are some odd people in this world that actually choose regular over spicy. My order came quite quickly, and I sat down at the bar to enjoy it.
I found the chicken to be sneaky spicy. It didn’t seem overly spicy, but the heat built up as I went along, and left a nice buzz. The chicken itself was really good. It was all moist and tender and cooked through. The Mac and Cheese was good and creamy, while the Cajun Gravy gave a good little zip to the mashed potatoes. The biscuit was also nice, light, and fluffy. The biscuits are also available at 6/$3.99, but I was able to resist the temptation to take some home with me. A heart attack while riding the buses in Winnipeg, is not a prospect that I want to face(because the biscuits would never make it home).
Given that the restaurant is out in the retail hinterlands of the city, I decided that since I had tried the tenders at Mary Browns, I would try the tenders at Popeyes as well. I ordered a three piece, and found that the spicy breading stuck better to these than to the on the bone pieces of chicken adding a little extra spice.
As a final touch to my meal, I decided to add a little dessert. I chose the Mississippi Mud Pie. This has the consistency of the a rich, chocolate cupcake, with a sweet chocolate icing to it.
It’s interesting to note that Popeyes started out in hopes of competing with KFC, and on their home page Mary Browns has a taste test video comparing their chicken to KFC. In summing up the two restaurants, I would say Mary Browns gives you an improved KFC experience, while Popeyes introduces you to a whole new world of chicken.
I really enjoyed Jollibee Chicken when I tried it, but when it comes to chicken chains, Popeyes is definitely Cock of the Walk. Now, if only Popeyes would open a more transit friendly outlet in Winnipeg.