Could it really be true? Is Charlotte really a single town with two chicken-salad restaurants?
And not just any chicken salad: The locally owned Mayobird and the Alabama-based Chicken Salad Chick franchise both offer 15 varieties, from original to fruity, along with pimento cheese.
We’ll leave it to others to speculate on how that happened. We were more interested in the food. After all, in the South, chicken salad occupies a special niche in the world of tea rooms, luncheons, picnics and church occasions. People around here get very opinionated: Chunky vs. smooth, sandwich vs. cracker, more mayonnaise vs. less mayonnaise.
To get the scoop on the scoops, we went to both Chicken Salad Chick and Mayobird for lunch on the same day last week, and ordered the same three flavors – original, Southern-style (pickles and diced egg) and Buffalo. We stuck with scoops instead of sandwiches so we could focus on the salads and still have room to try the pimento cheese, broccoli salad and a few sides.
The story: Owner Deedee Mills has two restaurants in one building, the Mayobird with breakfast and lunch, and The Summit Room, with fine-dining options at dinner. On her website, Mills recounts growing up in Williamston with chicken salad at every occasion.
Atmosphere: As farmhouse as it gets on East Boulevard, with lots of distressed wood and vintage kitchen kitsch. Service is counter-to-table (place your order at the counter, take a wooden spoon with your number, and go wait at a table).
Nice touch: Very crunchy house-made pita chips can be ordered separately, or you get a couple on your plate with a scoop.
What else: A list of sandwiches besides chicken salad, plus a coffee bar, several desserts made daily, a small selection of wine and local beers.
Price: A bit high, although the salads are made with local, free-range chicken. A single scoop is $5.95, a sandwich is $6.95, a two-scoop plate with a side item is $11.95.
Sides: Broccoli salad with bacon has plenty of dressing and lots of flavor. Pimento cheese has lots of mayonnaise and flecks of parsley along with the pimento. It’s great to see Copper Pennies, a classic dish of carrots marinated in a tomato base, resurrected here.
How’s the chicken? A little bland. Original is chunkier and has less mayonnaise. Mayo-haters will be happy about that, but mayo lovers may find it dry. The Southern is eggy and a little sweet, with plenty of diced pickle, but the Buffalo is very mild.
Chicken Salad Chick
The story: Stacy Brown of Auburn, Ala., based her business on the chicken salad she made for friends. After opening restaurants all around Alabama, the franchise has spread to Georgia and South Carolina. Charlotte is the first North Carolina location.
Atmosphere: The Carmel Commons store feels a little more like a fast-food spot (order at the counter here, too), although the green and white color scheme feels as crisp and clubby as Augusta National on a Sunday morning.
Nice touch: The Quick Chick cooler at the counter has prepared dishes you can pick up and go. Dessert is limited to a cookie of the day, but it is served warm.
What else: A short list of non-chicken sandwiches.
Price: A single scoop with a side item and a cookie is $7.50. The Chick Trio, with three scoops or side items, is $8.75; the Gourmet Chick is a single scoop, two sides, a pickle and a cookie for $8.25. Chicken salad by the pound is $9.95.
Sides: Pimento cheese has lots of texture from shredded cheese, and some nice heat. Broccoli salad is chopped very small, but it needs more dressing. Skip the cookie and get the grape salad as a dessert: Grapes in a sweet cream cheese topping sprinkled with brown sugar and pecans.
How’s the chicken? Excellent, actually. The ones we tried fell into the smooth camp, with lots of mayonnaise and well-balanced seasoning. The Buffalo packs a little heat, while the Old South is a little short on pickle but has lots of egg.