REVIEW: Here's how regional fast-food chain Amy's Drive Thru compares to the king of fried chicken sandwiches.
There's no rule that says fast food has to make you feel terrible.
In recent years, American consumers have shown a craving for healthier fast food. Restaurant chains that offer low-calorie meals — that remain convenient and affordable — have sprouted across the US, forcing legacy brands like Taco Bell and McDonald's to rethink their menus.
The fast-food revolution is no more apparent than in Rohnert Park, California, where a Chick-fil-A sits across the street from up-and-coming vegetarian fast-food chain Amy's Drive Thru. On a visit to both restaurants, we found Amy's buzzing with diners long after the lunch hour.
We tried sandwiches from both Amy's and Chick-fil-A. Here's what we liked better.
On a recent visit to California's wine country, I stopped in Rohnert Park for a bite to eat.
There was no shortage of options. A highway exit off Redwood Drive offers access to Arby's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Amy's Drive Thru, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, and El Pollo Loco.
I decided to eat at Chick-fil-A before visiting Amy's. They're located across the street from each other, and they both make sandwiches the star of the menu.
Plus, Chick-fil-A generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain in the US — a testament to the fried-chicken chain's loyal fan base — according to QSR magazine.
Within the last few years, Chick-fil-A has remodeled hundreds of stores to give them a modern farmhouse feel. The Rohnert Park location showcased that new image.
The tables were clean, but tightly packed and mostly empty.
My party of two ordered a classic Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, a Spicy Deluxe Sandwich, Chick-fil-A Nuggets, Waffle Potato Fries, and a soft drink. The bill came out to about $19.
A restaurant employee delivered our food to our table — a nice touch.
The Chick-fil-A Nuggets were plump, with the perfect ratio of chicken to breading.
The Waffle Potato Fries did not disappoint: crunch on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
The Spicy Deluxe Sandwich lit up my taste buds with a smoky chicken patty, which is hand-tossed in a hot-pepper breading. Melted pepper jack cheese doubled down on the heat.
Crisp lettuce and a thick slice of tomato delivered just the right amount of juice.
When I opened the packaging around the original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, I was flabbergasted by how sad it looked. A squishy bun flanked a huge piece of chicken.
There were two yellowish pickle slices, but no fresh produce or sauces. When I bit in, the flavor was bland and dry. It's worth updating to the deluxe.
The menu at Chick-fil-A sticks to what the chain does best: fried chicken. I enjoyed my entrees, but the boring Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich dampened my experience.
After stuffing our faces at Chick-fil-A, we headed to Amy's Drive Thru across the street. The property was beautiful, with a decorative water tower and a "living" roof covered in plants.
You might recognize the name Amy's from the frozen aisle at the grocery store. The company got its start in 1987 making organic and non-GMO ready-to-eat meals.
Today, Amy's frozen staples, including Cheese Enchilada, Broccoli Pot Pie, and Vegetable Lasagna, are a permanent fixture on the shelves of Whole Foods and other grocery stores.
"Over the years we felt we've been part of changing frozen food," Amy's Operations Director Paul Schiefer told Business Insider's Kim Renfro in 2016. "And we had customers and partners saying, 'Hey, I wonder if you can do the same for fast food."
The company opened its flagship fast-food restaurant in Ronhert Park in 2015 and has six more Northern California locations in the works, Business Insider reported in September.
The restaurant bears a striking resemblance to the remodeled Chick-fil-A locations. The barn-like design feels contemporary with fun pops of color and industrial elements.
We ordered the Amy Burger with cheese, a traditional mac and cheese, a vanilla milkshake, and a non-dairy chocolate milkshake made with soy and almond milk. It cost about $19.
The menu is 100% vegetarian, with some vegan offerings.
When we visited, nearly every table was full. We sat at a long communal table outside.
When our food was ready for pick-up at the counter, the first thing that struck me was the vibrant food packaging. Amy's partnered with "I Love Dust," an award-winning British design company known for its work with Nike, to create its whimsical stripes and dots.
Source: Business Insider
The packaging was also compostable. Amy's is all about sustainability and local sourcing.
First, I dug into the traditional mac and cheese (you can also order it with broccoli or chili). The cheese tasted like the powdered kind you find in boxed macaroni. I was not impressed.
The Amy Burger includes two hockey-puck-sized vegetarian patties, two slices of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and a "secret sauce" made regular or spicy.
This is Amy's take on the classic burger, and it blew me away. While the bean burger erred on the side of dry, it got a boost in flavor from the loads of fresh produce that filled the burger.
Look at this burger. It's huge! And at $4.99, it's no more expensive than other fast-food fare. I would gladly trade it for my usual order at a burger chain like McDonald's or Burger King.
Milkshakes sealed the deal on this tasty meal. My chocolate vegan shake was noticeably less creamy than the dairy one, but the soy and almond milks gave it a sweet, nutty flavor.
What's the verdict?
Chick-fil-A nails fried chicken like no other fast-food chain.
It's delicious with a high degree of predictability. But the basic fried-chicken sandwich could use additional produce or sauce to make the whole package more complex and less dry.
While there was one major miss among the hits I tried at Amy's, the meal overall was delightful. And that's coming from an ardent meat-lover.
I wouldn't ordinarily stop into a vegetarian restaurant, but Amy's offerings — which range from burritos to salads to burgers — didn't leave me missing meat. The meal swapped in vegetarian, organic ingredients into comfort foods that I love, making it as ethical as it was delicious.
Source: Pulse Nig