As the morning wanes in Temescal, a line appears at the corner of Telegraph and 51st. A prolific line really, winding outside the doors of Bakesale Betty. It moves quickly but never seems to get shorter, and everyone's waiting on the same thing.
A Fried. Chicken. Sandwich.
The spot is only open three hours a day, which makes the line more of a Chicken Queue Flashmob than anything like a lunch line, and it's been a stalwart wait since 2005 when Alison Barakat opened shop with her husband, Michael Camp. Barakat was somewhat new to the States, having moved here in 2000, but her dive into the fine food world was a big, fast one, landing her in the kitchens at Chez Panisse where she cooked for two years, and tasted the buttermilk-fried inspiration for her own future sandwich. Now, it's all she serves.
Squeezed in a thimble-sized storefront, Barakat's crew turns out 400 to 700 sandwiches a day, almost four sandwiches a minute. Believe it or not, that number is way down from two years ago, when 1200 sandwiches crossed the counter in a five-hour day. But those were crazy days, days when driving back to the prep kitchen across town every fifteen minutes for more goods was standard. After a while, it got to be too much. Barakat is a mother of three, after all. And so, the menu was slimmed down to the bestselling fried chicken, an obligatory but rarely ordered vegetarian option (avocado and slaw on a roll), as well as some cookies. The menu is simple enough to afford some silliness, too. Listen closely, and you may hear the cashier shouting random words in lieu of orders at the sandwich assembly crew, who will, inevitably, still turn out a chicken sandwich in a few seconds flat.
The sandwich is a simple thing. Pounded chicken breaded in a crust of flour, buttermilk, pepper, salt, and cayenne is double stacked on an Acme torpedo roll, draped in a vinegary slaw peppered with jalapenos and macerated red onion. When I ask about the cult appeal, cook Becky Moline points to the cabbage. "It's all about the slaw," she says.
I say it's all about the breading: hearty, hot, and boldly peppered, double dipped in buttermilk, giving in with a gentle crack. Onions and slaw jumpstart the beast with a lively, acerbic twist. The whole thing, naturally, tastes best when you're sitting curbside at one of the trademark ironing board tables. Towards closing is your best bet to beat the line, but cut it too close and you might miss the last of them.