The longest day of the year (i.e. yesterday) turned into the longest day of the year when Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen invited So Good out to their headquarters to have a look at their yet unreleased line of products…aaaand flew us back on the same day. But I’m not complaining. The food was plentiful and delicious.
The headquarters, ironically located in Atlanta, GA, was chic-looking, if not exactly evocative of New Orleans culture.
Okay, so maybe it was.
Popeyes took us through their “innovation space” – a cool, clean open area where R&D has all of its epiphanies. Although I am confused as to how a space like this:
Gives way to a product like this:
(Involuntary shudder) Okayyy moving on:
It could be an elaborate test marketing strategy, or it could be a plan to invade several islands in the South Pacific. Due to the low resolution on my camera phone, we’ll never know.
Oh, that Will and Brad! Always causing mischief…
If you’re wondering, the first column on that table says “Ingredients: Flavor, Seasoning, Phosphates, Salt, Sugar, Flour Mills, Batters/Breaders, Gums, Starches,” which demonstrates the Popeyes team either has a basic grasp of fast food product development or are just really bad at poetry.
Popeyes also took us through their test kitchens:
I forgot what his name was, but that friendly-looking man you see there was the culinary brains behind Rip’n Chick’n, the chicken creation you see above.
This was just past the point where Ryan from GrubGrade snapped a photo of “Breaded Filet of Alligator“…in the Popeyes test kitchen…so extrapolate from that what you will.
Dick Lynch, the Chief Global Brand Officer for Popeyes, explained to us that everything they do with their menu is put through a “Louisiana lense,” which VP of Culinary Innovation Amy Alarcon called “working inside a culinary box.” But working within certain restrictions doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when it churns out products like this:
Popeyes’s big unveil, their new Zatarain’s Butterfly Shrimp (slated to hit the market this coming Monday, June 25 and staying until the end of July) is a box that includes eight butterfly shrimp, lemon garlic sauce, a buttermilk biscuit and fries for $4.99. It was also the best product we tasted all day – if you like more breading than shrimp in your breaded shrimp. Don’t get me wrong – the breading was phenomenal. Crunchy, lemon-ey, onion-and-garlic-ey…but it kind of swept the shrimp taste under the rug.
The other star of the box was the lemon garlic sauce:
Amy described it as an aioli-style sauce with lemon, garlic, onion, bell pepper and parsley. She said Popeyes puts just as much work into their sauces as they do into their proteins, and it shows. This was my favorite of all the sauces we tried. The other favorite sauce was a “creamy crab dip” that hasn’t even been through consumer screens yet:
This extremely heavy roux-based sauce was a darling with the other food bloggers, who said they couldn’t wait to see it go to market. Personally, I found it a little chalky and not quite as flavorful as the lemon garlic sauce. But the beauty of this Popeyes trip was they just kept throwing food at us, so in this un-tested po’ boy they brought out next, it came to life:
Well, they called it a po’ boy. Technically, it was a fried chicken sandwich. But I got the same “AHHH, it’s going to eat me instead of the other way around!!!” vibe from it as I do from most po’ boys. Bottom line: this sandwich was delicious, if impossible to eat, and provided the perfect theater for the creamy crab dip (hiding under the chicken in this picture).
We tried two other un-tested products: a blackened tartar sauce and a blackberry pie.
Adding blackening spices to Popeyes existing tartar sauce was a simple concept that yielded savory, impressive results. I wouldn’t call it an improvement over their regular tartar sauce so much as an expansion, though. Those who prefer the bite/tang of pickle relish would still go for the original tartar sauce.
As for that blackberry pie on the left (on the right is Popeyes Peach Pie), I neglected to heed the big red warning on the box and bit right into it. The ensuing flamethrower on my tongue prevented me from actually tasting the pie, but judging from the “MMMs” and “AHHHs” from everyone else, this product got positive reviews all around. To be honest, it’s hard to go wrong with a sugary crust, sticky-sweet blackberries and cream cheese.
In the end, I think the new butterfly shrimp will be a successful enough product that Popeyes will keep it around for a while (especially with that lemon garlic sauce), I’m curious to see whether the blackened tartar sauce or the blackberry pie will go to market and I’m interested to see whether anything ever actually happens with that alligator. Because you know, nothing says “Louisiana” like fried alligator and
…soothing rock ponds in the lobby? I give up.
Rip’n Chick’n photo courtesy of Brand Eating.