He Said: There must be dozens of fried chicken places in Conway (we are in the south, after all), and we still haven’t reviewed one after forty-something reviews. So somewhat randomly, we picked Chicken Express to start with. It’s a regional chain with more than 200 locations in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Georgia (apparently they jumped Mississippi and Alabama for reasons unknown). This does mean you can check online to find nutritional information for the various entrees, which is always recommended for fast-food joints.
She Said: Yes, it was time for fried chicken, and this was the first one on our master list, so off we went. I’d never actually noticed it before, though I’d been by this "fast-food alley" on Dave Ward countless times.
He Said: Looks like any generic fast food place inside, with booths and tables with red plastic seats. This store is fairly new and still looks it. The one interesting touch is a variety of chicken paintings on the wall, kitschy pictures of chickens in various poses and costumes. You do know you’re in a chicken place when you walk in the door.
She Said: Yes, Ruud is right. It’s bright and cheery, yet still very functional, but the chicken art is a nice touch. There are booths and tables for dining in, and we sat in one near the door. We arrived not too long after 11 a.m., but by the time we left closer to noon, there was a line and the energy picked up as the crowd increased.
He Said: They’ve got Coke products here, as well as lemonade fruit punch, bottled water, and iced tea. I had an unsweetened iced tea and then looked around for a little something to put in it, and was annoyed to find that all they had was artificial sweetener. Not that regular sugar is particularly good for you, but artificial stuff is definitely not, and they ought to have a choice.
She Said: I had unsweetened iced tea, as usual, with no sweetener, and it was tasty.
He Said: Everything is fried, which is not particularly healthy either. I need the lowest of fat options, and they do have fried fish here which they say has only 3.5 grams of fat. Since this was a chicken place that we are reviewing, though, I skipped the fish and went for the one-piece chicken snack with a chicken breast, which their Website says has 12 grams of fat—an acceptable range for my low-fat diet. You might want to be a bit careful—if you order a two-piece meal with a thigh and a leg, you’re getting 35 grams of fat.
You also get a side of your choice, and a choice of a biscuit or roll. I opted for the corn on the cob and the roll. The fried okra, which is apparently a popular side here, would give you an additional 18 grams of fat, so keep that in mind.
I was pleasantly surprised by the chicken breast. It was fried and crispy on the outside, and tender and quite tasty on the inside, but though fried it was not greasy at all. I’d recommend the chicken itself. The roll was also not bad, though I would have liked the option of perhaps putting butter or margarine on it, but was not offered that option and there were no margarine or butter packets on offer next to the salt and artificial sweeteners. As for the corn, I very much liked the idea of it, since it was a healthy option available at a fast food place, but in practice it was not so good. I happen to like corn that is young and fresh and crisp, rather than, shall we say, "mature" and chewy. This corn was the latter—it tasted like what my mother would have called "feed corn."
She Said: Yes, as Ruud said, the chicken was not greasy, but crispy and flavorful. I got the two-piece meal with dark meat, and my chosen side was mashed potatoes and gravy with a biscuit. The chicken was definitely the highlight. I do love fried chicken, but indulge in it rarely, and this was good stuff, though filling in its fried-ness. I didn’t love the mashed potatoes. The consistency was heavy, not creamy, and the gravy was white and peppery. I do NOT like black pepper. We have strict rules in our house about cooking with pepper. It takes over everything it is in; it’s the kudzu of seasonings. So, that side was not a success for me, but if you like pepper gravy, you’ll like this. The biscuit, however, was delightful. Unlike Ruud, I didn’t need butter as it was so flaky and buttery on its own.
He Said: We got fairly typical fast food service. The counter person was friendly and patient (having never been here before, it took us some time to order). It was also very fast—they brought the order to our table before I was even done getting my iced tea. I do need to mention that they actually got my order wrong: I had originally ordered the fries, but got corn instead. Upon reflection I realized this was actually a much healthier choice so I decided not to complain. So, thanks fast-food guy at Chicken Express, for having my arteries in mind when mis-hearing my order.
She Said: Yes, I thought the service was stellar. When we left, there was a line nearly to the door, but they seemed to be moving them through quickly with smiles and good feeling. Everyone was friendly, and I had no complaints.
What We Got and What We Paid: One two-piece chicken combo with thigh and leg, biscuit and side or mashed potatoes and gravy; one chicken snack with breast, roll, and side of corn on the cob. Plus two glasses of unsweet iced tea, for $13.56.
He Said: A fairly typical fast-food chicken place with very good chicken and less effective sides.
She Said: Better than average fried chicken with hit-or-miss sides, just as Ruud said. Friendly, fast service. If someone said, "Jones, bring us a bucket of chicken," this is where I’d go.
So…He Said and She Said: When you’ve got a fried-chicken craving, Chicken Express will probably be there for you. But their sides might not be.
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.