These are the big guys–They’ve established a reputation for their biscuits. So, how do they stack up?
If biscuits are your thing, you’ve just got to own it. After all, there’s not much to them, as we established in volume one. But their simplicity leaves little room for error.
With the rise of biscuits as A THING, we’ve seen two local businesses make them their raison d’etre. There’s Early Bird Biscuit Co, who are known for their unique biscuit flavors, friendly service, and longish lines. Then there’s The Fancy Biscuit, a side project from the folks behind Shyndigz with a full menu, fun drinks, and the confounding hours of biscuit availability between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM Wednesday through Friday.1 That’s only 18 hours of biscuits each week!
Meanwhile on a much larger scale, Bojangles, Hardees, and Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken churn out biscuits at locations across the country almost every day of the year, and they’ve been doing it since 1977, 1960, and 1966, respectively. The food may be fast, but the biscuits are made the same way they’re made anywhere else–flour, butter, buttermilk–just a lot more of it.
EARLY BIRD — HOUSEMADE PIMENTO CHEESE AND BACON
When Early Bird opened in Lakeside in 2014, the level of attention it drew was enormous. I personally waited in that line, which snaked outside of the tiny store, with my three-year-old daughter tugging at my purse and demanding to go in the oddities shop next door as my stomach did flips in the butter-scented parking lot. We ate our biscuits in the grass out front, smushing pieces of biscuit into the little cup of grape jam and licking jam off of our fingers contentedly.
You would think the enthusiasm might have waned a couple years later; but now in their new location on N. Robinson, that’s far from the case. These are the biscuits in highest demand. And with recent “unique biscuit flavors” like salted caramel pretzel, French onion, and cheddar & chive; what’s not to demand? And their bakery case is always filled with little unexpected treats–whoopie pies, tarts, and turnovers–that are equally deserving of your attention and caloric intake.
I narrowly missed the Early Bird-Lee’s Famous Recipe collabo biscuit by seconds on my most recent visit, but I drowned my sorrows, as I have so many times before, in pimento cheese and bacon. Their substantial square biscuits stand up to hearty fillings with ease, resisting the urge to crumble to oblivion after the second bite. These biscuits will fill you up like a full meal.
If possible, carve out some time for napping after your trip to this, the most charming of biscuit destinations.
FANCY BISCUIT — GOT YOUR GOAT
These biscuits. Whew boy. When they specify “Fork & Knife” on the menu, they ain’t kidding. You could add “spatula” or “crane” to the list of tools required to conquer one of the mountainous Fancy Biscuits with all of their accoutrements. And you’ll also need at least twenty minutes. This is not one of those biscuits to be gulped down on the way to work. This is the biscuit you want when you’ve called in sick to work and have planned a day of your time.
White Lily flour, buttermilk, and plenty of butter come together to form a very crumbly, light biscuit. It would almost be too light to withstand toppings like their wonderfully crispy fried chicken, a smear of rich goat cheese, and sweet-piquant pepper jelly, as you find on the Got Your Goat; but then again, they told you to use a knife and fork. If you find yourself desperately pawing at the thing like a raccoon, well…you were clearly warned.
And speaking of utensils, you’ll need all of them if you plan to tackle the Black Dog, consisting of shrimp and grits over biscuits with a savory, smoky tasso gravy. It’s a brilliant marriage of Southern staples, and it works, my god it works.
BOJANGLES – CAJUN FILET BISCUIT
I spent a good chunk of my salad days in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I had stints of employment in fine dining restaurants while I was attending Johnson & Wales and, finally, a run managing the kitchen at Tyber Creek Pub, home of the all-day, every day $2 Guinness pint. No parents in-state. Cheap booze as far as the eye could see. This was the furthest from accountability I would ever know, and I sure as hell acted like it. That meant a lot of hangovers.
This was also where I established several questionable dining habits. Like the time I drove the two minutes (walking was out of the question because who could be expected to tolerate all that fresh air at a time like this) to the nearest Bojangles for a Cajun Chicken Filet Biscuit and a Dr. Pepper–the truest cure for last night’s bad decisions. I scarfed down the biscuit in my car, getting crumbs everywhere, smearing the huge stein of Dr. Pepper with my greasy fingerprints. I smoked a cigarette and then drove right back to the drive-thru line for yet another biscuit. Those were the days.
Thus, for me, this biscuit, filled as it is with memories, will always be the perfect biscuit. And there’s actually good reason for that: Bojangles takes their biscuit-making very seriously. Their Master Biscuit Makers go through special training, sign a contract, and participate in cash-money biscuit-making competitions. The resulting biscuit is a consistent combination of buttermilk, flour, butter, and skill. It’s craggy, neither particularly soft nor fluffy, a well-worked, thin biscuit with the tiniest bit of crunch to it.
And that chicken! I’ve tried to reproduce it for myself, but it’s never the same. And it never will be. From what I can surmise, the chicken is soaked in a mixture of buttermilk and hot sauce before being breaded in a cajun flour mix and fried, and the result is…well, I know this sounds hyperbolic, but it’s just sublime.
HARDEES – EGG BISCUIT
It seems hard to believe, in this culture of scoop-and-plop fast food, but Hardees’ biscuits are so made from scratch that they have actually trademarked the phrase “made from scratch biscuit.” So, if your Grandma is always telling you that hers are “made from scratch biscuits,” let her know that she’s infringing on Hardees’ trademark rights and to please cease and desist.
Hardees might as well trademark the word “fluffy” while they’re at it because they have nailed the art of fluffiness. The egg, too, is fluffy–a homogenous pale yellow omelet, delicately folded on itself like origami. There’s something French about it, it’s so fluffy.
Hardees chicken biscuit, regrettably, doesn’t stack up to any of its competitors. The chicken tastes…institutional. Like the kind of microwaved patty you’d find on a school lunch tray. It does nothing for the biscuit experience and is best to be avoided. Stick with the egg or perhaps the sausage.
LEE’S FAMOUS RECIPE CHICKEN
$3.99 per ½ dozen
I was on the fence about whether or not to include Lee’s. After all, what makes Lee’s famous is their chicken, not their biscuits. But having made biscuits for the past 50 years, I thought Lee’s might be up to the challenge.
What I discovered was a different kind of biscuit entirely. Lee’s biscuits aren’t for breakfast. They’re for supper. They’re to be purchased by the half dozen as a side dish, to be set in basket (or hell, the box works just fine) on the table next to a spread of obliterated green beans, mayonnaise-laden potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and of course, fried chicken.
With a flaky, slightly dense texture, these biscuits seem the most like themselves after time. They’re a fine picnic biscuit, best paired with a dollop of jelly or used to sop up the rest of the pot liquor from a batch of collard greens. And they’re cheap as the dickens, available to anyone who can scrape together $.75, truly the working man’s biscuit.