We’ve tried them all, but would never name names. This wins every time.
In the South, we take certain dishes very seriously. Fried green tomatoes, for example? Churn out soggy slices, and you’re forever marked. While other dishes, we take a little for granted. The perfect fluffy-flaky ratio of our homemade buttermilk biscuits? Those above the Mason-Dixon might never know it, and what a shame.
However there’s one classic delicacy that somehow skates the line: chicken salad. It might not ever be first on our list of the best Southern dishes, and perhaps not even top five; but every Southerner has quite the stubborn opinion on how it should be made. Debates on celery and dark meat alone reach cataclysmic levels, but we never disagree on two basic things: chicken and mayonnaise. (Duke’s or Hellman’s, obviously.) We also all collectively know that chicken salad seamlessly fits every occasion, including, but not limited to, tea luncheons, baby showers, church potlucks, beach trips, lake days, and lunch breaks. It’s like the little black dress of spreads.
While homemade is always preferred, we have zero shame in scooping up pre-made chicken salad if needed—and if it’s worthy of it—and there’s one particular spot we’ll never hesitate to call for a chicken salad croissant at lunchtime or to pick up a tub from for the weekend. We’re talking about Chicken Salad Chick, specifically Chicken Salad Chick’s “Fancy Nancy” recipe.
The chain, which is unsurprisingly (to us) based in the South, serves up 12 kinds of chicken salad, which we consider quite a smart move considering Southerners are a fussy bunch when it comes to which version is best. The “Fancy Nancy” recipe starts with a tried-and-true base of shredded chicken, mayo, and seasoning, but gets its signature flair from chopped apples, grapes, and pecans. It’s perfect because it keeps it simple, but not too simple. Each bite gives either crispness from the apples, sweet crunch from the grapes, or nuttiness from the pecans. Like we said, perfection.
It all started right under our noses, too, in Auburn, Alabama. Founder Stacy Brown sold her crowd-pleasing chicken salad out of her home before finally opening her first brick-and-mortar in 2008. Since then, it’s become a bit of a phenomenon, expanding as far as Texas, and not slowing down.
Order it as a scoop or a sandwich with their raved-about grape salad on the side, as a topping on their classic salad, or—our personal favorite method—as a to-go tub to serve with crackers or slices of seedy bread at a moment’s notice. Trust us, showing up to the annual beach or lake weekend with a couple tubs of “Fancy Nancy” will set a precedent. You’re the one that shows up with the chicken salad every year. And everyone loves you for it. If we had a dollar for every time these grape-speckled containers have saved us, we just might open our own franchise.
WATCH: Old-Fashioned Chicken Salad
We’ve tried them all, but would never name names. Good ole’ Nancy just always keeps us coming back for more.