The word sprawling seems to have been invented for places like Presidio Junction shopping center, which takes up a big chunk of real estate northwest of the intersection of the southbound Interstate 35W access road and North Tarrant Parkway in far north Fort Worth.
Restaurants and retail stores line both roads, with an unusual concentration of fast-casual chicken spots, and there are still both to come. Turn into the center, and you’ll encounter a Costco and a WinCo, as well as a large strip of retail stores anchored by a Target. Smaller buildings and strips dot the center in a layout that might look coherent from the air but seems chaotic from the ground.
In one of those buildings, at the south end of the Target parking lot, lies Chicken Salad Chick, the first Texas location of an Alabama-based chain that describes itself as “the nation’s only Southern-inspired, fast-casual chicken salad restaurant concept.”
That might sound like an odd idea for a restaurant, and the exterior of Chicken Salad Chick doesn’t look all that promising. But one step inside, and you encounter an oasis of serenity amid the parking-lot sprawl and the stress of north Fort Worth traffic.
Tablecloths that look like they might have come from your mom’s kitchen, tasteful but not fancy, cover the tables, and there’s a pleasant design scheme as you turn left and make your way to the ordering counter, where the staff is friendly and quick to answer questions.
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And you might have some questions, because Chicken Salad Chick’s menu features 15 varieties of chicken salads, available by the pound, in scoops on plates or in sandwich form. With that much selection, it’s best to start off with a Chick Trio ($8.90), which allows you to sample three varieties.
Shooting for a classic/sweet/spicy matchup, I went for the Classic Carol (all the chicken salads have feminine names), which is the restaurant’s signature recipe, along with a Fancy Nancy (featuring Fuji apples, pecans and seedless grapes) and the Kickin’ Kay Lynne (Buffalo sauce, ranch, bacon, shredded cheddar and jalapeños).
The Classic Carol was the clear winner here: creamy, almost buttery chicken salad where all the flavors and textures hit the mark. The Kickin’ Kay Lynne was also good, although spicy-food fans might be surprised at how light the heat is, considering those ingredients.
But then, this is a place with a subtle touch, as the light hand with the ingredients on the Fancy Nancy led to a scoop of sweet-but-not-too-sweet fruity, nutty chicken salad.
That light hand extended to the Cranberry Kelli, which I ordered in sandwich form ($5.90) on a separate visit. The classic chicken-salad flavors came through, but I had to concentrate to detect the dried cranberries and slivered almonds within.
It’s not all chicken salad. A small menu of deli sandwiches, all $5.90, features a turkey hoagie, a roast beef, a Virginia ham and a pimento-cheese sandwich. The roast beef, served cool, was a comfort-food flashback to taking Mom’s roast beef out of the fridge to make my own sandwich. It was good, but didn’t quite live up to the “zesty Cajun” description on the menu.
And it’s not all for carnivores. Several items on the menu are marked vegetarian, most of them salads, as well as that pimento-cheese sandwich — which, unfortunately, we found a little unexciting.
Desserts consist mostly of a “cookie of the day” as well as seasonal items, such as the Key lime pie ($1.29) available till the end of August. It’s a thin wedge but bright and citrusy, with a graham-cracker crust that also inspires comfort-food flashbacks.
Meggie Schissler, who runs the Fort Worth store along with husband John, is originally from Texas but discovered Chicken Salad Chick in 2009 when she met students at a location during a ministry-outreach trip in the southeastern United States. She liked the restaurant so much that she went to work in its corporate office. And then she and John worked toward getting one in Texas.
When the restaurant was announced, the Schisslers said they planned to open two more in the Fort Worth area. Hopefully they have their eyes on locations that also provide some respite from the noise and haste.