The concourse at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center is filled with all sorts of chicken sandwiches, some of them vaguely pleasant, others pleasantly vague. But which of these breaded breasts allegedly sickened a New York Times reporter in town for the DNC?
On Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that Times senior politics editor Carolyn Ryan tweeted a warning to her followers: “Be careful eating in Wells Fargo Center. One of our @nytimes reporters sick from chicken sandwich.” Her message came with an accompanying GIF, which frankly, felt a little whimsical for the matter at hand.
Ryan didn’t respond when I asked her, on Twitter, to elaborate. Who’d been sickened? And, more importantly, where? But no matter—any journalist worth his salt should be willing to eat a bunch of salt in pursuit of the truth, so that’s just what I did. And anyway, by Tuesday afternoon, I was getting sort of hungry, so I headed over to Wells Fargo to scope out the food scene. What was for lunch? A chicken sandwich or three might be just the ticket, I thought.
Original Chik-fil-A Sandwich from Lorenzo and Sons Pizza
Served: Classic Chik-fil-A style, breaded with two pickles on a toasted bun
The Chik-fil-A chicken sandwich is, in my opinion, the finest fast food treat available for purchase in the United States of America. I was delighted to find one at the Wells Fargo Center, even if it was at a pizza place, and even if it was at a significant markup from market price. The bun on my sandwich was soggy, but otherwise, it had all the famous Chik-fil-A chicken sandwich attributes: Flaky breading, slightly off-center pickle placement. I ate almost the entire thing, despite knowing I had a full day of chicken sandwiches ahead of me.
It was hard to imagine anyone getting sick from such a tasty chicken sandwich, until I remembered where I was: the Democratic National Convention. Dan T. Cathy, COO of Chik-fil-A and the son of its founder, is outspoken with his conservative Christian political views, and has famyously donated money to a variety of anti-gay groups. Is it possible that a reporter at the liberal New York Times became nauseated when she realized what she was eating?
Suddenly confronted with the problematic—yes, problematic—nature of my snack—yes, snack—I chowed down quickly, hunched over a low wall, while Michelle Obama’s excellent speech from the previous evening replayed on a big screen behind me. A flier posted nearby alerted me that Facebook was shooting a video in the area, and that by standing there, I were implying my consent to appear in the video. I hoped the cameras didn’t catch me in my secret shame.
I needed a way to reestablish my progressive bona fides on the way to my next stop, so I avoided the trash bin marked LANDFILL, and deposited the remains of my Chik-fil-A chicken sandwich in the bin marked COMPOST instead.
Verdict: Feeling emotionally rattled, but physically fine.
House-Smoked Chicken Sandwich from Big Baby’s BBQ
Price: $11 (!)
Served: In a precious pink box, like a cupcake or lingerie.
After ingesting the manna from heaven I’d purchased at Lorenzo and Sons Pizza, I headed to Big Baby’s BBQ for some chicken with cole slaw on a large brioche bun. The meat itself was savory, but too much bread got in the way, and the sandwich was a little dry. I could have used a little more of Big Baby’s tasty mustard-based BBQ sauce, which came with the meal.
Again, I ate the sandwich while hunched over a low surface, like an animal. My stomach was starting to hurt, though it was difficult to blame that on Big Baby’s specifically. I became increasingly worried that some dignified convention attendee—Michelle Obama perhaps, or Demi Lovato—might be watching my grotesque and ravenous display.
After a few bites, I got a text from my editor that Lena Dunham had been spotted on the convention floor, and I took a break from gorging myself to set out and look for her. I didn’t see any compost bins, so I threw my sandwich in the trash.
Verdict: I can blame only my editor, who gave me this stupid assignment, for my stomach pains.
Chicken Caesar Wrap from Old City Brewhouse
Looking for Lena turned out to be a bust, but I ended up interviewing some Bernie Sanders delegates from California and filed a story about that. (Don’t call me a hero. I’m just an ordinary member of the fourth estate answering the humble call of truth.) I stepped outside the press stand area of the arena to make a brief phone call, but when I tried to return, the DNC staffers required some new credential that I didn’t have on my lanyard, so I couldn’t get back in. I took the opportunity to get back to the real work of the day: Eating sandwiches.
Next up was Broad Street Carvery, but there were no chicken sandwiches there—brisket only. I purchased a bottle of water for $4.75—ouch. I thought this was the party of the working people. Jerry Springer walked by, and a TV reporter bragged about how he’d gotten a selfie with the famous talk-show host earlier in the day.
Brisket is not chicken, and I don’t cut corners, so I headed down to Old City Brewhouse, where the menu advertised a chicken caesar wrap for $10. Is a wrap a sandwich? That’s a question for a bigger mind than mine. I noted that Old City also has Chik-fil-A on the menu, and smarted when I saw that a bottle of water there cost only $4.50—a deal.
I placed my order: “One chicken caesar wrap, please.” The woman at the counter said that they didn’t have any chicken caesar wraps, only chicken caesar salads, and salad is definitely not a sandwich. That was just as well: I was getting pretty sick of all these chicken sandwiches.
Verdict: No sandwich=no verdict.
Buffalo Chicken Wrap from P.J. Whelihan’s
Served: With iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, a slathering of Frank’s Red Hot, and two different cheeses: bleu, and what looks like cheddar.
As I watched the woman behind the counter at P.J. Whelihan’s assemble my buffalo chicken wrap, my stomach started to turn. (Perhaps my investigation was getting somewhere!) It looked like the kind of chicken sandwich I’d enjoy on an ordinary day, but I wasn’t sure I could handle it after having eaten multiple chicken sandwiches already. It had a lot of cheese.
In fact, I ate almost the entire chicken sandwich, and again I enjoyed it. Bernie Sanders appeared on the TV screen as I was finishing up, and announced that the roll call vote would be suspended, formally ceding the nomination to Hillary Clinton.
Sanders delegates began streaming past me toward the arena doors, holding signs and chanting. I thought about Bernie’s influence on the Democratic party, and how its current platform is being touted as the most progressive agenda in history. But the Democratic platform is conspicuously silent on one key issue: the issue of sandwichhood for buffalo chicken wraps. Formerly established political truths were collapsing in my mind, my self-conception burned down and forged in the fires as something striking and new. Was I adequately performing my duty as a man and a worker in the world? I wasn’t sure. Was I even eating a chicken sandwich at all? I wasn’t sure of that, either.
Verdict: Hours after eating the buffalo chicken wrap, I suffered a minor headache. It was tempting to ascribe this ailment to the last chicken sandwich I’d eaten, but it seemed more likely that it was a consequence of my amassed chicken sandwich intake over the course of the day, and also that I hadn’t drunk enough $4.50-a-bottle water.
Which chicken sandwich will make you sick?
So, which chicken sandwich at the Wells Fargo Center made a New York Times reporter sick to her stomach? It’s tough to say. I can recommend with certainty, however, that you not eat three and half chicken sandwiches in a single day.
Verdict: I am definitely ill.