Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with the KFC Double Down sandwich from Kentucky, which joined the union on June 1, 1792.
The state: From wearing silly hats to horse races to downing copious amounts of bourbon, Kentucky is a spiritual home for many of America’s favorite traditions. The Bluegrass State, one of the neutral states during the Civil War, sits right at the crossroads of the South, the Midwest and coal country. That is not to stay it’s kept a low profile. Between Senate Minority Leader Mitch “#McConnelling” McConnell, Louisville and Kentucky’s dominance in college basketball, and KFC’s artery-clogging chicken, Kentucky is always around. Whether you want it there or not.
The food: When it was first announced on April Fools’ Day in 2010, it was hard to believe that the KFC Double Down was an actual thing. Two strips of bacon, two slices of cheese and some of the Colonel’s secret sauce sandwiched in-betwixt two fried chicken fillets in lieu of bread. It was a company embracing its unhealthy reputation instead of fighting it. And now it’s back. Enduring the burn of the seemingly fresh-out-of-the-deep-fryer chicken fillets, I ate not one but two of these monstrosities. At 540 calories a pop, the Double Down actually isn’t the worst fried chicken sandwich you can have at a fast food joint. The bacon and tangy sauce provide a nice accompaniment to the Original Recipe chicken—and just enough of a distraction from the cheese to make it edible. The chicken, if cooked into a hard crisp, is sturdy enough to serve as a bun, hot grease notwithstanding. As I walked over the napkin dispenser afterwards, I noticed the it trolling me with the words, “When finger-lickin’ just ain’t good enough!” As if my fingers could ever be clean again.
Other dishes considered and rejected: While KFC is the most visible and accessible source of Kentucky vittles in this part of the country, the state has quite a few notable regional delicacies. Mutton barbecue with a vinegar dipping sauce on the side is popular throughout western Kentucky. The Hot Brown—turkey and bacon, covered in a Mornay sauce and baked on a slice of sandwich bread—is one of the more notable open-faced sandwiches in the country. (Although, it’s a pizza if you ascribe to Jeb Lund’s description of “sandwich”) Playfully nicknamed “Roadkill soup,” burgoo is a popular stew at community gatherings. Willamette Week also considered just drinking a bottle of bourbon for this entry.
Get it from: KFC. With almost 19,000 locations around the world, it shouldn’t be hard to find a KFC. You’ll find one that shares its location with an A&W if you’re lucky.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.