Long Beach-based restaurant Sweet Dixie Kitchen has recently been the focus of a fried chicken controversy. Dubbed "Popeyegate" by restaurant owner Kimberly Sanchez, a piece written by our own Isai Rocha revealed how the brunch spot has been using Popeyes tenders for its fried chicken dishes. Since then, the owner has spent time sounding off on Yelp reviews, news reports, and Facebook comments defending her dishes.
Foodbeast Editor-In-Chief Elie Ayrouth joined me as we went in "undercover" as two bros hanging out for a normal Wednesday brunch...the morning after our news went national.
Here's how the whole thing went down:
I met Elie outside of Sweet Dixie, where he was already working on secretly capturing footage for his weekly vlog. On our way in, I couldn't help but notice how casual and inviting the ambiance was.
Our waiter, who was one of the nicest dudes I've ever met, started off the meal by asking us if we were at the restaurant because of the Popeye's controversy. Both Elie and I cringed for a second and played dumb, not aware the news would be so front-and-center. I mentioned I had heard about the biscuits, Elie said he was from the area and had been meaning to come here.
We turned our attention to the menus to decide what to order.
Something important to note from the restaurant's menu: It still claims that they use a "local Louisiana fried chicken." Since Elie figured out that there's a Popeyes within a mile of the joint, I guess that counts?
Ordering would be tough. Opting to not simply order the "controversial items" and raise eyebrows from our already suspicious staff, we opted to go for the $14.95 chicken and waffles from the original Yelp Review as well as a small order of biscuits and gravy.
Before we ordered, though, I got a message from our managing editor back at the office, Reach Guinto. He threw in a remote order, asking us for the $12.95 Popeye's Chicken with Biscuits to-go.
With our orders set, all that was left to do is wait to sample Sweet Dixie Chicken's spin on "Louisiana fast."
When the food arrived, I could immediately tell that the fried chicken was Popeyes on look alone. The distinctive batter and shape was in play. In case we needed any further confirmation, our table was approached by a woman that we later learned was the owner Kimberly Sanchez.
She oddly chose her first communication with us, random customers, to enlighten us that the chicken on Elie's dish was from Popeyes.
The woman then apologized that the chicken was very overcooked (it definitely was extremely rubbery upon tasting). Her reasoning was that local health inspectors had just shown up to ensure that Dixie Sweet Kitchen was up to standards because of all of the negative complaints from the past day. Thus, she had to "overcook the chicken" to reach the required temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit that it should normally be served at to kill bacteria.
To directly come out, unprompted, and discuss the fried chicken seemed a little bizarre. It was clear that the weight of the controversy rested heavily on her mind.
Elie and I finished our meals pretty quickly after that. We then took some time to mull over the food.
Overall, everything was actually pretty solid, with the exception of the dry, twice-cooked Popeyes. The biscuits and gravy had decent flavor, as did the waffles and the salsa that went on top of Elie's chicken. Still, I was slightly off-put at how the owner had approached us about her dishes. To me, it's odd that someone would initially disguise their fast food fried chicken source but later wear that badge with honor. Elie also commented that if you come out directly and discredit your food with those reasons, you should just take it off of the menu- a sentiment I agree with.
In terms of staff, everyone else at the restaurant, including our waiter, was extremely nice. I feel like they, not Sanchez, did a great job at representing the true vibe of Sweet Dixie Kitchen.
Turns out that I wasn't the only person who felt this way. Another person who recently visited the restaurant shared his thoughts on Instagram, saying that Sanchez "grossly misrepresented" the very friendly staff. Whether they were like this because their restaurant was in hot water or genuinely function at this level of class, I don't know (but definitely hope it's the latter). Nonetheless, how they operated their parts of the restaurant gave it a warm, inviting, and fun atmosphere that I could see myself returning to. The owner unfortunately detracted from that ambiance, which makes me not want to return.
Back at HQ, Reach's unpleasant reaction to the "disappointingly dry" meal we brought for him was a testament to everything that Elie and I had witnessed while at Sweet Dixie Kitchen. It definitely wasn't worth the elevated price tags that were on the fried chicken meals, especially with the tough Popeyes chicken. Sure, maybe it wouldn't have been as dry if the health inspector wasn't there, but cooking a piece of fried chicken twice typically doesn't end well as is.
Apart from that, though, I feel that Sweet Dixie Kitchen is a quaint restaurant that definitely knows how to do food well. I just think that their incorporation and eventual revision of the Popeyes chicken isn't necessary, and the place would do much better without it.