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Appreciating chicken salad, locals share tips

We talk to chefs and diners alike to find out what makes this Southern staple so special

Chicken Salad Chick, an Alabama-based sandwich and salad spot, is coming to East Cobb in March. The 2,800-square-foot restaurant in the Providence Square shopping center at 4101 Roswell Road, Suite 811, will serve about 15 kinds of chicken salad, ranging from the sweet Luau Lydia (pineapple and macadamia nuts) to the spicy Jalapeno Holly. The restaurant plans to bring ten locations to the Atlanta area in the next four years, including three in 2014.

But Chicken Salad Chick is not the first local restaurant to be built around this Southern staple. Café at Pharr is known for its chicken salads, Café Jonah offers a version popular for those allergic to eggs, and Marietta residents rave about the variety at Sugar Cakes Patisserie.

All this talk about chicken salad got us thinking: Why is it so popular? What differentiates one from another? We reached out to chefs and diners alike for the scoop.

Why people love chicken salad
"Our chicken salad is very appealing for lunch because it feels very light and fresh. You eat it and are full and satisfied but not heavy and lethargic when you’re finished. You feel good eating it. It’s the perfect midday pick-me-up."
-Stacy Brown, Chicken Salad Chick founder

“Because it's simple. Most chicken salads are made to taste like something other than chicken. Simplicity is the key.”
-Johnny Liu, Café at Pharr owner and chef

“People love chicken salad because they consider it a safe, comfort food. It’s something they’re familiar with and they have a basic expectation that it will be good. Plus, it’s versatile; it tastes equally good served on bread, bagels, croissants, or a bed of green salad.”
-Ellen Cooper, Marietta resident

“I think people may love chicken salad because it is still something most of us make fresh.”
-Lynn Holdridge-Bechtold, Mittie’s founder and chef

“People love chicken salad because it is a high protein, simple food that you can find everywhere! [At Café Jonah], we replace the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt—another protein and probiotic.”
-Jenny Levison, Café Jonah, Souper Jenny, and Juicy Jenny founder and chef

The secret ingredient
"It comes down to this: A lot of chicken and barely enough mayonnaise to mention! One-half of a cup of everything your Mama taught you in the kitchen, one cup of love for the people you are serving, and a dash of Southern style."
-Stacy Brown, Chicken Salad Chick founder

“Fresh, never frozen, hormone-free chicken and love are our secret ingredients. We have been making this one chicken salad recipe for all 28 years.”
-Lynn Holdridge-Bechtold, Mittie’s

“I use the Ina Garten recipe. I think the secret ingredient is the tarragon. It just gives it a unique flavor that pairs well with the grapes.”
-Barbara Cannon, Kennesaw resident

"My secret ingredient is lemon pepper. It gives it a peppery zest. Sometimes I add green apples, too. It complements the lemon and adds crunch."
-Brooke Haynes, Lawrenceville resident

“Our secret ingredient is tarragon and the right amount of mayo. We use the finest tarragon to fragrance our chicken salad and only a touch of mayo to smooth the dish. Not only that, our chicken salad comes with our house-made French croissant. It is the croissant that makes our chicken salad so delicious.”
-Ted Arpon, Sugar Cakes founder and chef

"Too much mayo is wrong and hurtful."
- Susan Levine, Alpharetta

Did we miss a secret ingredient or critical piece of advice? Let us know in the comments below.