I was in a restaurant once and ordered “chicken salad,” which was what was listed on the menu. What I got was a green salad with some strips of chicken on top. I was very disappointed.
Chicken salad has to be that mixture of chicken and mayonnaise and other ingredients. It can be served on a lettuce leaf, but chicken salad has to be something you can eat with a spoon.
So, I was pleased when I found an outstanding chicken salad right across the street from my office. It’s the one served at Front Street Deli. Tons of chicken chunks. Grapes, which add a little sweetness, are another ingredient. I love sweet-and-savory cuisine, so this is perfect for me. Because of the grapes, it’s reminiscent of the chicken salad served at the old Brushmark restaurant at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Front Street Deli general manager Mike Jones says he makes a pound and a half of the chicken salad every other day. You can buy it in a cup, but most people buy the chicken salad on the “Born on the Fourth of July” sandwich.
I asked owner Jon Hodge the chicken salad’s history.
Hodge and chef Rob Ray, who now is with Venice Kitchen, created the chicken salad in 2017 after Hodge bought Front Street Deli. ‘He and I got in the kitchen and did a lot of different tastings and strategy on how to cook the chicken and season it and everything else,” Hodge says. “So, it was kind of a trial-and-error thing.”
The “turning point” was when they sous vide the chicken. “That sous vide-ing allows us to flavor lock all the chicken we use and allows it to stay moist throughout the cooking process.”
The ingredients include a mayonnaise and sour cream mix, Hodge says.
As for the grapes, he says, “We were looking for something that was going to be kind of refreshing.”
Hodge associates chicken salad with “nicer days,” so, he says, “My palate is ready for something somewhat refreshing. Light but hearty. That’s the reason we go with that.”
No nuts are in Front Street Deli’s chicken salad, but Hodge says, “We do use a celery to provide a little bit of crunchy texture. And then the aromatics from that also help add the freshness.”
The chicken salad sandwich is named “Born on the Fourth of July” because all of Front Street Deli’s sandwiches are named after Tom Cruise movies. The Firm, the 1993 Cruise movie, was filmed at Front Street Deli. The film runs continuously at the restaurant. And you can sit where Cruise sat in the movie, Hodge says.
A photo on the front page of the New York Times on one July 4th is of Cruise at the counter with a newspaper at Front Street Deli, Hodge says. He’s pleased and flattered the photo made the front page. “I would expect they had a lot of important stories to run.”
Cruise doesn't eat a chicken salad sandwich in The Firm. What he had was an egg salad sandwich in the movie.”
In one scene, someone says they have an egg salad sandwich from Front Street Deli, Hodge says.
Front Street Deli hasn’t served the egg salad sandwich since he took over ownership, Hodge says. “We haven’t sold that yet,” he says.
But, that doesn’t mean it won’t show up on the menu some day. “If we can get the demand for it.”
Front Street Deli is at 77 South Front at Union. Call: (901) 522-4824