If you’re a Phish fan, the Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden has felt like a combination of Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and one of the band’s iconic festivals. The music has been incredible, with soaring improvisation at every turn, multiple huge bust-outs, and surprising covers each show. To keep everyone on their toes, the band has been matching each night’s setlist with a donut-flavored theme while also serving those same donuts to fans when they enter the venue. Life is truly great for phans each night at the “World’s Most Famous Arena”. However, something needs to be addressed—and it’s those infamous spicy chicken sandwiches in section 119.
Since the Baker’s Dozen run began, fans at home who have been streaming the shows have noticed a curious advertisement for “spicy chicken sandwiches in section 119.” The interwebs have been ablaze with curiosity about these chicken sandwiches, with several long-running threads popping up at online hubs for Phish fans like Reddit, PhantasyTour, Phish Tour 2014 (hi Jay!!!), and more. If you walk around Madison Square Garden during the Baker’s Dozen, you can hear countless conversations from fans wondering what the fuss is about with this sandwich and where they can get one (News flash: you can find them outside of Section 119). We here at Live For Live Music thought it might be time to peel back some layers of the mystery that is the spicy chicken sandwich in section 119.
The spicy chicken sandwich comes from Fuku, an offshoot of the Momofuku brand helmed by renowned New York City chef David Chang. The chef—known for his restaurants Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, and Ko, as well as the popular dessert chain MilkBar—is famous for his more casual, low-key (and low price point) dining experiences, where he typically fuses Asian and American influences to form a unique dining experience that’s both fun and delicious. His iconic Noodle Bar restaurant quickly became a popular destination for large groups looking to taste Chang’s delicious fried chicken served two ways: Southern style and Korean style. The popularity of Noodle Bar led Chang to open a standalone location where people could enjoy his fried chicken. He called the shop Fuku, playfully named under the Momofuku umbrella, and opened up a location in the East Village of Manhattan.
Almost immediately, Fuku was praised for its outstanding spicy chicken sandwich. The sandwich is a play on the simple chicken sandwiches that can be eaten at fast-food establishments across the country, but with some twists that make it unique. The sandwich contains a chicken thigh that’s marinated in habanero, covered in buttermilk and a blend of spices, and then deep-fried to near-perfection before being served on a standard potato roll with pickles and butter. The end result is a juicy, crispy, delicious chicken sandwich experience that immediately jumped into the “must-try” category for New Yorkers. Shortly after the opening of Fuku, both Madison Square Garden and Citi Field—home of the New York Mets baseball team—roped in franchises for their stadiums, making Fuku a standard food item at sporting events and concerts at either building.
. . .Fast forward a few years, and all it takes is an advertisement on a digital board for fans to go wild, almost as if they’ve never eaten a spicy chicken sandwich before. It’s not like this sandwich is new—Fuku opened in 2015, and the MSG location outside of section 119 opened in January 2016. This means the vendor was open for the entirety of Phish’s four-night 2016 New Year’s run, during which there were four set breaks where you could’ve purchased and eaten a spicy chicken sandwich from Fuku. Also, there is a debatably better spicy chicken sandwich from another notable chef—Jean Georges Vongerichten—at his booth called Jean Georges Simply Chicken, which has multiple locations around Madison Square Garden. Simply Chicken features a grilled chicken breast, fried onions, spicy aioli, basil, and pickles for a much more flavorful (and non-fried) experience.
Whatever your opinion on the great chicken sandwich debate of 2017, the reality is both options are awesome for stadium food. Madison Square Garden is offering the sandwiches at Fuku and Simply Chicken—along with the rest of the food items located in the concourse outside of the 100 level—for a full hour before the show starts each evening for half-off. Discounted food, multiple delicious chicken sandwich options, confused out-of-town fans, and two sets and an encore of Phish tunes. . . Sounds like a good time to us!
[Photo: Courtesy of David Chang/Fuku]