A glee of living in a town full of chefs is enjoying the elevation of the merely mortal into the gourmet. Even simple rearranging and staging–something Anthony Bordain and Sean Brock comically, and effectively, do with their plates at the Waffle House–elevate the food. The word ‘elevate’ can be a loaded term in certain quarters. For example, does Oaxacan cuisine need elevation with French techniques? Probably not. But what about a chicken salad sandwich?
In 2009, Molly Mills founded her catering company, Vanilla Orchid, after attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, chef’ing at Hudson’s on the Bend, and executive chef’ing in New Zealand and Big Salmon, Alaska. Vanilla Orchid, housed at Richcreek Plaza at 7433 Burnet, focuses on corporate catering (although they have home -catering options and holiday specials).
As the story goes, Molly prepared a chicken salad sandwich for her husband and business partner, Ivan, that prompted a that’s-the-best-damn-sammich-I’ve-ever-had response. She then spent a year perfecting recipes before favorably presenting a menu to her board of advisors for comment on opening up a restaurant. The next day, covid closed Austin.
Instead of a sit-down restaurant, Molly and Ivan opened a ghost kitchen serving her sandwiches for take-out under the name Chicken Salad Shoppe. The Shoppe offers sandwiches, wraps, and chicken salad on salad if you want to avoid the carbs. For the veg-heads, the Shoppe subs chickpeas for chicken. There are veggies, soups, and pasta for sides as well as chips and desserts. If you have rugrats, there’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on banana bread. You can buy bulk as well for a (less than 10 people) shindig.
I can’t say that I’ve ever woken up and said to myself “I’m gettin’ a chicken salad sammich today!” The only time I partake of the salade du poulette is when its bland machinations are forced upon me at corporate-catered events (clearly not catered by Vanilla Orchid!). But, as I stated earlier, there’s nothing like a chef taking the humdrum and beating a new rhythm into it.
The Texan (fried chicken salad with bourbon peaches, BBQ pecans, and bacon and jalapeno jelly; $9 with an added tomato slice; $0.35) was a sammich to behold with tiny diced chunks of lightly fried chicken breast and pecans heaped between two slices of Texas toast. The chicken salad tumbled from the edges like lemmings on an island, the toasted crunch of the thick bread perfectly complementing the soft, granular ingredients inside. The jalapeno in the bacon and jalapeno jelly has a noticeable bit of rattlesnake bite in it, surprising in a town of tonguewimps but admirable. I don’t know if this was the best sandwich I’ve ever had, but it is, by orders of magnitude, the best chicken salad sandwich I’ve ever had.
The Chipotle Chicken Salad Sandwich with the recommended sun-dried tomato wrap (grilled chicken salad with dried apricots, toasted pepitas, chipotle; $8) was also snakebit, this time with chipotle. Again, major props to Molly for actually delivering spicy ingredients with their spice. We didn’t get the Big Blue (grilled chicken salad, dried blueberries, and toasted pecans; $8.5) on the recommended fluffy croissant (may not have been available at the time we ordered?), and that was a mistake. The sandwich was fine but would have been spectacular on the croissant. Always (always) (1) listen to Dr. Fauci and (2) go with what the chef recommends (and Molly provides a bread/wrap recommendation for each sandwich). With each sandwich, you have a dozen or so choices for extra ingredients, including dipping sauces, such as cherry pepper relish and other hot sauces. But, again: start with what Molly recommends.
If chicken salad ain’t necessarily your thing, then you gotta try one (or all!) of the remarkable Texas-Sized Monster Cookies, each clocking in at half a pound. We ordered the Caramel Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie ($6.15; gluten-free option available) and were amazed at its size as well as the orgasmic wash of chocolate, salted caramel, toffee, and pretzels. The Shoppe also offers a Nutella-stuffed cookie, a strawberry cheesecake stuffed sugar cookie, and cookies bequeathed with the titles of Queen Debby, Grasshopper, and King Bubba. I don’t recommend eating one by yourself in a sitting (although one would be great company while doomscrolling).
The Shoppe focuses on lunch (including early and late lunches), taking orders from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday.
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)