At The Loyal, this super-sized sandwich isn’t Instagram bait. It’s how chef John Fraser feeds the restaurant industry.
John Fraser knows his New York City diners. The families and couples celebrating a special occasion at Dovetail on the Upper West Side. The post-shift 9-to-5’ers snacking on onion rings and khachapuri at Narcbar in the East Village. The hip, fashionable crowds cramming into Narcissa and Nix, also in the East Village, for smart takes on vegetables before “vegetable-forward” was really a thing.
So when the chef opened The Loyal in the West Village last fall, he noticed not only who came into his new neighborhood restaurant but how they varied throughout the night. The locals arriving early to slurp pasta. Boisterous groups right at prime time who make sport of dining at the latest and greatest restaurant. The last customers trickling in around 11 p.m.: fellow restaurant workers looking for something to eat right after a busy shift. And this last group is exactly who Fraser designed his larger-than-life fried chicken sandwich for.
“The way I thought of it was like this: If four of us got off of work, I would rush out to the bar and crave something shareable, salty and spicy,” says Fraser.
That led Fraser down the chicken nugget path—“There’s a lot of nostalgia around something ground and fried,” he says. He seasons ground dark meat with what you’d typically find in Italian sausages (fennel, coriander, white pepper) and coats it with chile-flecked breadcrumbs. After a dip in the deep fryer, Fraser lays on the accoutrements, each carefully thought out. Fat, horizontal discs of iceberg lettuce and white onion not only add texture but a bit of water to cool against the spices. A dill-pickle mayonnaise keeps the usual coins from slipping out of the sandwich. Smashed avocado lends fatty creaminess, while dehydrated tomato flakes provide umami. Four Hawaiian sweet rolls dictate your portion of the Frisbee-sized fried chicken. And finally, a swipe of Hellmann’s mustard, a childhood favorite of Fraser’s, brings the behemoth of a sandwich back in the nostalgic realm.
The tangy taste of Hellmann’s reminds Fraser of the mustard and salami sandwiches he grew up eating. Now at his own home, he’s expanded his mustard pantry with whole-grain, Dijon, nose-clearing Chinese mustards. But Hellmann’s is a must, both at home and at The Loyal, as a reminder of home and the kind of home Fraser is inviting fellow restaurant people into.
“New York closes earlier every year since 4 a.m. liquor licenses aren’t being renewed,” says Fraser. “But of all my restaurants, The Loyal stays open the latest. We’re making craveable dishes that we can hang our hats on without keeping the whole kitchen here until 2 a.m. We want to be a restaurant for our neighborhood.”
And Fraser’s clearly succeeding—one gigantic sandwich at a time.