Quarter chicken, white, with fries and an extra dipping sauce. That’s my standard Swiss Chalet order and has been for as long as I can remember. I may be projecting but I think that just about every Canadian who grew up in a part of the country that has Swiss Chalet franchises can rhyme theirs off in less than four seconds.
A couple weeks ago I was invited to a dinner at the location near Ryerson so that we could tour the kitchen, ask questions, and most of all try the new menu items that the chain is promoting under the “Fresh Impressions” banner.
The thinking here is that they recognise they have the taking-grandma-out-for-dinner market locked down but would like a (bigger) slice of the spendthrift-20-somethings-on-dates market. The first prong to the strategy is trying to bring new menu items like the chicken wings (mild, medium, hot, or chalet dipping sauce) new entree salads (Sweet Heat featuring chicken in Tangy Thai sauce, and West Coast with the chicken in a spring herb dressing), and flatbreads (Hickory and Southwest Chicken) into the spotlight with the standbys. Existing options like the chicken spring rolls (that we each got to make an order of) and the garlic cheese loaf are parts of the something-for-everyone menu.
The second tactic–that holds more on-paper appeal for me–is an August tour by the Swiss Chalet food truck. From the roaming truck they’re distributing samples of two of the menu’s strong mainstays: the fries and the dipping sauce. The fries seem changed from my childhood when they were a bit sweeter, had a touch more potato flavour and were less focused on super crispiness but the sauce is the same. The secret recipe in all of its familiar, campy glory tastes a little bit of every spice and is thick and hot and therefore just what chicken cooked to absolute safety needs.
It comes to the restaurants in the same powdered form that you can buy it in grocery stores. But if you’d like to make it at home and tweak it to your tastes this post claims to reveal the secret. I haven’t tried the recipe (yet) but the comments seem positive that it’s at least in the ballpark.
An interesting trivia question from the event’s press kit: What time does the heritage placemat menu list as the daily closing time for the original Swiss Chalet location on Bloor across from Varsity Stadium? The menu doesn’t say what year it was printed but I’m guessing from the prices (tomato juice for a dime, a chicken sandwich for sixty cents, and ice cream for fifteen), Hardy Boys style illustrations, and that it announces the home delivery option (started in 1961) that it’s early sixties.
Here’s another piece of trivia: for every 10 chickens produced in Canada, Swiss Chalet buys one of them. They’re all Canada grade A, grain-fed birds from farms local to the franchise, where possible, but it strikes me that anyone wanting to change the treatment of chickens raised for meat in Canada should start by appealing to Swiss Chalet.
I’m not sure about the new menu items but I like that the Fresh Impressions campaign also focuses on menu items that I remember fondly. What’s with the extra sauce in my standard order? I know I’m risking over-sharing here but let’s just say that it comes in a cup with a sipping-hole lid and tastes like spicy, warming, chicken-y coffee.