Worth a Try: Chicken Salad

chicken salad spots

Chicken salad has been a staple on Southern lunch menus for generations, and while it’s hard to beat your mama’s chicken salad, these chicken salad spots sure do come close.

Chicken Salad Chick, multiple locations across the South

Chicken Salad Chick came out of Stacy Brown’s desire to find the perfect chicken salad. After trying every chicken salad she came across, Brown began working in her kitchen to come up with the perfect recipe. When she was sure she had created it, she began selling it out of her home. She opened her first store in Auburn and now has 26 locations and 15 flavors of chicken salad. The Classic Carol is the one that started it all, but other popular flavors include the Jazzy Julie, Fancy Nancy, and Sassy Scotty.


Café at Pharr, Atlanta, Georgia

Café at Pharr originally opened as a bakery, but with business being slow, the owners decided to change things up by phasing out the pastries and adding healthy sandwiches, salads, and soups. The café now has six locations and is known for their award-winning chicken salad, offered in three varieties: celery, walnut, and curry. All are served either on freshly baked bread or atop a green salad with a ginger dressing: a secret family recipe of the owners. The most popular is the Walnut Chicken Salad, which consists of white meat chicken mixed with walnuts, golden raisins, and mayonnaise.

The Picnic Café, Nashville, Tennessee

With white picket fences surrounding tables covered in blue and white tablecloths, The Picnic Café is the kind of place you’d imagine having the quintessential chicken salad—and they do. In a story very similar to Paula Deen’s, owner Kathy Bonnet sold her chicken salad sandwiches door to door. Eventually they become so popular that she was able to open the café, which has been in business for 30 years. About 200 pounds of chicken salad is made each day using Kathy’s original recipe featuring celery, eggs, and always Hellman’s mayonnaise.


The Gristmill, New Braunfels, Texas

Located in the Gruene Historic District, The Gristmill was opened in a restored cotton gin in 1977. Starting out with a “Texas Casual” menu, the restaurant served hamburgers and chicken fried steaks along with other hearty dishes. Eventually, owner Pat Molak decided to lighten things up a bit and offer lunch fare, and along came their chicken salad with its Texas flair. The salad uses chicken fajita meat, bacon, dill relish, celery, and mayonnaise. It’s chunky, a little bit spicy, and the best chicken salad you’ll find ‘round these parts.


Midtown Market, Danville, Virginia

Midtown Market is a little grocery store with a lot to offer. Built in 1921, the market still stands in the same one-story wood building and offers everything from dairy to fresh produce to a full-service meat department. Their chicken salad recipe came about in 1964 and is made in the kitchen on site every day. Owner Jan Harris estimates they make about 200 to 300 pounds of it every day. Using basic chicken salad ingredients, it’s the same recipe that has kept people coming back generation after generation.  

Stew Leonard’s, Norwalk, Connecticut

Stew Leonard’s was founded as a small dairy store in 1969 but has grown to become a world-renowned grocery store with multiple locations due to their excellent customer service and product quality. And that same quality can be found in their chicken salad. Using finely shredded chicken, mayonnaise, black pepper, and celery and onions from the store’s produce department, the freshness of the ingredients is what makes it so good. You can also try it in variations including Buffalo Chicken Salad, Sonoma Chicken Salad, and Bacon-Ranch Chicken Salad.


Robert’s Market, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Robert’s Market, Wrightsville Beach’s oldest store, has been selling their famous chicken salad for almost 100 years. Established in 1919, Robert’s still uses the original recipe, which features chicken, mayonnaise, celery, and as co-owner Jerry Allen Lachman likes to say, “a little bit of magic.” With the chicken salad in high demand, Robert’s struck a deal in 2008 with grocery store chain Harris Teeter to sell their chicken salad in all of their stores throughout the country. Pick up a tub, and see what the magic is all about.

Deer Valley Grocery Café, Park City, Utah

Deer Valley Grocery Café, located in Deer Valley Ski Resort, has become known for their signature Tandoori Chicken Curry Salad. The chicken is marinated in a blend of spices including ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, and fresh mint and is combined with mango chutney, almonds, dried cranberries, and Napa cabbage slaw. You can order the salad in a wrap, on the side, or as a to-go item. This chicken salad is a flavorful change from the ordinary, making it a popular choice with both locals and visitors.


Camille’s Restaurant, Key West, Florida

In a little pink building with pink awnings and tangerine-colored walls inside, Camille’s is a funky Key West joint with the best chicken salad on the island. What’s their secret? Boiling fresh whole chickens and using that meat for the most tender, moist chicken possible. The chicken is then combined with Hellman’s mayonniase, grainy Dijon mustard, and raisins and served on a croissant, 12-grain bread, or lettuce on a platter. It’s a unique sweet-and-savory recipe that owners Michael and Denise Chelekis have been serving up for more than 25 years.

The Rolling Pin Café, Westwood, New Jersey

Located in the charming little town of Westwood, The Rolling Pin Café is a 25-seat café that aims to serve the homey, comforting food that people remember their grandmothers making. With a menu of salad, soups, and sandwiches, the food isn’t pretentious but is simply delicious. The café’s Herb-Roasted Chicken Salad features white meat chicken roasted with rosemary and thyme and then mixed with mayonniase, red onions, carrots, and celery. And make sure to try one of the day’s homemade scones; owner Matt Foley was previously a pastry chef. 

Photos courtesy of Sara Hanna Photography, The Picnic Café, The Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar, Stew Leonard’s, and Deer Valley Grocery Café

This content was originally published in the March/April 2015 issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine. © 2015 Hoffman Media