GOING BIG: Big Chicken in Springdale is open. Memory Light

Shaquille O’Neal — yes, the 7’1” Hall of Fame basketball player — founded a fast food restaurant in 2018 called Big Chicken, and the chain recently expanded to Arkansas. Little Rock was apparently left out of the blueprint, but both Fayetteville and Springdale scored an eatery.

Admittedly, the Arkansas Times staff rarely makes it up to the northwest corner of the state these days, and our lack of Big Chicken coverage was sparking some internal panic. And then on a random Thursday, a friend of mine sent this glorious text:

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“I’m pretty ravenous right now and I am about to go and try this new chicken place that I think is owned by Shaq or something,” texted Memory Light, who lives in Northwest Arkansas.

Shaq’s Big Chicken goes big. You don’t even have to visit to know this; it’s evident from the restaurant’s website and social media. Take, for instance, their posts about the Shaq Attack chicken sandwich, which comes piled high with pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slaw, spicy chipotle barbecue sauce and the option to add guacamole. Somehow this combination of flavors seems to be on the tame side for some of the other sandwiches that are topped with mac and cheese, crispy fried onions, roasted garlic barbecue aioli and Buffalo hot sauce.

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The fries come crinkle cut and are in the running to become Light’s favorite fast food fry, she said. Other side options include dirty fries — slender cut potatoes topped with bacon, cheese sauce and banana peppers — mac and cheese with “cheez it crust” and jalapeno slaw.

The selection of sweet treats seems pretty good, too. Both sundaes and shakes are available. The regular shakes hit all the typical sweet tooth cravings with peanut butter chip, salted caramel, double chocolate and cookies and cream. Classic sundaes are up for grabs, as are ones with cookie and brownie toppings.

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Light decided to forgo a formal restaurant review, so enjoy this play-by-play coverage from the perspective of texts between two 25-year-olds, and then some closing thoughts.

Light: Shaquille’s place is somewhat expensive but I wanted the first impression to really land so I ordered up.

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Me: Going big!

Light: I think I just paid $19 for a combo with some limited time shake they are offering.

Me: Are you eating inside / what’s the vibe?

Light: There’s like nobody here so I feel a little silly going in … it’s a specialty strawberry shortcake shake.

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Light: I think this specific location is in kind of an odd spot because it’s literally right next to a Slim [Chickens] and a Chick-Fil-A, but I still came so.

Me: That’s like a chicken corridor. Are you in Fayetteville?

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Light: This one is in Springdale but I do think there’s a location opening up in Fayetteville on [Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard] if it’s not already open.

Light: Shake machine is down unfortunately.

Me: Is this McDonald’s or what?

Light: The attendant told me it was really good and for me to come back and get it. I got the Shaq Attack because it was the only one with his name on it so it seemed like it was probably the most recommended one. The sandwich is big. I would say it’s pretty good and I would definitely try something else from them. It doesn’t really taste like fast food, which is good I think.

Light: It was supposed to have avocado added to it because they have that on the menu as a random substitution, and I thought why not, but it’s not on here. It’s basically like a barbecue chicken sandwich. Just got cheese and slaw and peppers and barbecue on it. 

Light: It’s like a solid 7.5 out of 10. But probably would be at least a point higher if they had given me my complete correct order. 

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Along with the missed avocado and shake, Light also said she didn’t receive any dipping sauce for her fries. She said the fries fell somewhere between a true crinkle cut and a steak fry and came golden brown with a “nearly perfect crisp to potato ratio. Just lightly salted, they’re certain to be great for dipping if I can actually get my hands on one of their side sauces,” Light said.

Light, a born and raised southern girl, ordered sweet tea with her meal.

“This is the South and people are choosy about sweet tea,” she said. “Tea just feels right with chicken, so it’s what I ordered when I was informed that the ‘ice cream machine was down’ and my dreams of trying the limited time only strawberry shortcake shake were dashed. The floral and not very sweet drink I received was not my cup of tea, but it may be yours.”

Her remarks on the chicken sandwich itself aligned with the 7.5/10 rating she gave via text. The chicken was both crispy and juicy, and the barbecue sauce that topped it was sweet and tangy, Light said. 

“The amount of sauce on the sandwich, however, overwhelms any other flavor profile,” she said. “A little disappointing, but too much sauce is not surprising from a new chain that is marketing itself as a spot that exaggerates scale.”

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