Do you think saying “Have a jolly day!” to hundreds of customers over the course of a shift would cause one to be suicidal? While not as forced and tacky as “Welcome to Moe’s!”, employees of Jollibee do just that to every single customer in their drive-through line (and presumably inside when inside dining is available). While I detected a tinge of joy in the gentleman’s voice as he greeted our car with well-wishes and then sent us on our way with more, I just had to feel bad for the guy repeating the same script over and over again. I don’t usually review chains and even more rare than that tackle fast food, but since Jollibee is relatively new and causing quite a commotion, I could not pass up the opportunity to stop by while driving through the Edison area. In some ways, the place is like a cartoon. The renaming of chicken as “Chickenjoy”, the brand’s logo, and of course the “Have a jolly day!” all will make you feel that you are not just paying for food, but for an experience. And how was the food, you may be wondering? Well, some reviews really do write themselves.
Jollibee is known for two things: fried chicken and spaghetti, but more so of the former. They are a wildly popular Filipino chain that is slowly making its way into the United States. While anyone could go for their fried chicken, some of the other menu items are more of an acquired taste. However, given the demographics of Edison, this was a great place to put a Jollibee. There is almost every kind of food known to civilization in the area, so why not a restaurant where you can get pasta topped with hot dogs and call it a “cultural experience”? That brings me to an important note in this review: there is a difference between “not good” and “not my thing”. While the meal you are about to read about is not exactly reviewed with positivity, there are probably equal numbers of people who would agree with me as there are who would dive right in. Where do we start?
Let’s begin with the reason why most people go, and that is the fried chicken. Justin and I had just finished helping his dad move and were exhausted after seven hours of physical labor. We wanted something to take the edge off our hunger without necessarily going crazy. So, we ordered a three-piece chicken combo to share as well as the “Jolly Spaghetti”. The chicken itself would end up being fine, although there was not much flavor to speak of. As salty as it was, it did not taste of anything. This was a shame, because the pieces were dinosaur-like in size, meaty, and very tender. The outer layer of breading was crispy and not greasy at all. It looked and smelled amazing. Then came the first bite, and it was a let down. We should have ordered a smaller size (judging by the menu at quick glance, the increments are one piece, two, three, six, and ten).
Our side was a toss-up between rice and fries, and I stupidly chose fries. They were cold, limp, soggy, and gross. I ate two or three: one au naturale and the other dipped into a brown gravy-like concoction they gave on the side. This was gag-inducing, and the worst component of the entire meal. It was thick, lukewarm, and tasted like flour, water, and Gravy Master–I suppose the gravy could find a home covering a Thanksgiving dinner at Rikers Island.
And now to the “Jolly Spaghetti”, which was anything but jolly unless you are a five-year-old who was just given run of the kitchen and thinks that under-cooked pasta, sweet ketchup-like tomato sauce, shredded cheese, and chopped up bits of hot dogs was a good idea. The spaghetti itself was so long and so al dente that perhaps I could have hung myself with a strand of it– maybe right next to the guy that has to say “Have a jolly day!” a million times. The sauce was literally like ketchup, both in the amount of sugar and its consistency. The cheese might as well have come from another planet. The hot dogs were an interesting touch. Some pieces of it were tiny cubes while others were more pronounced slices that made it possible to determine that they were actually hot dogs. Since eating this, I have read that there was also ground beef and ham in the sauce in addition to the hot dogs. I’m not feeling any better.
If it was 4 AM after a night of heavy drinking, self-loathing, and the need to punish oneself even further, the Jolly Spaghetti may be just what the doctor ordered. Even Justin and I, in between chews and complaints over how gnarly this was, found ourselves going back for more. It was eerily addicting. We actually finished more of this than the chicken. Maybe it was because we were starving. Maybe it was the obvious sugar in the sauce. Either way, that pasta is like an oncoming train wreck: you don’t want to see it but you cannot turn away either.
“Cultural thing” or not, I have a hard time with most of what I ate today. This comes from someone who has eaten at authentic Filipino restaurants and actually enjoys something called Dinuguan (look it up). So you can’t say that I don’t understand or I am being harsh with something I am not used to. I have four or five coworkers who live in Edison and have talked about the massive car lines to get in (some upwards of two hours). Jollibee can be considered quite a phenomenon because of this, but that does not make me want to try it again. The fact that the chicken was really perfectly cooked despite being tasteless saves their score, which I am putting at 2 out of 5 stars. It is what it is.
This Jollibee is located at 760 US-1 in Edison, NJ.