Chicken Crossing owner and chef Seth Carter wants to reinvent fast food.
Instead of participating in an industry that pollutes the planet and makes its customers sick, his food cart on 6th Avenue is offering an alternative, where people have vegan choices and where the restaurant relies on and supports its community.
The star of Chicken Crossing is its fried chicken sandwich, which Carter says he created in 2010 while working as a chef at the now-closed Show Dogs in San Francisco. The sandwich grew in popularity there, attracting Guy Fieri to highlight it on a 2013 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “There’s flavor all over the board here,” Fieri said on the TV show when he tried it. “That’s like a Pink Floyd concert, man.”
In 2019, Carter moved back to Oregon, where he was born and raised, this time to Eugene, and says he received the blessing from Show Dogs to use the fried chicken sandwich at Chicken Crossing. The sandwich’s spice blend is similar to the South Asian qorma, he says, a flavor profile that includes cumin, turmeric, chili and pepper.
The menu includes a wildfire chicken sandwich, which Carter calls a form of protest art, as forest fire smoke makes a regular appearance during the summer months. Carter collects the restaurant’s vegetable waste and burns it into ash, which he uses as seasoning, an idea he got from watching TV cooking competitions. He combines the ash with jalapeño, garlic and mesquite and uses it as a marinade on the chicken. “It’s literally like a burned pine forest kind of flavor profile with the sweet smoked apple barbecue sauce that balances all of that flavor,” he says.
The menu offers two protein options: meat or plant-based. About eight years ago, Carter started a plant-based diet. He says he was borderline diabetic, and since then he feels a lot better. Although Eugene has several vegan eateries, he says having vegan options share a menu with meat is a way to get people to experiment with plant-based food. “There’s a better way to present plant-based food to people rather than forcing it down people’s throats and calling it vegan,” he says.
Chicken Crossing gets its meat from Mary’s Free Range Chicken, a California Central Valley farm that has received higher levels of animal welfare certification for humanely growing and handling its poultry. The rest of the restaurant’s ingredients are local, Carter says. The buns come from Reality Kitchen, spices from Mountain Rose Herbs, breading from Camas Mill and milk from Albany-based Royal Riverside Farm. “We’re community-based fast food,” he says. “Part of our mission is to create a better food supply chain, instead of ordering something that gets driven all the way across the country and creates a huge carbon footprint.”
Supporting the community goes past the menu and its food supply. For $12, customers can buy a meal for someone in need. Since opening in September 2022, the restaurant has given out about 400 free meals. “We feed as many people as we can,” he says. “Even if we don’t have any available, we usually give somebody some kind of food. We don’t want anybody to be hungry.”
With a goal of creating a healthier fast food restaurant, one that doesn’t drain the health of its customers and the planet, Carter has taken a first step with a cart in the Whiteaker. But he envisions the business growing, possibly even taking over former fast food buildings.
“I really want to spread it to more places so we can interrupt the fast food industry,” he says. “I would rather this be fully visible, on freeways, in downtowns as options.”
Chicken Crossing is at 904 W. 6th Avenue. Hours are noon to 8 pm Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. For more information, visit ChickenCrossingCafe.com.