Fast Casual Review: Chicken Fingerz and Fries from Zaxby’s
I have always fancied myself as a chicken finger aficionado.
To state anything else would be to deny my very roots in eating out. Flash back 17 years and you’ll not only find images of me chowing down on fried chicken tenders at TGIFriday’s, but you’ll see gobbling up Chicken McNuggets at McDonald’s and dunking fries into ketchup at every chain from here to Kalamazoo. Grilled chicken and non fried potato products? Please. I still remembering pushing back grilled chicken from Bennigan’s, and refusing to eat any kind of mashed spud. No sir, only the crispy, salty, and juicy meat of chicken fingers would do, and only seasoned fries with fluffy interiors could suffice.
…and I have Zaxby’s to thank for that. The fast casual chain, based out of the southeastern United States and specializing in chicken fingers and crinkle cut fries, recently opened its 500th store and celebrated its 20th anniversary. I don’t get down past the Virginia state line too often (heck, I don’t get out of my house or work that often), but on a recent trip to South Carolina to cover a football game I stopped at a Zaxby’s, lured by your promises of juicy chicken fingers (or, as they say, ‘fingerz’) and perfectly cooked fries.
Those promises were right on the money. I may have ordered a five piece order of Zaxby’s famous Chicken Fingerz, but if I could do it all again, I’d probably order three times as much. The Chicken Fingerz were just that good. Warm, slightly greasy, but adorned by crispy breading that’s not in the least bit burnt, the fingers come in perfectly portioned three to four-bite strips that give new meaning to the adjectives “juicy” and “moist.”
You know how they say really juicy chicken makes your mouth water? Well yeah, this is exactly what they’re talking about. The taste is clean and fresh with strong notes of onion and garlic, with a slightly sweet finish that leaves you salivating. Unlike most chicken, the salt level is restrained but respectful, neither detracting from the meat nor overpowering the taste. But above all, it’s that juicy bite and the intermittent crisp edges which leave me licking my fingers (or should I say, ‘fingerz’).
I usually don’t go for Soybean Oil based sauces, which all too often just add fat and calories without contributing anything to the taste of the chicken. But in the case of Zaxby’s signature sauce, you’d be smart to throw nutrition out the window and dip into the “Zax Sauce”. The sauce has a kind of tangy, somewhat spicy sweetness that has good bite. It seems like an oxymoron to say a sauce has good “bite,” but within it I find the best of mayo, ketchup, and even a spicy mustard, with the viscosity neither too runny nor thick to get in the way of each bite of the finger licking chicken fingers. I’m also a big fan of their Buffalo sauce, which has several different notes of spice and doesn’t strike me as the overly cayenne based empty heat that even my beloved Chick-fil-A falls back on.
A final word on the fries is in order, because while they look like something you might have eaten in your third grade cafeteria, their taste and texture quickly will quickly send any negative connotations of crinkle cut fries out the window. While not as crisp as say, McDonald’s fries, they resist sogginess remarkably well, and above all display only the highest degree of earthly-sweet potato flavor. The seasoning – again reserved – is a bit sweet and a tad salty, like seasoned salt mixed in with some smoked crystals of superfine sugar. The interiors are perfectly fluffy and the fries consistent - a rarity in fast food, and a worthy caloric price to pay for a side which gives new meaning to the world premium.
About the only negative I can think of about Zaxby’s is the sauce charge. It’s apparently 25 cents per sauce packet, and having not been given the foreknowledge of this small detail, I mistakenly asked the dude at the counter for “a bunch of all your sauces ’cause I don’t get out a whole lot.” Basically, this is like giving a blank check to the company, and while my college-aged friend didn’t destroy my own limited supply of funds, he did go ahead and add six sauce packets to be charged. Seeing as though I only had five fingers and was digging the Zaxby’s sauce so much, I didn’t even get around to the BBQ or Mustard sauces. And while I’ll gladly take Zaxby’s Fingerz to Chick-fil-A’s over-salty rendition, I can’t help but applaud Chick-fil-A’s ”we come bringing gifts” sauce policy. Come on Mr. Zaxby’s Chicken Man; If you have a great product and your customers love you, show them some love!
All told, there are few things which would ever cause me to consider moving to the South. After a weekend filled with the arrogance (yup, arrogance) of SEC football fans, I’m not likely to change that attitude, but for Zaxby’s, a yearly special occasion trip to the southeast may be in order. Next time, I’ll just be hoping for a better outcome on the other end of things.
Pros: Chicken fingerz have both crispy and savory texture. Finger licking good aspect gives new meaning to the word "juicy." Garlic and onion flavor does not overpower, and allows for Zaxby's signature sauce to shine. Fries have pillowy interiors with incredible flavor and just enough seasoning to keep you coming back for more. Novelty and nostalgia of crinkle cut fries that don't suck.
Cons: Fingerz are a tad greasy. Sauce is heavy on calories (180) per packet. French fry portions are a little small and slightly greasy. SEC football arrogance.
Grubbing on-the-go: 6.50/10
Price: $3.99 for 5-piece chicken finger order. $1.49 for regular crinkle-cut fries. $0.25 for additional sauces.
Overall GrubGrade: 9.00 (Exceptional)
5 piece chicken fingers with Zaxby's sauce
Total Fat: 39 grams
Saturated Fat: 6 grams
Cholesterol: 130 mg
Sodium: 1890 mg
Total Carbs: 19 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
Sugars: 4 grams
Protein: 46 grams