Fast Casual Review: Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Fries

Following my visit last month to the veritable “Chicken Finger Emporium” known as Zaxby’s , a number of you advised me to give fellow chicken tender fast casual concept Raising Cane’s a try. Canes, as some of you know, recently celebrated the opening of its 100th restaurant in the U.S. (some 15 years after first opening its doors right around the corner from LSU) and currently has locations in 18 states. Based around a simple menu concept emphasizing”high quality chicken fingers,” Cane’s promises a sublime poultry tasting experience with three basic tenets:

  • 100% premium chicken tenderloins
  • A 24-hour marinade that keeps the chicken “juicy”
  • Fresh, never frozen chicken

Aside from chicken fingers, Cane’s serves up a “homemade’ dipping sauce, crinkle cut fries, coleslaw, and Texas Toast brushed with butter and grilled on a flat-top grill. Needless to say, it sounds an awful lot like Zaxby’s – right on down to the college town ambiance of each unit. A number of GrubGrade readers actually indicated Cane’s chicken and sauce was nearly identical to Zaxby’s, although one or two of you did point out the same “fresh, never frozen” marketing spiel I received when ordering at Cane’s.

Not that I dislike a good spiel. Actually, I enjoy one, and appreciated the friendly conversation from the young lady behind the counter at Cane’s while I waited for an order of those fresh, never-frozen chicken fingers, as well as a side of crinkle cut fries.

First up were the Chicken Fingers. You can get them in one of Cane’s predesigned Combo boxes, but you can also get them a la carte for 99 cents (I ordered two) or in Tailgate Boxes of 25, 50, 75, or 100 pieces. However you choose to get them, they come steaming hot and definitely fresh. One might say they’re almost a little too hot, but I suppose that makes the appeal of condiments all the more enticing. When it comes to the breading, it was not as crispy as I expected. Mild and corn-flake like, it doesn’t have much of a crunch, and is a tad too oily for my liking. Taste-wise, the first bite was remarkably juicy. It’s the kind of make-your-mouth water sensation that qualifies as a flavor in and of itself, and one which you can’t help savor. Compared to Zaxby’s I thought the tenders were actually a bit juicier, although the flavor is remarkably similar in terms of the light hints of black pepper, garlic and onion. Slightly larger in size from my Zaxby’s “Fingerz” of last month, the two Cane’s fingers didn’t have the same kind of crisp end-bits I received (and loved) from Zaxby’s.

Notice how I said “light” garlic and onion taste. While there’s a sort of natural sweetness that comes through in the texture of the all white-meat fingers and their breading, the fingers themselves seemed undersalted and a tad bit bland. A word about sauces is now in order, because it seems like few issues are as contentious here at GrubGrade than sauce preference. I belive in a sauce cognition theory with the premise that the first encountered sauce for any given food usually remains an individual’s favorite sauce for said product that individual’s entire life. Whenever I go to places like Cane’s or Zaxby’s, people always tell me to get the “signature” sauce. Usually a soybean or mayo based sauce with some sweetness, tang, and pepper, these sauces are all just variations of Thousand Island dressing. In other words, Cane’s sauce is good, but it’s not great, and I really couldn’t distinguish it from Zaxby’s sauce or any of the other “secret” sauces that dot the menus of every quick-serve food chain in America.

After nibbling on a chicken finger, I found the scientifically proven combination of sugar + salt + tomato paste (ie. ketchup) that I grew up eating chicken fingers with to provide both the cooling effect and the flavor that were needed to balance the hot and juicy fingers.

When it comes to the fries, I had mixed feelings. Crinkle cut fries almost never seem to be as crisp as I like, yet these were skinny crinkle cut fries that delivered a completely unprecedented level of crispness (on the level of In-N-Out’s ‘extra crispy’ request). Not a single fry was soggy or too oily — which I liked — even I have to admit they were too crisp. Instead of tearing the fries you get a complete break, and because of how skinny they are, they lack that fluffy and starchy interior that often raises the simple spud to perfection. I thought they also lacked salt, and the absence of seasoning (especially when compared to Zaxby’s) left them as a slight disappointment for me.

I love the idea of Raising Cane’s and really dig the atmosphere. The whole sports fan and college town “feel” cultivated by the chain is the kind of fast casual concept built for 20-something dudes like me, and the nostalgia aspect of chicken fingers cannot be topped. Likewise, this place is Exhibit A for why the phrase “mouth watering” is used to describe poultry, and all told, I almost enjoyed the fingers as much as Zaxby’s. But not quite, and given that the breading was a bit of a letdown and the fries suffer some defects, I can’t help but favor Zaxby’s over Raising Cane’s when I’m looking to get my chicken finger and french fry fix.

Pros: College town atmosphere. Friendly service. Juiciest poultry product I've ever had in my life. A la carte ordering. Fresh and hot.

Cons: Chicken fingers can be bland on their own. Breading lacks variety and true crisp. Fries a little too crispy and lack seasoning and bursting potato flavor. No nutrition info for products. Signature sauce is run-of-the-mill. Not as good as Zaxby's.

Taste: 7.75 Chicken Fingers, 7.00 Crinkle Cut French Fries
Value: 7.00 Chicken Fingers, 8.00 Crinkle Cut French Fries
Grubbing on-the-go: 8.00 Chicken Fingers, 8.50 Crinkle Cut French Fries
Price: Chicken Fingers 99 cents a la carte, Crinkle Cut French Fries $1.49 for a regular order

Overall GrubGrade: 7.75 (Good) Chicken Fingers, 7.00 Crinkle Cut French Fries

Nutrition Facts:
Raising Cane's does not disclose nutrition information

14 comments on “Fast Casual Review: Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Fries

  1. LauraFizzPop says:

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that thinks Canes is slightly overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re better than average, but I don’t get the rabidness of it’s fans. I agree that Zaxby’s seems just a wee bit better in the big picture.

    In fact, the only thing I disagree with in this review is the sauce. That sauce, while it may be familiar, is something that I CRAVE. If you put that stuff on styrofoam I’d eat all of it, with a big smile too.

  2. Rusty Shackleford says:

    I’ve only eaten there once, was expecting good things, but the chicken fingers were overbreaded and seemed little more than gristle with hardly any meat. I mean, it tasted about as good as overbreaded chicken fat can taste, but still.. I might’ve just gone on an off day or something, but it was enough that I’ve never felt the urge to go back.

  3. Raiders757 says:

    Love the last pic. It’s nice to see the UVA logo get some love, instead of the VT crap that’s scattered all over my area ever since the bandwagon filled up during and after the scumbag Vick years. UVA is a college with class, while VT is just another ho hum college who offers up basket weaving scholarships in order to have a decent football team, and rake in lots of cash while not giving a damn if their players really get an education.

    Nice review a swell, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this place.

    • Adam says:

      Yea, London does it the right way to. Gotta love that the Hoos are bowl bound this year, and even have a shot at the ACC Title!

    • Scott says:

      Keep on rationalizing your perenially terrible football team. I’m sure they’re all too busy quoting MacBeth to learn how to run a pattern. But congrats on managing to be bowl-eligible this year.

    • Bob says:

      LOL….yes, and your post shows the “class” UVA has. Congrats on another tire bowl appearance in December. And the location of this picture is in Charlottesville on 29…thus the UVA stuff. The owner is a LSU fan but figured he could get some people to eat there with some local flavor.

  4. larry says:

    Nice review Adam. I won’t beat a dead horse about my take on tasteless chicken strips or zaxbys/canes using the same recipe book. ;-)

    Different strokes for different folks and all that but I just think that the bar for something even as simple as chicken strips has been lowered to nearly tasteless being ok. I’ve had good chicken strips that were flavorful and fresh. No sauce necessary.

    I’m not even saying that canezbys food is bad because it’s not. It’s just hot, (usually) fresh chicken that requires the dipping of your favorite sauce to provide most of the flavor.

    Opinions vary!

    (McDonalds sells a boat load of food not because it’s good but because it’s fast, familiar, and relatively cheap with a quarter pounder (royale with cheese to some) meal going for around $6. But Ruths Chris serves a burger and fries in their lounge for $6 during happy hour. I know where my $6 goes every chance I get.)

  5. Chefprotoss says:

    I have never been to either, but how do they compare to popeyes tenders?

  6. Kate says:

    Is that my hometown branch I spy? Yes it is. The UVA logo is a dead giveaway.

    I can’t speak from a fully informed perspective. I’m not big on fried food much of the time, so I view Raising Cane’s as one of those rare instances that will wear me down and actually eat chicken fingers. Since you chose the Charlottesville outpost, you’ll know that we don’t actually have a Zaxby’s,so even if that chain is crunchier and better seasoned, we wouldn’t exactly know about it. So, left unchallenged, we have Raising Canes, and we really don’t mind one bit.

    I’m sure I’d love them both.

    P.S. How did you manage to leave out the Texas Toast? What is THAT nonsense?

    • Adam says:

      I just don’t ‘get’ Texas Toast. It’s just overbuttered, hearty white bread in my mind. I can make that at home. Fries and chicken tenders? Not so much

  7. Justn says:

    I’d never heard of this place. I would like to give it a try even if the consensus is that it’s overrated.

  8. Roger C. says:

    Raising Cane’s is ok. The sauce is made fresh, but somehow, I preferred my own version that I made at home. It has Worcestershire sauce in it, which really adds something nice to it. The place I went to in Vegas was dirty and unmemorable. I like the concept. I would like to try it again. I would hope that the owner didn’t compromise on this place’s quality over time, because it seems like a great idea. My first visit just didn’t meet expectations.

  9. Allen Hall says:

    I have had issues with fast food shrinkage over the years and Canes has suddenly joined the crowd. I started eating at Canes a few years ago and the strips of chicken were decently sized. But for the past three months however, I have noticed the chicken slowly shrinking. It’s more like a nugget now. And with the recent introduction of the new smaller to-go box, the fries (which are not that great) are in much smaller portions now. To go along with your small portions of chicken