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
Raising Cane's does not disclose nutrition information