Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers

Raising Cane’s- Cane’s for short- is considered a staple food in the Midwest; fans of the chicken fingers joint just rave and rave and rave. I visited the Columbus location on two separate occasions to acquaint myself with what I thought would be a game-changer in the fast food industry.

Now with over 300 locations in 3 countries, the ‘fast casual restaurant’ had humble and rather inspiring beginnings. Conceived via a business plan writing course at the Louisiana State University by Todd Graves and Craig Silvey, the idea was initially rejected by banks and investors alike. Undeterred, Graves set out to make a small fortune to begin constructing his mini-empire, working 90 hour weeks in hazardous conditions. Eventually he was able to renovate and open his first store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Needless to say it was an instant success.

My favorite bit about the story is how Graves’ brainchild got its name;  its not simply a name but a legacy- the legacy of a dog. Graves’ had a yellow Labrador called ‘Raising Cane’, who was an ever-present source of support when Graves was personally constructing the restaurant. The dog died, and Graves’ wife got him another yellow lab, whom he called ‘Raising Cane II.’ Pictures of both dogs, sometimes in sunglasses and sometimes goofily gazing at the camera are often plastered on-site, accounting for a refreshing and striking take on a fast food chain. Raising Cane II is still alive.

To the chicken, then.

The menu is simple; chicken fingers, chicken fingers in a sandwich, Texas toast, crinkle-cut fries, Cane’s sauce, and iced tea (other generic refreshments are available). I tried The 3 Finger Combo on my first visit, and The Caniac Combo the second time around. Both combos contain chicken fingers, Texas toast, crinkle-cut fries and Cane’s sauce, along with a choice of drink. The 3 Finger Combo has, well.. 3 chicken fingers, whereas the latter has six for a famished dude. The rest of the perks remain the same.

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Let me just say that the chicken is fantastic. Cane’s boasts that their chicken is never frozen and is cooked to order; in fact Cane’s does not own heat lamps. This is evident in the freshness of the meat and I absolutely love that. The chicken fingers are tender, moist, and jam-packed with flavor. The marinade is sublime, reminiscent of home-cooked chicken; each herb and spice permeates through to the meat and it’s truly a delight to nom on. There was the slight lack of a kick, however, a missing oomph factor that left a bit to be desired. This, in theory at least, should easily be remedied by the sauce.

The sauce, however disappointed me on several levels. Perhaps this is a reflection of my palette, which is attuned to fiery habanero and insane amounts of cayenne pepper. It seemed to me that it was a blend of Thousand Island dressing and ranch sauce. Sounds good? It was more like a creamier version of a sweet and sour sauce, and I avoided it like the plague. The people I came with almost disowned me, and not only finished the remainder of my sauces, but went to purchase additional ones from the counter. I’m clearly missing something here.

I’ve heard they have a hot sauce as well, and I’m an idiot for not trying it (even though it was not on the menu)- it may have been the fix that I was looking for. They also have a honey mustard sauce, something that I think will detract from the flavor of the chicken itself. I just need some heat.

The crinkle-cut fries, too, were an unexpected disappointment. Dry and over salted, they seemed to be there just for the sake of having a side. Though the serving size was plentiful, I had trouble even finishing a quarter of what I got. They began to taste like cardboard after the first few bites. People often resort to drenching the fries in the same sauce as the chicken, and since that wasn’t an option for me, I suffered quietly.

The Texas toast was phenomenal, and went very well with the chicken fingers. I made mini sandwiches, much like you would make mini burritos at Chipotle with a tortilla on the side. The toast was soft, generously buttered and perfectly salted, and I wish I had subbed my fries for another piece. It was that damn good. Hindsight is 20-20.

The iced tea was average. I had the unsweetened version and it lacked the tea aroma and flavor that I was craving, yet I don’t have much else to complain about on that front- to each his own.

My only regrets are ordering the fries and not trying the hot sauce- that being said, Cane’s blows most chicken joints out of the water. I went for the chicken and stayed for the Texas Toast, and suggest you do the same. There’s just something about comfort food.

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