Louisiana Spotlight: Raising Cane's and New Orleans Original Daiquiris
Traveling down to New Orleans a few weeks ago, I ate more than my fill of muffulettas and gumbo, oysters at every meal. But in between po' boys at Domilise's, fried alligator at Cochon, and video poker at Harrah's Casino, I wanted to check out some of the local fast food.
Sure, when you're traveling, first priority is to eat your way through a new city's specialities. But there are also chains in some states that you just won't find anywhere else. Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen is now a national chain—but the state's other contributions to the fast-food world may not be as widely known.
Back in the early '90s, an LSU student named Todd Graves wrote a business plan with a friend: a restaurant that only served chicken fingers. His professor gave it a C. Undaunted by the poor grade (like FedEx Founder and CEO Fred Smith before him), Graves opened the first Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers anyway. Now, there are locations all over the South, plus Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, and beyond.
Just about everything on the menu has you eating chicken fingers in some form of another, and when we tried the 3-Finger Meal (pictured at top)—three chicken fingers, fries, slaw, and Texas Toast—we were pleasantly surprised. The strips were small, but packed with flavor; the chicken tenderloin meat actually tastes like, well, chicken. The fried breading was light, very crisp, and not oily, and wasn't too heavy on the salt. Their crinkle-cut French Fries were a little more standard-issue, potatoes with a very light fry; not as big a hit. But we did like their special sauce: a peppery blend of ketchup, mayo, and, we guessed, Tony Chachere's seasoning. And the Texas Toast—a thick, fluffy bread slice brushed with butter and grilled to a gorgeous golden brown—was pretty remarkable. The restaurant we attended was clean, the service was speedy, and the cashiers all sported bright smiles; add to that a well-decorated interior, and you have an all-around great fast-food experience.
New Orleans Original Daiquiris
Okay, you'll find fried chicken fingers in other states. But where else will you find drive-through daiquiris? Yep: drive-through. New Orleans Original Daiquiris (or Fat Tuesday), like Raising Cane's, specializes in one area: alcoholic slushies. Unsurprisingly, you'll find them on Bourbon Street, as well as in strip malls and high-traffic areas all over the New Orleans area and beyond.
They offer a range of flavors beyond what you might consider a daiquiri—mojito, blue lemonade, "Mardi Gras Mash." Some, like the blue lemonade, taste more like Windex than anything you'd want to drink—but others taste far more like, well, real cocktails than you'd expect. My favorite by far was the mojito, which wasn't overpoweringly sweet, tasting of mint and lime.
You'd think an establishment like that would be populated exclusively by drunks and college kids; however, in true NOLA style, the "Daq Shack" sees all types, from businessmen to construction workers, from tourists to young mothers. (And in all honesty, nothing aids digestion better than a daiquiri. It's a necessity after four po' boys.)
Outside the French Quarter, New Orleans is a city it's easiest to drive around; so in an automobile-based city, it makes sense that fast-food chains are everywhere. (Even if the idea of drive-through alcohol doesn't make quite as much sense.) These two aren't available all over the country, but if you're in the area, they're definitely worth checking out.