I wrote about a disappointing meal I had in Manhattan, comparing the order of chicken fingers I ate to Carl's Jr.'s. But then I realized that I hadn't actually tried Carl's Jr.'s chicken tenders in years and perhaps I wasn't being fair. So I went and tried them again. They were terrible. I summed up the experience by saying I would only eat at Carl's Jr. again when they come out with new promotions.
Carl's Jr. caught wind of all this and decided to change the formula for their chicken tenders. Okay, that's not really true, but allow me a moment of self-delusion. The new ones are "hand-breaded" and "freshly-prepared." I'm not sure how true those things are, but it's always interesting when a fast food joint markets an item based on its quality, not its size or cost or outrageousness.
I stopped into Carl's Jr. on a rainy day. The place was packed. I mean, it was like In-N-Out on a Friday night. I placed my order then stood around and waited for almost fifteen minutes for my three-piece chicken strips. I took the bag out to the car.
(English question: what are the rules for hyphenating a compound adjective containing an adverb, such as "freshly-prepared"? I have read that a hyphen should never be used linking an adverb and adjective, but I have also read that it is acceptable in certain circumstances. Not that I need a to-go bag from Carl's Jr. to be grammatically perfect, but I am just curious. I like this blog to contain useful information every once in a while. Every once in a great while.)
The chicken strips were very hot, still glistening with oil. You are offered a choice of three sauces: honey mustard, buttermilk ranch, or "sweet & bold BBQ." Ordinarily I would opt for the honey mustard, but the words "sweet & bold" grabbed my attention. I was curious what exactly that meant, so that's what I asked for. I was further intrigued when it was given to me in a plastic Dixie container. What, do they mix it up in the back? Does every Carl's Jr. have their own unique recipe?
It turns out it's the exact same barbecue sauce Carl's Jr. has always used. That's not really a bad thing - I appreciate the pepper in the sauce - but it's nothing special. I should have just gotten the honey mustard.
But what I really cared about was the chicken. And it was pretty good. That may seem like damning with faint praise, I know. The chicken was juicy and hot. (Really hot. I only ate one in the car then drove the mile-and-a-half home and ate the other two.) They were not the same much-too-breaded, previously frozen chicken I ate last time. But at no point did I think Wow these are good.
Are these better than the chicken strips at most fast food places? Yes. But that's like being the valedictorian of summer school or the best quarterback on the UCLA football team: it's not saying much. These are the quality of chicken strips that you would get at a diner. Maybe not the greatest thing in the world, but considering the cost for three was $3.61, they're a good deal. (Although I admit a fondness for the chicken strips in the deli section at Vons, which are better and about the same price.)
The best chicken strips I have ever had were at the Pearl Street Pub in Boulder, Colorado. The worst I have ever had were the previous order I ate at Carl's Jr. last month. These were much closer to the former than the latter. I didn't love them, but I would eat them again, which is more than I can say for almost everything else from Carl's.