When PDQ (5164 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 866-1311, eatpdq.com) opened on South Tamiami Trail last month, it didn't make me excited despite my deep and abiding love of chicken fingers. I'd eaten at the first PDQ in Tampa when it opened a few years back and didn't think much of the deep-friend boneless chicken breast, although I liked the look and feel of the chain restaurant prototype. Still, the call of the chicken finger is strong, so I decided to check out the latest outlet of the small chain.
The restaurant has the look of a hybrid between fast-food and casual family dining, with a beautiful exterior, and expansive outdoor dining area and a loud and energetic interior that feels in constant motion thanks to the relentless cycle of people ordering at the counter and picking up their food when it's ready. PDQ's menu is focused, dealing almost exclusively in chicken tenders, french fries and grilled or fried chicken sandwiches. There are a few capable salads, fresh and well-stocked with a variety of veggies, as well as sweet cole slaw spiked with blueberries, but chicken and fries are where it's at.
Those chicken fingers, made fresh at the restaurant, are slender, well-seasoned strips of breast meat that won't knock your socks off, but do satisfy a craving. The fries are more exciting, more limp than crisp but fresh and made from real potatoes cut in-house. As fast food goes, PDQ registers at just above average, with prices that match -- the average meal is going to clock in close to $7.
There are a few interesting elements to the place that set it apart, however.
PDQ has one of those newfangled soda machines that allows you to select between every brand that Coca-Cola distributes, then add blasts of fruit flavoring to customize your drink. That means you can make cherry Coke, strawberry diet ginger-ale or, blessed be, peach Fanta, all with a few taps on a touch-screen. It's fun, and distracting enough that you can easily spend enough time mixing, matching and sampling in front of the fountain that your food will be ready before you are.
Near the drink machine is a more innovative creation, a huge trough of flowing water that allows patrons to wash their hands before eating without braving the bathrooms. It's a great idea.
Great fries, decent chicken tenders, mash-up soda fountain and washing hands in public -- it's those touches that will make some people opt for PDQ over fast food or chain casual, and explains why he chain plans on doubling in size over the next year.