Monday, September 16, 2013

PDQ chicken joint could come to Manatee pretty darn quick.

It’s no secret that PDQ will be coming to Manatee County. Where and when the Tampa-based restaurant will open here is the secret. Kind of.

PDQ, which stands for People Dedicated to Quality, wants to have multiple locations in the Manatee-Sarasota area, said PDQ spokesman Jeff Kamis during a test run of the newly opened PDQ in South Sarasota, 5164 S. Tamiami Trail.

The chicken chain nearly bought the former Checkers building , 505 1st St., that was put up for sale by Manatee County Schools, but backed out early in the process due to access issues. That parcel has since been sold to Route 32 Investments, a mystery of its own for the time being.

Ten acres is a lot for a fast-casual chicken joint. The Sarasota site is so small in comparison, the site is measured in square feet (66,989). Maybe they’ll go ahead and put a chicken coop behind it with all that space (kidding!).

For now, PDQ’s parent company MVP Holdings is non-committal about what is going in East Manatee. Kamis previously told me out of the possibilities, which includes PDQ and Lee Roy Selmon’s, could make way for a new retail concept. He didn’t have anything new to offer last week either. I doubt a Lee Roy Selmon's could open there given one is located off of the University Parkway exit.

But with the restaurant sniffing around, it was worth making the drive to see what PDQ is all about. And if you’re one of those foodies who like to be in the know, go ahead and take the drive down to Sarasota if you haven’t been to a PDQ north of the Sunshine Skyway.

During a visit with a colleague, we partook in a friends/family event that helps restaurants give out food to provide a stress test to get ready for a grand opening.

Serving chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders in a fast food setting inevitably brings up Chick-fil-a comparisons. Kamis said that’s not entirely accurate. Chick-fil-a is built on drive-thru service, while PDQ markets itself as fast-casual, similar to Chipotle and Panera Bread.

You will find a drive-thru at PDQ, but no speaker box. Just drive up and talk to someone face-to-face to put in your order and have your food delivered.

Another difference is the food prep. Your basic choices are grilled or fried chicken sandwiches, tenders or salads, in addition to sides and shakes. The chicken is battered as you order it, and the sauces are made from scratch each day.

What I noticed driving to PDQ is how large the place is from the road. This doesn’t look like an everyday fast-food restaurant with the large windows, misters blowing on the patio and comfortable seating.
The amount of windows in the restaurant is more noticeable during sunsets. Once the sun goes down, the dining room gets dark, but more of like for intimate dinner dining—you can still see your food. They won’t flick a switch and make the place bright as can be.

Hand washing is an interesting touch. The sink is located outside of the restrooms for all to use. I kind of like that because it will publicly shame all those who didn’t wash their hands because you can see who walks by the sink coming out of the restroom.

Oh, the food. The chicken is juicy and the sandwiches are built from the top-down. The toppings are on the bottom and the chicken is on top. One employee explained to me that it’s designed that way to hold the chicken in better. He was right, and I immediately thought why nobody else does this. I’ve been a victim of chicken slippage at other restaurants. The lettuce gets soaked by the juices, maybe the mayonnaise aides, but as I squeeze the bun, the chicken slips out. I haven’t had that experience at PDQ yet.

The fries are similar to the Steak ‘n Shake string fries, but were a tad soggy instead of crisp and dry. This might be due to the kitchen having to endlessly churn out food for the masses who showed up for the event. The green and sweet tea were a bit off, too, during that visit. A visit to a St. Pete PDQ recently yielded much better taste on the sweet tea.

During another visit, I decided to opt for the crispy chicken salad. It’s a standard salad with cucumber, but I wish I was asked what kind of sauce I wanted. The default sauce is the honey mustard for the salad. Having seven home-made sauces should be emphasized for each of the menu items, really, and not just the chicken tenders. I wanted to try the Buffalo Bleu, but the honey mustard did a fine job as a substitution by default. The Sweet Heat is a good one to try on sandwiches, too. It’s kind of like a sweet-and-sour sauce without the sour.

Until PDQ comes to Manatee, which is only a matter of time, Sarasota would be the closest option for me. And judging by the crowds at the Sarasota location, I could imagine that a new location would be coming pretty darn quick.

PDQ, 5164 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, is open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. For more, visit

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