November 11, 2022 | OPINION | By Sam Treat | Photos provided by author
Traditionally, this column, and food reviewers at large, have neglected to review fast food chains. However, given that we reside in Colorado Springs, a bastion of fast food, I figured it was due time to give fast food a look. The Springs, forever a fascinating beast, was chronicled in a 2001 book entitled “Fast Food Nation.” Examining the prevalence of national chains that dot the sprawling mixture of car dealerships, military institutions, and strip malls that constitutes Colorado Springs is no easy task. Colorado Springs is home to practically every national chain, from In-N-Out to Culver’s to Freddy’s, Colorado Springs truly is Fast Food Nation.
That reality made selecting a restaurant to review more difficult than if I was writing in my hometown of Seattle, home to very few fast food restaurants (as a result of zoning and tax laws that make the 206 almost devoid of more ‘niche’ chains). For many Colorado College students, the abundance of fast food restaurants here that may have been absent from their hometowns allow them to form new favorites and explore new ‘cuisines’ (if one could call cheap, greasy goodness ‘cuisine’).
For me, a new favorite quickly emerged as Raising Cane’s. Cane’s, as it is referred to colloquially, maintains one of the simplest business philosophies there is; do one thing, and do that one thing really really well. For Cane’s that one thing is chicken fingers. In fact, you’ll notice almost all of their advertising revolves around the idea of “One Love.” That ‘One Love’ being chicken fingers, of course. Raising Cane’s began as a small chicken shack outside the gates of Louisiana State University. Named for the founder’s beloved dog, Raising Cane’s quickly took off from its LSU beginnings. A southern and midwest staple, seldom will those from the north have experience with Cane’s (although a location did just open up in the middle of Times Square).
While Cane’s menu is truly centered around chicken fingers and not much else, the decor and ambiance that each location cultivates is varied and impressive. At the Garden of the Gods’ Road location, the walls are adorned with a variety of artifacts and pieces of decor giving homage to Colorado and even the Springs in particular. From a Kokanee salmon (the likes of which can be found in the South Platte River about an hours drive from here), to a 1997 Broncos’ Wheaties box, Cane’s is attempting to connect with its locality. An impressive endeavor for a national chain, no doubt. The dining room itself, a fading phenomenon in modern fast food, is perfect for long conversations with good friends. Plenty of comfortable seating options, and no shortage of people watching opportunities make for an incredibly pleasant dining experience– something not normally associated with fast-food.
For the inexperienced Cane’s customer, I recommend starting with the Box Combo. For $10.99 (prices vary depending on location) one receives four chicken tenders, a Texas toast, a coleslaw, crinkle-cut fries, and a 22oz drink. While there is much debate about the best way to modify this order, I’ll share my personal methods. For no additional charge, I choose to substitute the coleslaw for another toast. Then, I add on two more toasts. Seriously, do not sleep on the toast. Golden brown, firm, and buttered to perfection, the toast is the perfect comfort food.
While Cane’s does offer a sandwich, the best Cane’s sandwich is one you create yourself. One begins by opening the top of the toast, creating an almost hot-dog bun-like piece of bread. Next, you pour in some Cane’s sauce; Cane’s sauce is a zestier fry sauce, with the perfect amount of flavor supplementing the notes of salt and butter that are so strong in the chicken and bread, respectively. Optionally, one can sprinkle in a couple of fries for a crunchy and salty addition. Finally, the coup de gras is adding the tender, make sure that it is secure firmly in the bread pocket you’ve made– if it’s not, you could have a mess on your hands.
This creation is the ultimate strategy for enjoying Cane’s, although truly, there is no wrong way to enjoy salty fried goodness like this. Cane’s is delicious, the atmosphere is top-notch, and the service is quick and friendly. One word of advice though: make sure that you do quench your inevitable thirst. The premier way to do that is Cane’s homemade lemonade, complete with the best ice known to man– the crunchy small pellets that somehow make the drink that much better.
If you, like many folks, are skeptical of fast-food and its health implications, Cane’s is not for you. In fact, practically everything you consume at Cane’s will be golden-brown in color (honestly, for my meal it was everything). If that is no issue for you, which it shouldn’t be (live a little!) then Cane’s is your place. On the other hand, if you are too worried about your pristine temple of a body, then treat this as a cultural experience. Ravage the chicken fingers in the name of indulging in the Colorado Springs community. Do as the locals do– clog your arteries with the best grease known to man.