Every Southerner in the history of the South, when growing to adulthood, has tried to recapture the essence of “what Momma used to make.” The problem is that the aforementioned Momma usually toiled away in the kitchen for hours (or at least an hour, one would guess) in order to make these vague and idealized, yet delicious, meals. How can one eat “what Momma used to make” while spending a fraction of the time (read: zero) preparing it?
Enter whomever came up with the chicken-finger plate. Delightfully simple yet hard to truly comprehend, the chicken-finger plate (sometimes referred to as a “platter” by the upper crust of society) consists of a portion of chicken fingers (usually five). But that’s not all. These noble chicken fingers serve as an expert soloist, accompanied by a chorus of golden-brown French fries, a piece of Texas toast, cole slaw, and sweet tea to drink.
Many restaurants have tried to master this chicken-finger plate formula. Some have succeeded, creating an embarrassment of riches rivaled only by Scrooge McDuck’s money pond. Others have failed and been run out of town in less than six months. Here is a relentlessly critical list of the top five chicken-finger providers:
1. Zaxby’s: And with that listing comes thousands of readers groaning at the obvious—Zaxby’s is No. 1. But putting the giant at No. 1 is no coward’s way out of making a list. The restaurant truly deserves it. It serves the absolute best chicken-finger plate this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Its prices are also cheaper or comparable to other restaurants. The restaurant’s only downfall is its devotion to the letter “Z,” turning “salad” into “zalad” and “appetizer” into “zappetizer.” “Kidz Mealz”? Seriously?
2. Sawyer’s: This chicken-finger plate is closest in quality to Zaxby’s, and the prices are fairly similar. But what is supposedly Sawyer’s major selling point—its all-you-can-eat meal—makes no sense because it begins with a regular meal complete with everything and then just adds excess chicken fingers on top of that. Considering that the average stomach has little room after consuming a regular meal, it’s not worth the money or the trip out Kingston Pike.
3. Guthrie’s: This restaurant had a shot at the big time. They could have been a contendah. Heck, they could have been No. 1. Unfortunately, Guthrie’s does not always have its bargain-basement $3.99 chicken-finger deal, which is the entire allure of the restaurant; it’s only available at the start of the fall and spring semesters and after 5 p.m. for the duration of those school semesters, leaving summer and lunchtime Knoxvillians headed to nearby Zaxby’s. The restaurant has switched to providing 50-cent fingers for the summer, which forces the customer to give up the side items of the plate that they know and love in favor of more fingers or a cheaper price.
4. Wishbone’s: Wishbone’s thinks that sweet-potato fries as an option is a good idea. Sweet-potato fries are disgusting and inferior and go against the very idea that the chicken-finger plate, in its original incarnation, is perfect and holy. In addition, Wishbone’s thinks further sauce options (outside of the traditional Zax sauce or Zax sauce-like concoction) are worth including. They’re not. Who does not love and adore Zax sauce and shun all other sauces before Zax’s sauce?
5. MacDougal’s: MacDougal’s thought that college students would be willing to pay more for chicken fingers and wait longer for cooked-to-order versions. MacDougal’s misunderstood college students. So the MacDougal’s location on the Strip shut down less than six months after it opened. Alas.