The sign out front doesn't automatically call my name: "PDQ Fresh Tenders Salads Sandwiches."
All I know from tenders is what I see in the meat department at the grocery store — strange breast-meat pieces that seem ready-made for kids' hands to pick up and eat. But since PDQ opened in February, the place has been packed.
Inside, it feels like lots of other fast-food restaurants, with a couple of very big differences.
All the cooking and assembling is done within eyeshot of the customers. Call it open-concept fast food. A guy in a white chef's jacket expedites each order, and another employee has a microphone in hand: "Max, your order is ready," or "Tiffany, your salad is ready."
Hearing your name announced adds a personal touch.
You pick up your order at a counter, but the 145-seat restaurant is crawling with young, uniformed staff members eager to answer questions, clear your table or refill drinks. I've never encountered such efficient service in a fast-food restaurant.
The menu is simple. It starts with a fried-tenders meal with a choice of seven sauces: blue cheese, creamy garlic, sweet heat, Buffalo blue, honey mustard, chipotle barbecue and ranch. ($7.29 for a three-piece, $8.29 for a four-piece and $9.29 for a five-piece). The price includes a beverage and either fries or blueberry coleslaw.
Once I got over the feeling that I'd just ordered the adult version of a kids' meal, I tasted how good these tenders are. Oversized, crispy and moist, they are the restaurant's top seller among every age group.
The hand-cut fries are nicely crisp and seasoned with a mixture that includes salt, pepper and garlic powder. They can be a bit heavy-handed with seasoning. But it's so much better than the blueberry coleslaw, which tastes neither vinegar- or mayonnaise-based, but blandly middle-of-the-road.
My favorite menu items are the sandwiches that are sold, like the tenders, as meals with fries or blueberry coleslaw. The chicken sandwiches can be ordered grilled ($4.29) or crispy ($4.29). The grilled sandwich is served on a wheat bun with honey mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, but you can have it on a regular egg bun with toppings of your choice. A Buffalo-tenders sandwich ($4.29) delivers a nice, spicy kick.
PDQ's chicken comes from a Georgia-based processor called Filet of Chicken. Given what we know about factory poultry farming, I wish there were a better story to tell about the source of the chicken. But PDQ prides itself on using a freezer for just one thing: milkshakes.
The chicken appears on one other menu item: salads. Grilled-chicken salad ($6.29) features mixed greens, tomato, candied almonds, craisins and blueberry-ginger vinaigrette. There are a good many dressing choices, including honey mustard and low-fat fiesta vinaigrette.
PDQ also does a grilled or crispy turkey-breast sandwich ($4.29) featuring Butterball turkey.
Drink choices are simple: soda, lemonade, iced tea, coffee, bottled water or one of the very good shakes ($2.99 for 14 ounces, $4.29 for 20 ounces). A beer would be nice, but not with so many young kids working their first jobs.
PDQ is short for Pretty Darn Quick or People Dedicated to Quality. It has some heavy hitters backing its South Florida expansion in Tim Gannon and Bob Basham, the pair who co-founded Outback Steakhouse.
A West Palm Beach PDQ is set to open in late April, followed by ones in Wellington and Pompano Beach. The company expects to open as many as 50 restaurants in South Florida in the next five years.
With an average check of just $8, PDQ is perfect for those nights when you don't want to cook but don't want to spend.
3359 N. Federal Highway, Oakland Park
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Only for 20 or more
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Conversational, but it's a fast-food restaurant
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lotCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun