KFC eleven, KFC's fast-casual test concept on Bardstown Road, opens at 11 a.m. today (hey that's now!). We've already posted its logo, menu and guts and interviewed its concept designer. So when trying to come up with something new to write for a post on today's opening, we were laying yolk-less eggs. Thankfully Ryan Rogers, Feast BBQ's chef/owner and occasional anonymous Eater commenter, was invited to KFC eleven's friends and family day on Saturday and offered to share his thoughts. Here's his report:
KFC is the second largest restaurant chain in the world when measured by sales with over 18,000 outlets in 120 countries and territories; 4,600 of those outlets are in the United States alone. KFC has been dominating overseas, particularly in developing countries, but this doesn't appear to have been the case lately here at home (YUM!, KFC's parent company, doesn't release sales figures for individual restaurants).
In the past few years we've seen KFC push out a profusion of new products (grilled chicken, the infamous Double Down, the chicken little, and who can forget their most recent "I Ate The Bones" (which I'm still not necessarily positive as to what that exactly is, something about bones I assume) into the brand that made fried chicken synonymous with fast food.
This has all been a presumably vain attempt to stop the bleeding seen here in the United States and hopefully recapture some market share that has been lost to fresher and more agile quick service and fast casual restaurants here at home. KFC eleven appears to be their shot at trying to completely turn around the ailing fast food giant here in the States and hopefully setting a new course for the iconic chicken brand.
I had procured myself an invitation to their friends and family day on Aug. 3 where they would be serving products from their new menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interestingly enough the sign on the door stated to their "friends" they wouldn't be open until the 5th. I proceeded onward.
Upon arrival I was meet with a line of about seven people in front of me, it took me 15 minutes to make it to the register and after placing my limited order (they actively discouraged my attempt to order the entire menu, granted they paid for my food, and everyone else's), I moved down the line where they assembled in front of me, Qdoba-style. Obviously they haven't gotten all of the kinks worked out as my food took another 5 to 10 minutes to assemble from already prepared items. I was offered a complimentary frozen Down South Lemonade at the end when I picked up my order. Diabetes doesn't run in my family so I graciously accepted.
I ordered the Sweet Orange Ginger Rice Bowl with grilled chicken that they actually appeared to be grilling from raw. Bonus points for the lack of CM-40 II Charmarker fake grill marks. Unfortunately my Rice Bowl lacked the almonds and steamed Asian vegetables that were listed on the menu and had somehow picked up onion straws (which if they were actual straws you'd get your face wet using them). Seeing as they weren't open to the public yet, these accidents are easily overlooked. The sweet orange ginger sauce was probably one of the best sauces in the joint, a touch too sweet for my general appetite, but easily appealing to the mass market. I happily globbed more on.
The chicken was cooked through and of the white meat variety, which means it needs to be brined so it doesn't dry out in the cooking process, but I've easily had worse and smaller at higher quality restaurants. The addition of the fresh green onions and cilantro to the dish were welcomed, and I frankly would have loved more. The rice bowl also came with a couple slivers of toasted flatbread that were covered in an Italian seasoning, an interesting starch pairing with my starch. The low point of the dish for me was the rice, though parboiled rice is nutritionally better than white rice, it sucks. Parboiled rice is for mediocre cafeterias. Well-made basic white rice can be so good, and really would have elevated the dish outside of the realm of what we think of as fast food. That and my steamed vegetables and almonds. I hope I get some dau miu next time.
Dish number two was the BBQ Bacon Ranch Flatbread with Crispy Chicken. Or as I like to call it the Classic American Fat Kid Flavor Knockout. My flatbread was covered in Monterey Jack cheese and then tossed in one of those fancy Subway-esque ovens (you know the ones, don't play coy with me) to toast it and melt the cheese. Speaking of which I hope they get more of those by Monday or they're screwed. The flat bread was then quartered into slices. Supposedly at one point "crispy" chicken was added as were red onions, green onions, cilantro, bacon, ranch, and some commercial overly sweet grocery store bbq sauce that shall remain nameless. It was good, the herbs were a great fresh addition (though I wanted more), the bacon was pretty decent, way better than the stuff they serve at a lot of fast food places, oh and the chicken was KFC chicken. My only real problem is that since it was quartered when I went to pick up a piece all of the toppings fell right off. If they'd just left it alone I could have NY pizza'd it. A lot of these problems (not so crispy chicken, toppings not sticking to the melted cheese) may be attributed to the amount of time it took to assemble my flat bread. Growing pains exist even within multi-billion dollar brands.
They've potentially created a monster for themselves with multi-ingredient pickups that take time to craft and require a staff that is engaged not only with the brand but the food produced. I look forward to seeing their growth and evolution over the next few months and I will be back. At which point I think they'll have realized that the sauce condiment bottles are a bad way to go and they'll have gone to pumps.
Also points for the neat soda machine.
Oh and they're going to get absolutely crushed when they open, expect long waits in line unless they miraculously get it figured out in the next two days. So just give it a few weeks.
[Photo: Zach Everson]