Finn lives in California's central valley. He enjoys writing food reviews.
How I Chose the Restaurants
Mashed potatoes are just about as close to the top as you can get when you think about comfort foods. They are often a meal on their own. They're also a good snack and the perfect side to almost any type of main course you can think of.
Depending upon where you go to dine, the dish comes in slightly different varieties. Some have a smoother basic gravy, while other places tend to dish it up a bit. As far as convenience is concerned, this little meal sometimes comes in a tight little container of its own and can be devoured with the assistance of a plastic spoon. Although it is best warm, its longevity with proper refrigeration is almost guaranteed, and it can be rediscovered the next day either right out of the icebox or with some help from a microwave.
Below is a list of restaurants I've chosen in my hometown of Bakersfield to review their mashed potatoes. I'll probably add to it when I'm out of town visiting new places or discovering new restaurants. The title implies fast food and that will probably be the main focus since everyone seems familiar with these types of establishments. And because fast-food restaurants are chain businesses, they can be found nationwide, even worldwide. So hopefully this article will be just as applicable in Bangor, Maine, or St. Louis as it is here in California. I welcome your commentary and feedback. Keep in mind as well that the opinions expressed below are simply that, my personal taste and in no way reflect anything factual. I also do not endorse any of the restaurants in particular nor mean to claim anything critical against them.
Ratings: Best Fast Food Mashed Potatoes
|Restaurant||Mashed Potatoes||Overall Meal||Comments|
A little greasy. Could taste the preservatives.
Cajuny. Potatoes were kind of sinewey.
Delicious. Good meal, good potatoes.
El Pollo Loco
Nice tender chicken; grilled so it is healthier and the tortillas are add nice variety.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
The first place with mashed potatoes I am going to discuss is Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Most people are familiar with the red and white sign with the depiction of "The Colonel" on it. According to information available from Wikipedia, "KFC was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders, an entrepreneur who began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky during the Great Depression. Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first "Kentucky Fried Chicken" franchise opened in Utah in 1952."
For my sample, I tried the Chicken Breast special, which came with a side and a biscuit. I tried extra crispy because I really prefer the crunchy crust. The sample I tried this time was actually pretty good. My recent experiences with KFC were not as pleasant because it seemed like the chicken pieces were cooked in a flavorless batter that spent too much time in the fryer. This particular sample wasn't as good as the chicken I remember from my youth, but it was pretty good and definitely one of the better samples I've had in recent memory.
|Item||Rating 1- 10 (10 highest)||Comments|
Crispy, golden brown, blandish
Not as thick as I like, processed
Satisfactory (not the best)
KFC: In Summary
For about $3.25, the meal was pretty well-rounded. I could have spent another two dollars for a side vegetable and then probably another two for a soda (I usually opt for water now or bring my own). You got a hot main dish—the chicken and a side starch and bread. Not bad for about three dollars.
My feelings about the potatoes: well, they are obviously instant and probably is the gravy. Someone with whom I was acquainted years ago told me they used to scrape the drippings from the bottom of the oven to make the gravy. And as I recall, you could taste it. The gravy had more flavor. Today it tasted like something that had water added to it: instant. And the texture was just about as satisfying as well.
Not my favorite, but when you go to KFC and get their potatoes, you know what to expect. The little plastic storage container the potatoes now come in, is probably more costly to provide than the food itself. And probably the one good reason to go to KFC for their potatoes. I would probably opt for another restaurant if that was what I was solely seeking.
Overall rating: 7 (based on the little container, not the food inside).
Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen
Popeye's isn't as famous as KFC—at least it wasn't in the 1980s, and it was a bit of an acquired taste to me. The chicken is better in my opinion when it is done in the spicy style, but sometimes that is a bit overbearing. They actually dip the chicken into a hot sauce, which you can see as red streaks throughout the meat. But I actually prefer this place to KFC and find their variety a little more refreshing. You can get shrimp, fish and red beans and rice, all done in a Southern sort of Cajun-style, which is unique—unless of course, you are in Cajun country where a place like this seems probably a little too cliche.
A brief history of Popeye's (from their website): It started in 1972 when "Alvin C. Copeland Sr., opens “Chicken on the Run” in the New Orleans suburb of Arabi, serving traditional Southern-fried chicken. After several months of lackluster performance, he reopens the restaurant as “Popeyes” (after Popeye Doyle of The French Connection). This time he sells spicy, New Orleans-style chicken." Their website also boasts that it is currently the number 2 chicken-themed restaurant in the world, probably right behind KFC.
Crispy, flavorful, spicy
A little too battery
Gravy tastes sort of "grainy"
Not my favorite
It was satisfying, but not my favorite
Popeye's: In Summary
Well, one thing I have to say about the mashed potatoes at this place is that they definitely have a unique flavor. The potatoes themselves are a bit thicker which I prefer, but the gravy is a strange sort of sauce, that seems a little thinner than I anticipate a gravy to be. The gravy here is sort of spicy and has little pieces of something obscure in it—I'm not sure if they are the spices or if it is something Cajun like chicken or shrimp, but it definitely provides a unique texture. This is a potato side that I have to be in the mood for as well because of its unique taste.
Overall, the meal did satisfy my hunger. Again, the food today seems much blander than it was years ago, but I know with most Popeye's I've been to, they either fry the chicken tenders right there when you order them or they have not been sitting under the heat lamp very long. For this reason, I should probably give the tenders a higher rating. The food isn't too bad here but the biscuits were a bit disappointing.
Cost for two tenders, four shrimp, a biscuit and potatoes: $6.42 (with tax).
Well, this is one of my personal favorites, actually. I've been going to Church's since I first discovered them many years ago. I would go out of my way to find one, sometimes driving for miles, because out of all the restaurants listed on this page, this is probably one of the rarest ones. There aren't as many locations and the ones that there are far between.
There is only one here in Bakersfield and it isn't the best: the customer service could be much better, the speed of service is something to be questioned and the accuracy of orders is often lackluster. But the chicken isn't bad - the strips are much better than KFC's. The potatoes, though, are what make the meal. By far, this establishment has the best potatoes out of all the restaurants on this page—and I still have a few more to add.
They are creamy with a nice texture and an authentic potato taste. What makes them best though, is the gravy which has a nice consistency and a rich chicken flavor, which is definitely lacking in Popeye's and sorely missed in KFC. These are the best mashed potatoes and gravy out of most restaurants I've had—including some of the non-fast-food chains, such as Denny's. The gravy itself could substitute for a tasty dipping sauce—something that I've enjoyed a few times myself.
While the Bakersfield location isn't the best restaurant, even though there is a blue and white A in the window, they still serve the best mashed potatoes.
I prefer the spicy - nice and crispy outside tender inside
Usually it is good
A pretty good snack
El Pollo Loco
When you think of Mexican restaurants mashed potatoes and gravy might not come to mind immediately, but if you want a little flair and something different from your average chicken restaurant, you might give El Pollo Loco a try. In addition to mashed potatoes and gravy, there are a variety of other sides including a healthy salad, mixed vegetables and beans. They all sound pretty good.
The chicken is "flame-broiled" in front of you and they cut up the pieces after they are cooked rather than pull them out of the deep fryer. The alternative menu includes your choice of corn or flour tortillas.
Overall, not bad.
My experience this time wasn't as good as I remembered. The chicken wasn't as moist—at least the breast piece—and the potatoes were a little less firm than I enjoyed. Overall though, I much preferred this grilled taste to the fried places. The tortillas were less filling and more flavorful than the biscuits. And the corn was flavored with various peppers.
El Pollo Loco Review
Chicken (breast and wing)
Breast was a little try and could have used more flavor. Cooked well. Nice crispy skin. Tasty
A little more moist than I prefered. Nice flavor though, especially the gravy.
Would have liked mine a little more fresh, but nice flavor with the peppers. Healthy.
Nice and warm and delicious. Wanted more.
Good deal on a healthy meal.
A Few Words on Fast Food
Although it probably isn't the healthiest of choices, often it is one of the most convenient. Sometimes it's a less costly alternative to more sophisticated restaurants or preparing your own meals. Fast food restaurants are visible on almost every street corner. They are quick and easy, and when you purchase a meal, you know exactly what to expect and how it is going to taste. The portions are usually satisfactory, and most restaurants have a dining area so you can sit down and enjoy a quick bite to eat.
One thing I have observed about most of the convenient eateries is that their taste factor has been influenced by some of the new laws related to transitive fat content. At least this is my perception in California and my reference to the fat content laws is something that I am guessing at. Fast food was definitely more delicious just ten years ago. It had real flavor and was a little more filling. In addition, the general portions of the meal, sandwich, and sides seemed to be a little more generous then, too. Rising mandatory minimum wages and efforts to compensate for inflation have probably inspired companies to increase profits by decreasing portions. All of this is my opinion based on casual observation. Still, the fact that franchises not only stay in business but are expanding their locations testifies to the fact that most Americans budget a measurable portion of their income to support this industry.
I'm not sure if it is because I am getting older and have been accustomed to the taste of fast food or whether the quality truly is declining, but today's restaurants just don't seem as pleasurable to the palate as they did when I was younger. It may be a combination of both to an extent, but I honestly believe that at one time, most restaurants put an emphasis on quality rather than profit. One of my first jobs in the late 1980s was in a fast-food restaurant and they actually cooked just about everything from scratch. The meat was prepared on the grill or in an oven.
I don't want to go into too much detail because I do not wish to disclose the name of the restaurant, but I know today at this establishment, everything is either pre-prepared and microwaved or heated in quick ovens. When I worked there, they were making a slow transition to that stage, but most of the items were cooked in the store and were honestly fresh.
© 2017 Finn