Freshly hand-breaded chicken tenders fry in hot vats of oil as employees prepare orders in the open kitchen area right next to the registers.
Potatoes are sliced carefully into thin strips to make salty, greasy-good fries. Grills sizzle, pop music flows from speakers and employees call out orders as crispy tenders, fresh salads and sandwiches are delivered into the hands of hungry customers.
It's the lunch hour at the Dale Mabry PDQ in Tampa, and the restaurant is a flurry of activity and efficiency, a blur of color and sound.
A long line of cars circles around the brightly colored building while men in suits, young moms with children in tow and high school students lugging backpacks flow through the restaurant, where snug booths, shiny hardwood floors and sunlight streaming through tall windows make the restaurant seem almost like home.
PDQ's chicken tenders and sweet homemade honey mustard dipping sauce paired with a hand-spun Oreo shake constitutes one of my new favorite meals. The tenders, warm and freshly fried, are crunchy, crispy and satisfying. A meal, $7.29, comes with three tenders, fries and a drink. The Oreo milkshake is thick, sweet and deliciously creamy, with small chunks of Oreo cookies swirled into the mix. The milkshake, $3.49 for a small, is a rich conclusion to a filling meal.
PDQ's menu also offers delicious salad and sandwich options at affordable prices. The grilled chicken sandwich, which has slightly toasted whole wheat buns and is filled with crisp pieces of lettuce and bright, flavorful tomato slices, is perfectly seasoned and quite juicy. Honey mustard drips from the chicken and adds smooth sweetness. The grilled chicken sandwich meal costs $7.39 and includes fries and a drink.
The grilled chicken salad, tossed with a homemade blueberry-ginger vinaigrette, tomatoes, mixed greens, candied almonds and dried cranberries, is light, refreshing and $7.45.
Food is ordered at the brightly colored registers next to the open kitchen and ready in less than five minutes. Customers' orders are announced by name over a microphone by friendly employees.
PDQ stands for People Dedicated to Quality, a slogan emblazoned over the registers. It's a project of Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and MVP Holdings CEO Nick Reader started in October 2011. The first PDQ popped up on Dale Mabry Highway across from H.B. Plant High, the perfect customer base.
Founded on the principle that fast food can be quick and high quality, PDQ promises the finest, freshest ingredients — so fresh the restaurants don't have freezers. Every chicken tender is hand-breaded, fresh produce for salads is delivered daily, and dipping sauces are homemade.
PDQ locations on both sides of the bay (there are 18) draw particularly brisk business on Friday nights before high school football games and after sports practices. With its outdoor picnic tables, water misters and corn hole, it's as much a fun destination as it is a dining place.
Maddie Sullivan is a homeschooled junior.