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Good Southern chains?

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Somehow the chains down here are much better. I love Bojangle's and chick-fil-a, and wendy's seems fresher? There's also of course Cracker Barrel. Any others I should know about? I'm in Raleigh-Durham.

I have been getting the chicken biscuit and coleslaw from Bojangle's on Sunday mornings. Nothing better -with coffee.

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  1. I love Hardee's biscuits with butter. They also used to sell these huge chocolate chip cookies. I don't think they make them anymore. When I was a kid, we would drive down I-95 from NJ to NC to visit my grandparents, and always stopped in Quantico, VA because it had the first Hardee's southbound on 95.

    1 Reply
    1. re: maryelizabeth

      I'm no Southern but I love a good biscuit. I remember Hardees sausage biscuits from ~25 years ago fondly.
      When I travelled to Minnesota a few years ago my cousin warned me that Carl Karchner (of Carls Jr infamy) had really screwed up the Hardees chain. HE WASN'T KIDDING! My Hardees biscuit was horrible on two occasions, McD's is now much better.

      1. Hmmm....would you consider Char-Grill a chain, since there's more than one?

        Most of my co-workers like Rock-Ola, but I'm pretty feh on it.

        This may be blasphemous, but Smithfield's for barbecue. It's decent, in a pinch, and I don't want to drive all the way to Allen and Sons or find parking downtown for Clyde Cooper's.

        11 Replies
        1. re: OrganicGal

          I'll second the Smithfield's endorsement. Yes, the 'cue is cooked with gas, but it tends to be better than some wood-smoked 'cue I've had, and Smithfield's chicken is probably the best I've had from any "chain." Also, the brunswick stew and hushpuppies are pretty good.

          I'll also give a nod to Backyard Burgers, another great southern chain. They make the best chain burgers I've tried, and I give them exta points because I can get them to make me a chile-slaw burger.

          Besides Bojangles, Hardees, and Chick-Fil-A already mentioned, these southern chains also deserve recognition (for being either good or maybe just distinctive as the case may be): Crystal, Popeyes, Church's, Sonic, Waffle House, Huddle House, and of course Krispy Kreme.

          1. re: Low Country Jon

            Stopped at Huddle House at a truckstop along the 75 in Georgia. Surprisingly good! Really tasty "philly cheesesteak" grilled sandwich, light and crispy sweet potato fries, tasty Vidalia onion steak sauce and decent smoky bbq sauce (sauces can be taken home for $2.99 each). Took two biscuits and gravy on the bus. Interesting how southern gravy is white, almost like bechamel, whereas in Canada, gravy is beef or chicken brown.

            Also really enjoyed the pecan waffles at Waffle House (in Ohio).

            Shoney's (in Cordele, Georgia) has a breakfast buffet for $6.49. I enjoyed the biscuits.

            Definitely avoid Golden Corral buffet restaurant. Worst food ever. Long line-ups.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              What you have is White or Milk or Sawmill gravy. They do brown gravies as well. They also have Red Eye gravy which is something akin to an au jus made from coffee. It's very good.


              1. re: Davwud

                Red Eye gravy is not made from coffee. It is made using water and the pan drippings after frying ham. Sometimes some people (I don't) add a small amount of coffee to give the gravy a darker, richer color.

                1. re: Sister Sue

                  While Wikipedia says it's made with either water or black coffee, a quick google search showed exactly NO recipes that didn't call for black coffee.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    Red Eye gravy is indeed made with coffee.....

                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      When my rural northeast Mississippi and northwest Alabama family members made red eye gravy, coffee was the exception rather than the rule. It was used only for coloring the gravy. I doubt that recipe was written anywhere, but that was what was taught to me by my 90+ year-old grandmother.

                      1. re: Sister Sue

                        And in Virginia it's made with coffee and we are famous for our ham ;-)

                        1. re: Sister Sue

                          Mrs. Sippi is so named because she grew up in Nesbit (DeSoto Co.) Ms. She's never heard of REG made without coffee.

                          Near as I can tell, mixing water with pan drippings would pretty much just be au jus. If you add flour to thicken it, you have your standard gravy.


                    2. re: Sister Sue

                      I have family from Mississippi, Tennessee, N.C., Fl. & Texas - all differing branches of the family, all agree on (probably the only topic of complete agreement) : red-eye gravy made with coffee!

              2. re: OrganicGal

                I thought I didn't care for Rock-Ola until the one on Six Forks got replaced by a Chinese mega-buffet, the bane of edible Chinese food in this area. I'd love to see that Rock-Ola back now.

              3. I replied to this earlier, but I guess it was R E M O V E D and I have no idea why.
                I said that I miss Backyard Burgers and Dixie Cafe and especially King Cotton's curiously red hot dogs.... Oh! Maybe it was the hotdogs?

                2 Replies
                1. re: LisaAZ

                  Zaxbys is good for chicken fingers.

                  1. re: LisaAZ

                    Dixie Cafe is a pretty good chain, as chains go. Good "country" food. Fried okra, cornbread, greens, etc. Always very popular with the locals wherever they open, but pretty limited distribution, at this point. They started in Little Rock and have managed to get into a lot of the Arkansas market and they have a location in Bartlett and Memphis TN, but that's about it.

                  2. Don't know if there's one near you, but I've had good luck at Po Folks. They all seem to be closing down near me (DC), so maybe they've gone downhill?


                    1. La Paz, or at least their Destin location. They use a good local supplier for their fish dishes, and I really love their made to order black bean soup.

                      1. Zaxby's is a chicken chain that was started in the Asheville area I believe. It is fast food, although it seems to be a cut above traditional chain fare. When traveling, if there's a Zaxby's around that is where the kids want to stop.

                        As for Smithfield's Chicken & BBQ... they have become the "McDonald's" of fast food 'que. Not too bad, not the best either but their quality is consistently from one unit to the next.

                        White Swan is a mini-chain out of Smithfield, NC that has great bbq and chicken as well. They are my preference for good, quick bbq.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: goodeatsinadive

                          Re: Zaxby's - I thought it started around there too (Waynesville was 1st location I had seen) but wikipedia says Statesboro, Ga. is the place of origination!

                        2. Mellow Mushroom's pretty good for pizza, and there's always P.F. Chang's. I know they have one in Knoxville. Then there's Shoney's, but I wouldn't recommend it.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: TexasToast

                            The best chain by far is Five Guys Burgers and Fries.I ate at two different ones five times while on vacation in South Carolina...out of this world

                          2. It depends on you're definition of "Chains." Mostly, they're all crap. Even the ones you've mention. Chik-fil-a and Cracker Barrel are among the few places that I will never eat at again. EVER.
                            That said, I love Sonic and Krystal's. Are they "Good?" No. Are they something special?? Yes.

                            As for a "Chain" that is really only a few places, I'll take Dreamland for ribs any day. "Ain't nothin' like 'em nowhere."


                            10 Replies
                            1. re: Davwud

                              I like Krystal's, too. Love those steamed mini burgers. They're so fun to eat.

                              I also like Taco Cabana. Fast food that serves alcohol. What can be better?!

                              1. re: Foodrat

                                I really like Taco Cabana! I wanted to get lunch there yesterday, but at 12:30 pm, the inside was packed and there were 10 cars in front of me at the drive-thru, so . . . Gotta go at non peak times!

                              2. re: Davwud

                                Wow. If you've banished Chick-Fil-A and Cracker Barrel, I'm not sure that you're able to be pleased. Those are two chains that I actually respect, and look forward to eating there when I'm around their areas. I often begrudge my state of Michigan for not having an actual CFA restaurant to eat at...it's fast food bliss. I have to get my CFA fix when I'm down in Atlanta to see my brother and SIL.

                                And Cracker Barrel?!?!?!? You've banished CB? Man, that's *good* travel food, there. I can eat there any time of day and find something that will please my palate, and be satisfying. I honestly have no idea how you can hate on Cracker Barrel.

                                I suppose *some* people have to eat at the Waffle House, though...

                                1. re: boagman

                                  Don't eat a waffle house either. We don't usually eat breakfast out when we travel. If we do, we look for the words "Country" of "Home style".
                                  As for lunches our big faves are Krystals, Sonic or McAllisters. In the south anyway.
                                  The inlaws are in Huntsville, Al. So Dreamland is visited at least once a trip.


                                  1. re: Davwud

                                    Okay, explain to me the appeal of Sonic, which I've honestly tried. The food is acceptable (i.e. "not bad but nothing special, either"), but my experiences are altogether eye-rolling. Here's a place that has exceedingly low overhead ("Hey! Let's cut out all that crazy 'indoor seating' and 'air-conditioning' and see if people will bite!"), what appears to be lots of employees, and yet the experience is always that of "overpriced, with dumb, slow servers." What's more, they're one of the few (the only?) fast food place that *doesn't* offer free refills on drinks!

                                    As much as I *want* to like Sonic, it's strictly an "only if I have to" kind of place. You'd think that they'd know enough to not serve their fries cold, for heaven's sake!

                                    What, exactly, is the appeal? The commercials?

                                    1. re: boagman

                                      Well, other than for fast food places, it's a bit better.
                                      I love their Banana Cream Pie shakes.

                                      I think the other mitigating factor here is the novelty factor. We don't have them here in Canada and it's a once every few months treat. If I could go every day, I'd probably never go.

                                      Same goes with Krystal's.


                                      1. re: boagman

                                        I mainly go for :

                                        1) Cherry Limeade! I crave it in the Summer.

                                        2) My cats like it. I try to bring them for car rides that aren't related to going to the vets. They really like watching the staff on roller skates & eating one tater-tot each. (The rest gets pitched out, I'm not a huge tater-tot person) This is their little mini-Vegas excursion!

                                        3) Chili dogs aren't bad

                                        4) Coupons. Most fast food is pretty much the same to me, so a good coupon can be the deciding factor if I'm not dispensing kitty treats that day.

                                        1. re: boagman

                                          Oh, yes . . . the commercials are the second best thing about Sonic, other than the drinks. And I agree that the cherry limeade is so refreshing in the summer.

                                          1. re: danhole

                                            I was always a big fan of the Ocean Water in the summer, but I mostly went for the chili cheese dogs and the tater tots.

                                    2. re: Davwud

                                      SONIC? Yuck! That is one of my "will not eat at" places. The only thing they are good for are the drinks. I've never been to a Krystal's, so I can't comment. Cracker Barrel is fine, not great, but I like the variety of foods. Chick Fil A is one of the healthiest places to eat, and is very good. Waffle House is also very good. Different strokes, huh?

                                    3. Smothered and covered 'browns at Waffle House are a perfect taste of Dixie.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

                                        I like their waffles too. I live in Jersey. Waffles aren't a big thing here unless you're getting Belgian waffles. Not quite the same...
                                        Every time I hit Delaware, I make sure to stop in for breakfast at the first Waffle House I come to.
                                        The lunch/dinner menu looks pretty horrific though...

                                      2. Red Hot and Blue is a good local chain, and they have locations in Cary and Raleigh. Red Hot & Blue is a local BBQ chain. I have been to the one in Cary, and it is very good. The sauce is a sweet tomato based one. Five Guys is another excellent chain, great cheeseburgers. And yes Smithfield's is also a good choice.
                                        Sonny's BBQ is another good chain. I think the nearest one to you is in Charlotte.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Choppedonion

                                          Actually, Red Hot and Blue isn't really local...I've been to one in Dallas, and in Wichita, KS. It's Memphis style barbecue, as opposed to either of the traditional NC styles.

                                          1. re: Choppedonion

                                            RH&B is pretty good but they've been national for quite a while. I believe they started out in N. VA since Lee Atwater was one of the founders. The first one I ever ate in (over 15 years ago) was in New Jersey.

                                            Five Guys is also not quite local, although they may still qualify as Southern. I think they're another one that came out of the DC area.

                                            Wonder if there's a trend here?

                                          2. Smithfields definitely has serviceable Q...not saying its great, but I've had worse.

                                            Hardees thickburgers are great! And Waffle House totally rocks.

                                            K&W Cafeteria is an NC chain of cafeterias that is pretty good.

                                            I've heard Popeyes is really good...anybody know anything about it?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: carolinadawg

                                              "I've heard Popeyes is really good...anybody know anything about it?"

                                              You're kidding, right? Popeyes ROCKS! Get the spicy chicken and the red beans and rice. They're now selling the crawfish basket special, and occasionally bring back the shrimp etouffe.

                                              1. re: carolinadawg

                                                K&W used to be one of the most amazing dining experiences, really good food in a cummunal country-chic atmosphere. They long ago compromised their recipes. I miss miss miss the old K&W.

                                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                  Our K& W is always packed. Our next door neighbor (young woman in her 20s) loved their baked spaghetti. They are an institution here in Wilmington.

                                              2. This far down in the thread and not a single mention of Whataburger, the best fast food burger in the country? I'm shocked.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                  Whataburger rocks.

                                                  I like Taco Cabana too. Hubby and I drive through on occasion, get the mixed fajita platter for $7.99 and it feeds both of us, and is tasty. And yes, as a previous poster said, if you go inside, you can get margaritas with your mexican fast food.

                                                  1. re: QueenB

                                                    I second the What a burger idea. It is a Texas chain, but pretty much through out the South. Great burgers: best is double meat and cheese. don't miss it

                                                2. Not that it's of much use outside of NC, but there's a franchise called TJ's that is, at least in some locations, really good. Buttermilk battered onion rings, fried chicken sandwiches, etc. Love me some TJ's.

                                                  I think they are only in W-S and Greensboro.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                    Sadly, TJ's has deteriorated and virtually disappeared. I think they only have one location left, in Winston-Salem, and the quality has gone way down.

                                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                                      I ate at the one on Country Club recently and it was as good as ever, but that one was always the best of the lot, by far. Same guys in the kitchen for decades, I think.

                                                      But I always get the same things there, so I can't speak to the rest of the menu...

                                                      I have stories I could tell about the family that owns that place, but I probably shouldn't. :)

                                                  2. So I ended up at a Zoe's for lunch today. Nothing terribly adventuresome, but they've got a solid selection of Greek-influenced menu items (ie a fondness for feta) that always seem fresh, and while they don't have detailed menu nutrition information, they're good about pointing out what menu items fit what kinds of diets/eating tendencies you generally follow.

                                                    And they've got a great cherry-limeade.

                                                    1. expand your day--eat local feed

                                                      1. Fatz. Out of Spartanburg; like an Applebees but better and styled to southern regional (espec. s.c, n.c. and ga. coastal)...and one of the oldestl, S&S Cafeteria.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: byteme55

                                                          Since we're talking "Southern" chain, it could be any cuisine....with that in mind, two very acceptable Deep South chains are Sonny's BBQ and Golden Corral. Again, not "haute cuisine", but perfectly acceptable!!

                                                          1. re: Foodman53

                                                            If you go to the Sonny's BBQ in St Augustine, you will not find it acceptable. Nor are most of the other places mentioned on this thread "acceptable".

                                                            Waffle house? Zaxby's? Golden Corral? Popeye's? These places could be the basis for a new website, though I'm not sure what it's title would be.

                                                            Any suggestions?

                                                            1. re: Foodman53

                                                              Golden Corral should be avoided entirely.

                                                              However, I will defend the pecan waffles at Waffle House. They were tasty. I don't recommend the hash browns which I imagine vary in consistency from cook to cook.

                                                              1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                Waffle Houses are one of the most inconsistent chains in the country, hands down. The bad ones are dirty and awful. The good ones are surprisingly clean and tasty. We just had a new one open near us here in rural Ga, and it is really nice, spotless and pleasant, with really well-prepared food. Love it, though just every once in a while. Double hashbrowns, scattered, with eggs and bacon. Yes.

                                                              2. re: Foodman53

                                                                Golden Corral?????? just plain tacky

                                                            2. Oh honey, when I need good southern chain food, it is Popeye's chicken all the way. They have the best fast-food chicken fingers (all white meat, and juicy, not greasy), best biscuits (with loads of honey, of course). Skip the fries (not so good) and get red beans & rice instead - best RB&R anywhere.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: starbucksbrew

                                                                Well,Here in San Antonio we used to have the Black Eyed Pea,only one location now,and Po'Folks,which is no longer here.Someone mentioned Taco Cabana which started right here in town and is mainly in Texas and a few other places.
                                                                We have Popeye's but haven't eaten there in years.First time we had it was in New Orleans years ago.

                                                                1. re: starbucksbrew

                                                                  there are no Popeye's here, except for in the airport. (RDU). Bojangle's is good, but doesn't taste as clean. somehow end up smelling like a homeless person afterwards.

                                                                2. Bojangles dominates RDU. I can not believe how fast they are and the food is addictive. I love to inside because they always clean the tables for you and it so much nicer than other fast food. The food never leaves me with that nasty bloated/greasy feeling i get from most fast food. The one on Western Blvd in Raleigh is my favorite. Supreme dinner w/ french fries & iced tea or chicken filet biscuit combo, those are the standard orders.

                                                                  1. I see this was started way back in 2006, but http://www.biscuitville.com/ Biscuitville is the yummiest by far! (North Carolina and Virginia only). Have y'all tried the mini ham biscuits that you can buy by the dozen?!?!

                                                                    1. Around Raleigh there is Snoopy's! Quick, good & open late...although the one on W.Hillsborough is a little weak.