Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Gluten-Free Dinner at PDQ in Raleigh, NC

One of the nice things about being a food blogger is getting the inside scoop to new restaurants and shops in the Raleigh area! Last week I received an email inviting me to attend a blogger's dinner at a new "fast food" restaurant in Raleigh called PDQ. Admittedly I was a bit skeptical because I had no idea what to expect or what was going to happen when I got there. Was it going to be an all day sales pitch? Were they going to wrangle us into buying something? Was the food really going to be any good.... let alone something safely gluten-free that I could even eat? Would we be forced into signing a contract to write a blog post? (Thankfully NONE of those things happened! lol)

I really wasn't sure... but it was a free meal and Michael thought it would be fun, so we decided to take an afternoon trip to Raleigh to check it out. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. When we drove into the shopping center where the Raleigh PDQ is located on Falls of Neuse Rd., we were greeted to a beautifully landscaped parking lot and then a game of cornhole on the sidewalk. What a great way to welcome kids!! And we actually had fun playing a few rounds too since we were early!

Next up we saw that the restaurant listed it's operating director, boldly and proudly on the front door. This was kind of cool to me, because it seemed to signify that this was much more than your average fast food restaurant. It turns out, it was Amy herself who greeted us when we got to the restaurant.

The dining room has an open view of the kitchen and a smaller, more cozy room that's full of windows and sunlight. This smaller room can be reserved for special events and parties.  Every table has this cool branding!

When we first got to the restaurant Amy greeted us and welcomed us into the small room. She stated that PDQ (other than standing for pretty dang quick), also meant People Dedicated to Quality. While waiting for the other bloggers to arrive for the early dinner, we were given information sheets and Amy just casually told us about the restaurant's history and how they focused on a small menu with fresh ingredients. Once all the bloggers arrived we were all going to get to have a tour through the restaurant and the kitchen and preparation areas.

One thing I was immediately impressed with was the cleanliness of the restaurant and how open they were about everything. You could see every aspect of the kitchen and prep area. This restaurant has no freezers or microwaves, all food is prepared fresh and they have a unique way to prep foods so they are put together quickly for your meal.

This is the open, main dining area of the PDQ in Raleigh. You'll see lots of different tables and the basic menus in front of each cashier. I really loved how basic the menu was and how easy it was to see in front of each cashier. The cashiers were also extremely knowledgeable when we asked them questions about the menu items.

Amy is in the white chef's coat below as she began our tour. All managers at PDQ wear chef's coats and are easy to locate. They have many duties in each restaurant, including expediting the food as it goes out of the kitchen. I liked that they wore the coats. I felt like they were proud of their position and they enjoyed their jobs.

The restaurant usually has 1-2 seasonal special meals in addition to their regular menu. You will generally see the seasonal specials listed on the large colorful boards on the way to the cashier.  Amy was extremely friendly and fun to talk too. You could tell she really loved this restaurant and what they stood for (fresh, healthy, quality food, that's delivered quickly!)

Along with fresh-brewed teas (often brewed twice a day!), and traditional sodas, the restaurant also serves homemade lemonade along with their favorite soda beverage of choice: CHEERWINE! Good ol' Cheerwine! (If you're from NC and love your cheerwine raise your hand! lol)

One of the really neat things about PDQ was the hand washing station next to the restrooms. It's at a great height for kids who are more interested in getting their yummy food than going to the potty! The kids who were visiting loved this hand washing fountain! I thought it was pretty cool too!

At the beginning of the kitchen tour Amy showed us that all of the sauces in the restaurant are made fresh every single day without any preservatives. All sauces that go out to customers are served in individual containers to prevent cross-contamination and to have a neat presentation.

Notice the blue" order in the square on the tv above Amy's head below. This means that the customer has just placed the order, so the prep staff IMMEDIATELY start to put together your order as soon as they see it hit the screen. This means while you're paying for your meal, your order is already being quickly, yet carefully put together.

I wish I had gotten this young man's name, but he gave us the rest of the tour through the kitchen. He was incredibly knowledgeable about preventing cross-contamination and about the gluten-free menu items. Such as, he made sure to let me know that the buns for burgers are warmed in a separate warmer and not on the grill, where the grilled chicken and turkey is cooked (so no cross-contamination there!) The restaurant's specialty is freshly breaded and fried chicken tenders, along with grilled chicken tenders. The kitchen makes a certain amount of those tenders are made so your meal can be put together quickly, however those precooked foods, have NOT been sitting there for hours, they are all on specific timers.

FRIES! The fresh-cut fries are a something PDQ is EXTREMELY proud of! They do not use frozen products at all, so all of their fries are handcut, steam-baked, and then fried. Again, they are not made hours ahead of time, so all the food you get is VERY fresh! Whenever they open a new box of fresh potatoes, the potatoes are specifically tested for the glucose count, if the glucose count is over 3 (on their measuring instrument), they are returned and not used for fries. The glucose count is very important to having a crispy fry with a great texture. The potatoes are pressed and cut with a machine in the store, and then washed 3 times to remove dirt and any extra starch. They are then steam-baked and only fried once in soybean oil.

Their fries are prepped and made fresh EVERY SINGLE DAY! Here in the picture below you can see them coming out of the oven after being steam-baked. They steam-bake the fries first, so that they are only fried once. This gives the fries a super fresh "baked potato" flavor and they are a huge hit at the restaurant!

NO FREEZERS! Another big selling point for PDQ is that they do not have a freezer. Not even a little one. Their "fast" food is extremely fresh. All produce comes to the restaurant 3 times a week. All proteins are shipped to the restaurant 2 times a week. And PDQ receives fresh baked bread from a bakery in Georgia 5 days a week! Chances are, if you're someone who can eat gluten, the bread on your sandwich was baked that very day or the day before!

Salad lettuce is kept fresh every single day by being rinsed in ice-water and kept on ice until serving, so salads are super fresh along with their lettuce-wrapped sandwiches (which are delicious!

I was incredibly impressed with the amount of gluten-free items that were available at PDQ! I honestly only thought I was going to be able to get a salad before I went to the restaurant. After visiting and seeing the kitchen preparation area and the way they prep their potatoes, I was so excited! I could have a lettuce wrapped sandwich, salads, EVEN the fries! They are all made in a dedicated fryer (although, as with all restaurants, you may want to check with the manager individually at your location), but I could eat just about everything on the menu, minus the buns on a sandwich or fried chicken tenders! Despite the small menu, I still had a LOT of options!  (I do hope the company will make their allergen menu more easily available on their website soon, so it's easier for folks to find! ) 

I chose the grilled turkey sandwich since I'm a big fan of all things turkey, cranberry, and Thanksgiving! Here's what's on it: "Hand-held Thanksgiving" served on an egg bun (or a lettuce wrap) with traditional spices, seasoned mayo, lettuce and cranberry.

It was absolutely delicious! Actually I've been trying to think of ways I could re-create that sandwich at home this week! I really loved it! The mayo had sage and other savory Thanksgiving spices and it paired perfectly with the cranberry sauce and the juicy turkey breast! It was really good! And the fries? Oh goodness... they were really delicious! Super crispy, super potatoey, just perfect!!

Michael had one of the Cripsy Chicken Sandwich which had mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles and he said it was just as good, if not better than his favorite sandwich at our favorite chicken sandwich restaurant! (you know... the one with those amazing waffle fries! lol) He was really impressed and truly enjoyed the sandwich! He said the homemade breading was great and the chicken was very moist. He also completely devoured the fries!

Once everyone was seated and enjoying their free meal Amy sent around samples of other menu items such as the homemade Blueberry Coleslaw... not too sweet and really popped with blueberries! It was very fresh and summery!

Another fun side we had the chance to try was the fresh green apple slices with homemade toffee dip. I love that both of these sides were naturally gluten-free and they were really great. The apples and dip would be SUCH a great snack in the afternoons at my job! I wonder if I could suggest this to the cafeteria in my building!  The toffee dip was really delicious, yet not too sweet or sugary! It was just right and went really well with the tart apples!

Other great items we tasted were the freshly made lemonade, the vanilla milkshakes, and the peanut butter & chocolate milkshakes, which are also made fresh right as you order them! The milkshakes are worth the trip alone! YUM!

I honestly cannot tell you how impressed I was with this restaurant. The employees were extremely friendly and just seemed to really enjoy their jobs. The food was fantastic and you just felt good about eating it. You felt like your meal was healthy and made from real foods and it was so much more than "just a fast food" experience! This restaurant could change the standards of "fast food."

Many thanks to Amy and her team for providing local bloggers with the opportunity to visit the restaurant and simply have the chance to try their great food and enjoy the experience! I had a blast!

GLG Disclosure: 
Full disclosure: The meal & tour of the restaurant we received at PDQ were provided by the company. However, participating bloggers (including myself) were NOT compensated financially and were NOT requested or required to write a review post. All opinions in this post are completely my own.

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