FARGO - Chicken fingers, tenders, goujons, strips and fillets. Any way you fry it, these strips of battered and deep-fried poultry have both delighted and satisfied diners from all walks of life for decades, according to a New Hampshire restaurant that claims it invented chicken strips in 1974.
Today, if a restaurant has a deep fryer, chicken strip baskets will almost certainly be on the menu. Some may be better than others, but the basics remain the same: Chicken is cut into strips, breaded and deep-fried, usually served with some french fries and a cup of ranch dressing or dip on the side.
Combining a sense of humor with a realness anyone can relate to, John Miller, a sports reporting intern at The Forum and chief writer and owner of the blog Thrills with J-Mills, has taken it upon himself to test each and every chicken strip basket the Fargo-Moorhead Metro area has to offer.
But he doesn't stop there.
"I've eaten at a couple places back home in Melrose (Minn.)," Miller says. "But I'll go anywhere. If I am in Minneapolis and some friends and I go out to eat, I'll do a review."
In his first "Basket Review," Miller set out his criteria for judgment.
He writes: "The aspects of the basket that influence the review are the chicken strips (duh), fries and ranch. Extras such as toast are greatly appreciated, but will not be taken into consideration to maintain a level playing field."
So what makes a good basket? To Miller, it's all about the crunch.
"If the breading is crunchy, that's a big thing," Miller says. "You gotta have some crunch. If it's soggy breading, then that sucks. We don't like that."
Quality chicken (with crunch), crispy fries, proper seasoning and quality ranch are what makes a chicken strip basket worth a good review, he says - and taking something as simple as breaded chicken to the next level will almost certainly earn some bonus points.
Take Minnesota State University Moorhead students' hangout bar, J.C. Chumley's, for example. Miller, an alumnus of MSUM, was quite familiar with Chumley's and says he was excited to try out their strips - especially since they offer a style that he hadn't seen before on his chicken journey.
"There are two chicken strip options on the menu - the classic chicken strips or the beer-battered chicken strips," Miller writes. "I chose to go with the beer-battered. Not going with the classic chicken strip might get fans riled up; however, a chicken strip is still a chicken strip, so if you offer me an elevated version of it, you bet I'll order that one. It's fair game."
Citing that Chumley's strips were "outstanding," with an ideally crispy, thinly battered and juicy chicken, not to mention well-seasoned fries, Chumley's currently reigns as Miller's "Chicken Strip King" with a score of 8.7.
Miller has even gained the attention of one of the restaurants he reviewed. One downtown bar, Pounds, quoted his tweet that linked to his review of the establishment's chicken strip baskets, highlighting his praise of Pounds' specialty, Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. At the end of the day, Miller gave the bar a score of 7.2.
"(Chicken strips) have been one of my favorite foods my whole life," Miller says. "A lot of restaurants have them. It gives me a wide range to compare across a bunch of different places, and I feel like a lot of people like them and can relate to them."
Keeping his writing skills sharp and his belly full, Miller hopes to continue his journey through all the chicken strips the metro has to offer. He says he also wants to help weed out any lackluster strips for other enthusiasts down the road.
"Chicken strips are a universal language," Miller says. "I am a man of the people; chicken strips are the food of the people."
Read the reviews
Read John Miller's blog and chicken strip basket reviews at thrillswithjmills.wordpress.com.