Feb. 22 2012 12:00 AM

Delicious Chick'n & Fix'ns is worth clucking about


Along Cedar Street in south Lansing, you’ll find fast food to your left, chain restaurants to your right and pizza joints up the wazoo. 

Within that tangle of culinary banality, though, you’ll also find Chick’n & Fix’ns, nestled in a building that formerly housed a Long John Silver’s. The pirates are gone, but a little treasure got left behind.

A cafeteria-style restaurant that markets itself as fast-casual, Chick’n & Fix’ns isn’t the kind of place the looks to wow diners with snazzy branding or festive décor; the owners leave it to the food to impress.

Open only a few months, Chick’n & Fix’ns is still working out the kinks, as the smiling and well-managed yet slightly stiff servers will attest. What it may lack in polish is made up for in earnest friendliness, and if you’ve never been to Chick’n & Fix’ns (they will ask you), they’re more than happy to give you the lowdown.

Here’s the short of it: best chicken strips in town. And when I say chicken strips, I don’t mean homogenized strips of deep fried breast meat or glorified Franken-nuggets. Chick’n & Fix’ns uses only chicken tenderloin — what they call the “filet mignon of the chicken.” 

The strips come grilled or breaded in two styles, and the breaded variety is what we tried. Two come with a side for $5.99, or as part of an entrée salad for $6.99.

One style uses a dry breading. It’s a touch peppery, not intrusive and lets the quality of the chicken shine. Plenty of dipping sauces are available, but the strips are done so well the sauces aren’t really necessary.

The other style utilizes a Southern-style wet batter that gives it a tempura effect. Like the dry-batter strips, these, too, have a subtle but discernible flavor profile with a piney hint of rosemary.

Meals come with garlic cheese drop biscuits. Unlike the flakey variety served almost elsewhere else, these biscuits are soft as cake on the inside with a bready-crust on the bottom. They are delicious accompaniments to most any dish at Chick’n & Fix’ns — but using them in the strawberry shortcake is a really bad idea.

The sides are all made in-house, and we went with the mac & cheese and garlic smashed potatoes. The mac & cheese will make kids smile, but probably won’t do much for those beyond puberty.

On the other hand, if you want some seriously adult mashed potatoes, this is your place. These are some of the richest, most delicious potatoes you’ll find in a meal under $7.

Chick’n & Fix’ns roasts its own garlic and mashes it in with red-skin potatoes for a creamy, flavor-popping side dish that’s hard to stop eating. The chicken gravy acts like a flavor buffer when mixed with the potatoes, tempering the mellow bite of the garlic. This may be more palatable for some diners, but I prefer these taters in all of their pungent glory. 

The chicken pot pie ($5.99) comes with both a side and a biscuit, which pushes the dish over the starch-limit threshold; it has another biscuit buried under a chicken- and veggie-filled gravy, and the gravy itself has chunks of potatoes — it’s like the sum total of all my grandmother’s casseroles on one plate. 

It was the chicken finger salad ($6.99), though, that carried the evening. Along with the aforementioned chicken strips, the salad is worthy of praise in its own right. Mixed baby greens, a touch of bitterness with arugula and frisée, and some fresh iceburg lettuce is mixed with sweet cherry tomatoes, rings of crisp red onion, a hard-boiled egg, and, get this, real bacon — not pebbles of soy-based bits masquerading as food, but actual bacon. I went with a serviceable bleu cheese dressing, but it didn’t need to be anything special. This salad has plenty of flavor naked.

There’s plenty more I’d go back for: the homemade soups, the barbecue chicken sandwich, or just a taste of some of the other homemade sides, like the baked beans, the sweet potato wedges or the green beans cooked with ham hocks and onion.

Don’t let the overgrowth of corporate-themed signage fool you in south Lansing. There’s a pleasant surprise hidden in plain sight for those who drop by Chick’n & Fix’ns.

Chick’n & Fix’ns

6333 S. Cedar St., Lansing

11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday

(517) 394-5970

TO, WiFi, P, OM, $