Zaxby's makes impressive initial foray into Utah County
December 04, 2014 10:15 am • Doug Fox Daily Herald
Zaxby’s may be brand new to Utah County, but residents best get familiar with this popular franchise as it will be hatching restaurants all up and down the Beehive State in the next several years.
The Zaxby’s brand most likely needs a bit of an introduction in these parts. Zaxby’s launched its first restaurant in Athens, Ga., back in 1990. The chain now boasts more than 640 franchises in 15 states -- predominantly in the East and Southwest. The kicker is that the new Utah locations are the farthest West the company has migrated -- but judging from our recent dining experience, it will be no surprise to see Zaxby’s infiltrate the entire region in due time.
Zaxby’s opened its first Utah location in late February in Ogden, and the Lehi restaurant, which opened Oct. 20, is already the fifth in-state franchise. Another location will be opening in Orem, and the company has plans for 18 restaurants throughout Utah in the next three to four years.
Enough with the business background -- so how’s the food, anyway? Great, as it turns out.
We discovered that Zaxby’s sports a delicious menu that proved to be much more diverse than a first glance might indicate. Overall, the menu appeared quite similar to what one might associate with sports-themed restaurants -- you know, featuring several appetizers (called Zappetizers here), salads (Zalads), and a veritable array of chicken offerings (wings, tenders, sandwiches, etc.) In addition to that, when you consider the different choices of chicken and nine distinct sauce options to dress things up, there are way more taste decisions to be made than one would initially realize.
Thankfully, our cashier was more than willing to patiently walk us through our options and even offer suggestions -- which we greatly appreciated.
Orders are placed at the front counter, and later called out for pickup. The restaurant’s decor is quite vibrant, with lots of yellow, red and orange colors, and floor-to-ceiling brick walls in many locations. There were two flat-screen TVs in the dining room, both showing college football games during our late Saturday afternoon visit. The dining room seats around 75, with a combination of booths and tables.
It turns out that settling on main menu options was a walk in the park compared to choosing a drink. The restaurant features a pair of Coca-Cola Freestyle fountains, a surprisingly easy to navigate machine that offers -- are you ready? -- more than 100 beverage choices. The drink varieties include regular and low-calorie choices in sodas, water, sports drinks and lemonades. There are 25 different buttons on the main dispenser display alone, each featuring a secondary level of additional flavorings or variations from the main choice. For example, I clicked on ginger ale, and then had a handful of other options before quickly settling on vanilla before passing out from selection overload. We look forward to exploring many other options when other patrons are not waiting behind us in line.
Returning to the food, we found much to like with everything we sampled. We highly recommend the Fried White Cheddar Bites (batter-fried cheese bits) and onion rings in the Zappetizers category. Both were extremely tasty. We found the marinara dipping sauce that came with the cheddar bites to be exquisite. The onion rings come with a house Zesty Sauce, which we enjoyed, and we also tried dipping them in the supreme Zax Sauce (a fry sauce on steroids), and both were excellent. However, in the end, we decided the onion rings were at their absolute best as is, without any sauce at all. Go figure.
There are four main Zalads, but like mentioned previously, the bevy of sauce and chicken options expand your decision quotient exponentially. We tried The House -- which features mixed greens and red cabbage loaded with cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, fried onions, and cheddar and jack cheeses, along with our option of grilled chicken. We topped it all with ranch dressing, and sweet and spicy sauce. Needless to say, it was about as fantastic as it sounds.
In the sandwich realm, we reached out for the Zaxby’s Club. This was another winner. Served on slices of grilled Texas toast, it included Chicken Fingerz, bacon, lettuce, tomato, American cheese and mayonnaise. This plate comes with crinkled-cut fries -- which we also loved -- and a pickle spear. And it must be noted that the Zax Sauce is a perfect complement to these fries.
It was also imperative to sample an order of wings, and those received extremely high marks from us as well. Available in traditional and boneless options, you can also choose to have them baked in your sauce of choice or served naked. We chose the latter specifically so we could sample several different sauces. There are nine different flavors ranging on the heat meter from “wimpy” to “insane.” Our two favorites -- “teriyaki” and “sweet and spicy” -- landed in the middle to lower range of the spectrum. We loved the teriyaki for its rich taste and thickness, a noted departure from the thin varieties we typically encounter. We were equally enchanted by the “sweet and spicy” because it comes closer to resembling the original Winger’s sauce we have always loved than anything else in memory.
Don’t come to Zaxby’s expecting your normal, run-of-the-mill milkshakes either. Zaxby’s offers only three premium shake flavors: Birthday Cake, Banana Pudding, and Chocolate Cookie. We tried the latter two and they were a great complement and capper to the entire meal.
Our introduction to Zaxby’s was a great one. We see many more get-togethers in our future.