Dave's 'Not' Chicken Is Pure Cauliflower Power

One of America's fastest growing chicken chains has a new meat-free offering: spicy fried cauliflower.

Vegetarians looking for their fast food fix have always have it rough—especially when it comes to fried chicken. Some major chains have tried to cater to them, but not all that well. KFC served Beyond Chicken Nuggets for a hot second. Chick-fil-A tested a fried cauliflower sandwich in a few markets last year. But now, a smaller but quickly expanding chain has beaten Chick-fil-A to a nationwide launch with a great-tasting chicken alternative: Dave's Hot Chicken is now serving "Not" Chicken, aka spicy fried cauliflower, for a limited time.

A quick primer on Dave’s Hot Chicken

Dave's Hot Chicken was only founded in 2017 as a food truck in East Hollywood, but since then it's been rapidly expanding across the country. Its celebrity investors include Drake and Samuel L. Jackson, and the website contains a long list of locations in 31 states as well as some international outlets in Canada, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

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Dave's, like Raising Cane's, specializes in chicken tenders rather than traditional fried chicken. Thus, the new meatless alternative, affectionately referred to as "Not Chicken," is conceived as a fried cauliflower tender. Just like the hot chicken, you can choose from one of seven spice levels on a scale that ranges from "No Spice" to "Reaper." As a sadomasochist, I ordered my Not Chicken "hot," the third highest spice level. The franchisee gave me a look that said, "Are you sure?" which triggered memories of the time I tried Bolton's hot chicken in Nashville and was brought to tears.

Tasting Dave’s “Not” Chicken fried cauliflower

However, the spice level on Dave's Not Chicken turned out to be perfect. It left a pleasant, lingering burn on my tongue, but wasn't so hot that I had to stop and reevaluate my life. Honestly, I wish I had ordered it "extra hot."

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There are three ways to order Not Chicken: bites, tenders, and a sandwich. The Not Chicken bites are simply florets of cauliflower, breaded, seasoned, and deep fried. At first glance, you might think they're actual poultry—and on the first bite, they taste like fried chicken, too. While they're missing that natural juiciness of a chicken breast, the satisfaction of biting into a big, spicy fried thing is just the same. You get that crunch, and you get that coating of oil in your mouth, but the texture is airy compared to the density of chicken.

The tenders felt much the same as the bites, but just as one uninterrupted honkin' slice of cauliflower. If the bites are like eating popcorn chicken, the tender is like a fried chicken breast. I would go for the bites over the tender simply because they're a bit easier to eat; plus, you get more of the floret and less of the stalk.

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The best Not Chicken offering, though, is the sandwich. The tender is nestled on a Martin's potato roll and topped with kale slaw, pickles, and Dave's "signature sauce," which seems to be a spicy mayo. I didn't really care for any of these elements by themselves: The kale slaw was too bland to eat as a side, the "signature sauce" was too rich for dipping, and we know how I felt about the tender. But taken together, the ingredients all complement each other well.

Compared to the actual chicken sandwich, the cauliflower really held its own. And in fact, Dave's chicken sandwich even gives Popeyes a run for its money, thanks to the spice factor. Popeyes' spicy chicken sandwich is pretty mild because it only contains spicy mayo; the seasoning is not spicy at all. But Dave's combines spicy sauce and spicy seasoning, albeit with a smaller slab of chicken (a tender, not a breast filet).

Impressively, the Not Chicken and hot chicken sandwiches more or less tasted the same, but the cauliflower one felt lighter—or at least as light as fried food can feel. It wasn't filling the way chicken is. I would definitely need two Not Chicken sandwiches to feel satiated. Now I get why my vegan friends are always hungry.

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All in all, Not Chicken is not bad. It's actually pretty damn good, and it's a solid option for non-meat-eaters who are clamoring for an high dose of salt and fat. But you might want to order the bites, a tender, and a sandwich so you don't get hungry again two hours later. If you're a poultry eater, I would stick with the regular chicken tenders or sandwich—although the Not Chicken bites make for a great snack to share.

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