Chipotle Chicken Dance

It's been a couple years coming, but beginning next week all 21 Cleveland-area Chipotle Mexican Grills finally will begin using all-natural Bell & Evans chicken in their burritos, tacos, and salads. According to the company's PR flacks, more than 60 percent of the national chain's outposts already serve cage-free, premium brand poultry, including all the other locations in Ohio. If the January issue of Consumer Reports is to be believed, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that the chicken is freer from bacteria than other brands; minimizing that risk depends on safe storing, handling, and cooking practices, too. But our tastebuds tell us it does taste better — juicier, more wholesome, and with a purity of flavor that less pampered poultry often seems to lack. The all-natural chicken joins Niman Ranch pork on the Chipotle menu as products that — considering the company's vast buying power — give a huge boost to the country's small, family farmers. Together, they also reinforce Chipotle founder Steve Ells's claim to serving "food with integrity" (which means that before they're whacked, the chickens are occasionally let out to the bar on Saturday nights). Those are righteous goals, of course; but like most consumers, ultimately what we care about is that the food tastes great. --- Elaine T. Cicora