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An Ode To Harold's Chicken Shack

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 27, 2006 6:46PM

2006_01_Harold.jpgDown in Nashville there’s an obsession with a dish called “hot chicken.” Legend has it that it started when the girlfriend of a man named Thornton Prince- a notorious womanizer- decided to exert payback on Prince’s whoring around by spiking his fried chicken with enough hot spices to fell an elephant. But the girlfriend discovered the hard way that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold: Prince loved the hot chicken so much he asked for seconds and thirds.

Here in Chicago our own version of “hot chicken” would have to be Harold’s Chicken Shack. Chicagoist can still can vividly remember when we lived on the north side and was biking down Sheridan Road one hot summer day and nearly crashed our bike gawking at the sight of someone struggling to stand upright inside a Kool-Aid Man costume standing in front of what was previously an abandoned Checker’s. Underneath the drive-through window was a banner that read, “Harold’s Chicken Shack… Now Proudly Serving Kool-Aid (OH YEAH!!)”.

We love us some Harold’s. We know it’s not good for us, that it falls in the same category as cigarettes, liquor, coffee, hard drugs, processed sugar, “One Tree Hill”, and women who stay for breakfast. Actually, Harold's has helped us balance the effects of all of the others vices listed. But it’s so damn good. Smothered in barbecue and hot sauce; so fresh out of the fryer that one risks second degree burns handling it; crispy skin; ultra tender meat; and served with just enough fries, cole slaw, and white bread to ensure that it’s Atkins friendly, this is the epitome of comfort food. Our sole New Year’s resolution was to switch from Harold’s half-white dinner to the quarter-white in an effort to eat smaller portions.

And to think that Harold’s Chicken Shack was a product of necessity: Harold Pierce started his namesake chicken shacks more than fifty years ago because larger fast food chains avoided African American neighborhoods. Harold’s now has twenty-four locations listed in the White Pages, all of them serving that same great chicken. Even though some locations have popped up like mushrooms in spring along the north side (with a Wicker Park location soon to open if it hasn’t already), Harold’s is quintessentially Chicago but distinctively South Side.

Photo courtesy of the Hyde Park/South East Chicago Commission Web Site