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I am in South Chicago, and, through no coincidence, my favorite fast-food restaurant is also here–so I am uncharacteristically devoting this post to fine dining. I hope my more serious readers will forgive the frivolity of this sybaritic post dedicated to the nation’s finest fried chicken restaurant, Harold’s Chicken Shack in Hyde Park, which I frequented with great gusto when both it and I were younger. Harold’s is known for its vibrant hen-themed wall-paper, its neighbors–namely a liquor store and a lottery shop, and its impregnability (since the cashiers and fry cooks still work behind at least one layer of bulletproof material), but most of all Harold’s is famous for its dirt-cheap, unhealthy, yet supremely delicious fried chicken.
I purchased a signature half chicken (white) with fries, hot sauce, extra white bread, and an RC cola. I’m live blogging the unique experience both because I have discovered that Harold’s chicken fits many of Ferrebeekeeper’s ongoing themes (namely crowns, farms, mascots, & art), and as an opening salvo of the Thanksgiving season of gluttony and good eating.
OK, here’s a photo of the inside of Harold’s Chicken Shack. As you can see, a variety of luridly colored machines are there to help you supplement your meal with candy, soft-drinks, and diabetes. Actually these are only some of the vending machines in the store: the ice-cream machine and the other candy machines are up by the counter. I decided not to take a photo of the counter area because Harold’s employees are hard-working folk and I didn’t want to get in their way (and because I was afraid they would think I was casing the joint and call the Chicago police). Unfortunately this means you can’t see the remarkable bulletproof glass food carousel or the menu with its gizzards, livers, grits, and fish.
Once I had obtained my half-chicken, I rushed it to the local park. The last 2 decades have been good for South Chicago and the park was much cleaner and more beautifully landscaped then back in the 90’s, but I did notice a smashed cassette about “How to Balance Your Life (The Physical Side of Life)” lying not far from a Crown Regal Bottle. I hope this doesn’t have anything to do with eating a 6,000 calorie meal, but I can’t help but think that it does.
Here is the outside of my fried half-chicken. You can see Harold’s two remarkable mascots on the wrapper: King Harold, complete with crown and scarlet robes is rushing after a speedy and clever free-range chicken who does not want to be part of his majesty’s supper. There is a lot to appreciate about the drama, pomp, and pathos of this logo—it captures all of my ambiguous but powerful feelings about animal farming. As an aside, it is unclear whether the eponymous “Harold” of Harold’s chicken represents Harold Harefoot (c. 1015–1040) or Harold Godwinson (c. 1022–1066) who famously fell before William the Conqueror to end Anglo-Saxon rule of England. Maybe they simply anglicized one of the many King Haralds from Sweden or Norway. Anyway, the mystery is part of the charm.
Now for the reveal: here is the Harold’s half chicken sodden with hot-sauce on its bed of fries. A few pieces of wonder bread are stacked on top in case the diner wishes to make a little chicken-skin and French fry sandwich. Hopefully you will notice the Royal Crown “RC” cola which again features a crown (in fact the logo is pretty much only a crown). My whole repast is covered with crown logos and there is indeed something regal about this meal. I can’t help but feel like Henry VIII as I throw bones to the side from orange-stained fingers. Eating Harold’s chicken is like life: the experience is messy and horrifying and delightful. There are moments of delight and moments of despair. As with life, the end is grim and painful and comes too soon. As a greasy calm fell over me and the first stabs of stomach pain began, I noticed this admirable statue sitting nearby the chess tables of Nichols Park. Campoli’s abstract imagery of talons and claws and beaks emerging from a (stomach-like) egg perfectly summarized my feelings about my delicious and unsettling lunch. Hooray for Harold’s!