Editor's note: Occasionally what looks at first glance to be a conventional guidebook transcends the genre in surprising ways. John T. Edge's Southern Belly is just such a read, which is why I'm pleased that he has allowed us to excerpt selected items from it on Serious Eats, where they appear every other week. —Ed Levine
By John T. Edge | Thinly battered, well-salted deep-fried chicken, dumped unceremoniously from cook baskets and served with hushpuppies, coleslaw, a marshmallowy white bread roll, and a jumble of so-called Tater Rounds. That's what you get when you quit the more well-traveled and gentrified precincts of Charlotte's Uptown neighborhood for this South End favorite, in business since 1948 as a chicken market, since 1952 as a kinda-sorta restaurant.
The exterior is a plane of redbrick, fronted by plate glass windows which, when the place is bursting at the seams–and it almost always is–fog with clouds of chicken grease. The white cinder-block interior is utilitarian. There may well be an air-conditioninig unit in use somewhere but, come summer, it's no match for the combo of roiling oil and broiling Carolina sun. And there are no seats. Most meals are eaten in the front sea of cars or vans parked at teh curb or, for those with a bit of lolling-about time, beneath the boughs in nearby Latta Park.
If you desire a meal of chicken parts, you're in the right place. The menu, printed on the top of the white pasteboard boxes in which Price's serves their birds, boasts quarter chickens, chicken livers, and chicken gizzards. (They also dish burgers and barbecue sandwiches, but no one is fool enough to order them.)
I once believed that in the cookery of fried chicken a cast-iron skillet was elemental. I claimed a seat in the skillet-fried pew alongside Calvin Trillin, who once observed that a "fried chicken cook with a deep fryer is a sculptor working with mittens."
But after a decade of traveling the South, eating at the likes of Price's—not to mention the fabled Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans—I've tasted my share of wonderful deep-fried bird and have, in the process, come to see the error of my ways. I now believe that skillet-fried chicken is not inherently superior to deep-fried chicken. Nor is the inverse true. (The two are, however, different. So keep this in mind: If you like a crust that clings to the meat and offers a bit of chew, you're in the skillet camp. If you like a brittle crust that shatters upon first bite, you're a deep-fried fan.)
One more thing: When you step to the counter at Price's, have purse or wallet in hand and your order settled, for the white-jacketed employees brook no fulminating and fumbling. There is, however, a payoff in the harried exchange of cash and drumstick. Standing amid the rugby scrum of hungry supplicants, waiting for your box, you will recognize a place that matters deeply to this ever-evolving New South Metropolis.
Price's Chicken Coop
Address: 1614 Camden Road, Charlotte NC 28203 (map)
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