Time to Settle Accounts
March 2, 2012: Dedication.
After scouring online for Harold’s #1 (in the name of variety and historical research beyond #36 and #62, my primary and secondary locations, respectively) and finding it missing, I decided to move to the next and venture out to Harold’s #2, in Woodlawn, just south of 64th on Cottage Grove, right off the last stop on the green line. It’s only ten stops between the loop and the end of the line, but there are large gaps between several stops, and the trip drags on. I was stuffed in one of the solo seats at the back of the car, keeping myself on task reading The Road and observing through the window.
It had rained, and all through the turnstiles at the Cottage Grove platform were deep pools of water soaking up the wood. I was wearing my Chucks, never a good match for pools, and I squirreled my way through the puddles and down the steps and down the street to the restaurant.
Harold’s #2 is a small restaurant, with a bit of seating on either wall. A plexiglass divider and a rotating counter separates customers from kitchen; when I arrived, two women were shouting playfully at the man behind the glass about his failure in providing adequate customer service. He is a large man nearly filling the window, with a thick beard and oblong head who fixes them a smooth Rahm smile and fires back just as joyfully about what they can do with their complaints. I order next, grab a Pepsi from the machine behind me, and take a seat along the right wall.
Sitting in the corner between the wall and the front window is a man my age in a ball cap with a mini-DVD player and a stack of discs in plastic sleeves, and next to him – between myself and the salesman – is an older man, perhaps 20 years later than us. A woman walks in with two small kids and asks what he has. “Fail Safe – that’s Denzel – Scorpion King 3, the Grey…”
“70!” shouts the large man behind the plexiglass. My number. I take it and sit down and eat. The two men nod hello when I sit down, but it is a long time before any of us speak. This is partly because when I open my bag I am struck by two of the biggest breasts I’ve ever prepared to devour. I start with the wings as is my custom, and am immediately delighted by the taste. Why so much better? I ask myself, and I can’t figure it out; is it the seasoning? The oil? Ultimately I settle on this assessment: like the oranges of California, this just tastes better – more like what oranges should taste like, or in this case, fried chicken.
Now, the difference between the taste quality at #2 and my usual #36 was much less than the difference between California oranges and Illinois oranges. But it was clear that this chicken had a flavor and personality that went a bit beyond what my tongue and nose were used to.
Finally, I looked over and said, “Lemme ask you guys – what’s the best Harold’s in the city?”
“What’d he say?” asked the man with the DVDs. The woman and her kids had just left and he was reorganizing his disks.
“He wanted to know the best Harold’s in the city,” said the older man.
“I guess the ‘in the city’ qualifier is unnecessary,” I said out loud.
“Can I pick three?” asked the DVD salesman. “I’m taking three. 87th and Dan Ryan, 62nd and Ashland, here.”
“This is pretty damn good,” I said between bites.
“You’ve never been here?” asked the older man.
“Not this one, no. I have one in my neighborhood that’s great that I’m at all the time.”
“Wicker what?” said the younger one.
“Park. North side. Off the Blue Line.”
“So you had a nice little trip here.”
I nodded, dipping a fry.
“And you don’t work here or something?” asked the older man.
I shook my head. “Just came for the chicken.”
Some women walked in for a pickup order, and said hello to Mr. DVD. “This guy here came just for the chicken,” he said to them. “Came far.”
“How is it?” smiled one woman.
“Worth the train.”
The older man told me about the movie Color of Money having been shot across the street, and a few more DVD customers arrived, including one person in from St. Louis who was here on a personal referral. Meanwhile the fries and sauce were delicious and I put down nearly all four pieces, pulling up short on the second breast so as not to kill myself on the long ride home.
“That’s a good ‘wake up and nibble’ piece,” said the woman with a smile on her way out. I decided, yes, I would wrap it and take it, so first I had to dump my bones in the trash, which I did, just as the big man came from behind the glass to reload the pop machine.
“Yo,” said Mr. DVD, “my man here came a long ways for this. Tell him where you came from,” he said to me. “That dude’s the owner.”
The big man looked at me.
“Wicker Park,” I said.
“Wick – what’s that?”
“North side. Blue to the Green.”
“And you came all the way from there just to eat?”
“That’s a good customer.”
NEXT: Fear and loathing on speaker phone. (3.3.12)
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On this date, 2011: Appreciating the standards.