Name: Harold’s Chicken Shack
Location: Chicago’s Southside
Meal: Quarter Chicken with mild sauce, Fries, Cole Slaw, and a Pepsi
Type: Chicken joint
You could write extensively on just the wonders of Chicago cuisine, both highbrow and lowbrow. My limited travels to the Windy City have only amounted to a very tiny scratch on the surface of Chicago cuisine. I like to think that in my limited experience I’ve been able to get to parts of the Chicago short list. On Chicago’s Southside, Harold’s Chicken Shack is an institution, plain and simple. For over 50 years, Harold’s has not only been providing great food to some neighborhoods others chains would scoff at, they’ve been making some of the best tasting chicken there is. This is another one of those places people say to expect a 30-45 minute wait for your food; I was eating within five minutes of ordering.
I don’t remember which Harold’s I visited; I was on my way from Navy Pier to Midway and my GPS wasn’t cooperating but I found one nonetheless. From what I’ve read this was one of locations, there was no bullet-proof glass at the counter. The chicken is fried in a mixture of beef tallow and vegetable oil, unlike just about everyone else I’ve ever heard of. Beef tallow? Rendered beef fat, the stuff even McDonald’s stopped using in 1990, so yes it makes fried food DELICIOUS. As a result of the extra attention the chicken receives and the oil/fat it is fried in the chicken has an amazing crunch to it. I’ve had chicken that was harder before, over fried that is, Harold’s is a special kind of crunchy. The crunch of Harold’s can be soften up by their sauce, you choose one of three: BBQ, mild, or hot. I went with mild sauce which was liberally applied to my entire order. An order normally consists of your chicken, fries, and white bread all covered in sauce and crammed inside your standard white styrofoam takeout container with cole slaw on the side. I ate in, popping open the styrofoam as quickly as possible and was met with chicken nirvana. You will not have perfectly clean fingers after Harold’s despite your best finger licking abilities.
The chicken is great, crunchy yet moist on the inside with the sauce having just enough heat and vinegar to perfectly compliment it. The heat of the chicken steams the bread just right. On their own, the fries aren’t much to talk about, pre-frozen and likely dumped out of a brown bag; the sauce Harold’s uses take the fries to a much better place. I had done an little research into Harold’s and found that to truly have the experience, I need to finish off my meal with a fry sandwich; folding up some of the sauciest fries into one of the pieces of bread. I’m glad I took the advice, a Harold’s fry sandwich is a nice finish to all together great meal.
Chicago is an amazing city, I spent only a few days downtown and on the last day realized how little I actually had seen. I hope to get back there soon and explore, remember what I say, “have stomach, will travel.” Chicago is known to the outside world most for two foods, deep dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs. I will not deny that both of those foods are great and represent the city in their own way. I argue that Harold’s delivers not only equally great food but also an equally important representation of the city.