A Newlywed Couple Drives Across America in Search of the Country’s Best Fried Chicken
By Christina Lewis Halpern
We didn’t have much of a plan for our honeymoon—just my mother’s car, the open road, a month of free time and hearty appetites.
My husband, D.H., and I headed south from New York City down the East Coast, and as we sat together in the car—alone at last after days, even weeks, of wedding-related hoopla—we realized what it was we most wanted to do: find the best fried chicken in the country.
Fried chicken, that most American of foods, is something of an obsession of mine. I still bitterly regret that, while in my early 20s, I spent a week in the Mississippi Delta and failed to visit a single well-known local restaurant. This road trip was my redemption.
It began in New Jersey, at a truck stop called Joe’s Steak Shop, and it did not begin well. Our first meal was a heart-stoppingly bad lunch of fried macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.
We resolved to not make that mistake again.
After downloading Southern food specialist John T. Edge’s Fried Chicken: An American Story to my iPad, we embarked on a tour of famous fried-chicken joints. The first was a much-lauded buttermilk-and-sage-brined version from the high-end resort Blackberry Farm in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. It was considered picnic chicken, served cold with its extra crunchy skin, and it came in a chic brown box along with homemade chips, potato salad and a white-chocolate brownie bar. It was good; I ate it in the car as we drove. But it wasn’t so addictive that I wished for seconds.
One highly promising entry was Gus’s Fried Chicken in Mason, Tennessee. We arrived off-hours at a wooden shack. The place was totally empty, yet they served us a delicious, hot, succulent, crispy bird. We drove on, opting to skip New Orleans’ famous chicken spot, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, only because we’d already been there. As I said, fried chicken is a longtime obsession.
During our trip, we didn’t eat only chicken. At a campsite on the edge of the Shenandoah Valley, we had a rib dinner made by a nearby camper, who saw that we couldn’t get our fire going to grill our own steaks. Our meal at The C&O in Charlottesville, Virginia, which features a handwritten menu and a well-priced list of fine wines, was delicious. D.H. loved the beef jerky at Bourgeois Meat Market in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so purely happy as when he stepped inside the pit room of Luling City Market in Luling, Texas.
We didn’t stick to only the most famous places. I sampled the fried chicken at an unmarked diner outside Yellowstone, as well as at the canteen at one of the hotels inside Grand Canyon National Park, among many other anonymous eateries.
In the end, we did pick a fried-chicken winner: a hole-in-the-wall in Nashville called Prince’s Hot Chicken. There we feasted on a salty, superbly crusted, pickle-topped chicken that was served resting on a slice of lightly toasted white bread. Two pieces of dark meat were $4; white was $5. I still dream about it. As with virtually all great travel experiences, we heard about Prince’s through a word-of-mouth recommendation: “Stop, turn around,” a friend wrote on my Facebook wall, where I had just posted that we’d zipped through Nashville. “You have to try Prince’s!”
“We have to turn around,” I said to D.H., even though we’d already left town. He nodded and made a quick U-turn.
That’s the beauty of a road trip. You don’t need to go in a straight line.
Choose Chevy’s 2013 Malibu for your next trip. While its bold new design turns heads, it offers the practical power you need no matter where the road takes you.
This is part of a series of food road trip stories on Chevy Culture.
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Christina Lewis Halpern lives in Greenwich Village with her husband, baby and dog. She grew up in New York and Paris and is the author of the short memoir Lonely at the Top. She shares her life and many, many opinions on Twitter as @clewishalpern.