If you love fried chicken and you live near Chicago, then you know what Harold’s is.
I remember as a kid (in the early 1980’s), riding with my mother to school and the Harold’s that used to be on 107th & King Drive had a white 1970’s Cadillac parked on the sidewalk.
This was no ordinary Caddy, it had a chicken head on the hood and a tail on the trunk and had Harold’s painted on it. The restaurant had a sign on the building showing Harold holding an ax over his head chasing a chicken.
The late Harold Pierce (pictured from his portrait in the Hazel Crest location), is the man behind Harold's. He and his wife started with H & H a small soul food restaurant featuring chicken feet and dumplings.
He knew a chicken distributor and used his recipe for feet to cook other chicken parts and the rest is history.
Harold’s is unique in so many ways, obviously its minority owned but it was (until recently), not franchised, each location was a little different. Actually some were a lot different. The rest
aurants used to be numbered by location.
But the chicken is different too at least the cooking is, they use beef tallow instead of vegetable oil like most chicken joints. That gives it that unique flavor, also the chicken is usually cooked to order. Now I’ve been to a few Harold’s where they cooked it half way and then finished it when you ordered. Changes the taste, not nearly as good.
But the ones that cook to order tell you on the window (yes most Harold's are in the hood, so you order through a window like at currency exchange or train station), “good chicken comes to those who wait”.
Though if you are familiar with Harold’s then know its minimum 10 minutes for your meal.
The meals are set up differently than any of the national chicken chains. You order your meal as a quarter, half or whole and then of course its white or dark meat and then you decide if you want mild or hot sauce.
My goto meal is a “half white with hot sauce”, which is two breasts, two wings with fries underneath and then two pieces of white bread on the bottom and sauces slathered all over. It’s the best chicken meal you’ll ever have.
They also do wing meals, up to six wings and have catfish and buffalo fish, those a nice too. Pop is in a can and don’t forget a piece of cake. No seriously, like Portillo’s has good cake, so does Harold’s.
There’s been some Harold's in some interesting places too, my favorite was when I was in college, the old gas station at 119th & Western was a Harold’s for a few years. Yep the old quick mart was the restaurant and you parked by the old gas pumps. Chicken was still good.
Then when I loved out of the city, I found one on my way home from work on Route 53 and Boughton Road in Bolingbrook, it was good too. Unlike most Harold’s, you could call ahead and have it ready for you. But that location closed a few years ago.
My current favorite Harold's is on 183rd east of Crawford in Hazel Crest, I took my son there after visiting friends in the summer. The cook and cashier were so nice even coming out to see my six week old son. Chicken is still good too.
Harold’s is an institution, his legacy is in every great piece of yard bird they sell. And he is one of my Chicago culinary African American Heroes.
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