Neckbones’ Fried Chicken Diary: Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken edition

27 Feb

February 14, 2012, approximately 5:30pm. 2841 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, near 151st St.

Seven-year old son and I enter the cozy confines of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken. A woman is eating said chicken at one of the few tables in the otherwise deserted restaurant.

“Be right with you, baby,”she says to me.

“Take your time,” I say, as my eyes gaze glassily over the pieces of fried chicken in the warming tray behind the counter. And then I wander to other visible offerings; the short ribs, baked barbecue chicken, oxtails, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, corn bread, turkey wings, pork chops, and pig feet.

While I tell myself to control the watering that is beginning in my mouth, my son has his eyes riveted on the television that is playing a 1990’s “Law & Order” rerun.

The woman is now behind the counter. “Buffet or dinner?” she asks.

“Um dinner,” I respond and then immediately realize my mistake.

“To go or to stay?” She quickly inquires as she holds a styrofoam take out container ready.

“No, I just need 12 pieces of chicken to go.”

“You need 12 pieces?” Her expression suddenly changes; the stress on it evident. “Did you call?”

“No…” I stammer, realizing now that there might be a problem. “I…is Charles here?”

“Charles? No, Charles went to the bank,” she replies brusquely.

“You need to call in advance if you want 12 pieces,” she says, now glaring at me.

“I’ve never called before. Charles has always had the chicken for me,” I respond lamely.

I don’t see any rule there about having to order 12 pieces of chicken in advance.

I hear her huff. “Hey, Joe Buck,*” she calls to someone behind her. “Joe Buck!” she calls again when she doesn’t get a response.

“Can’t expect to get 12 pieces unless you call,” she scoffs and then calls the man’s name once more.

“I’m in the bathroom,” comes the muffled reply.

“Get on out here,” she hollers. “We need chicken.”

Finally a tall man in a white apron appears from the back. “Man wants 12 pieces,” she says to him. “I tell him he got to call in advance.”

Joe Buck looks at me disinterestedly. “Okay, I guess I’m about to make some chicken,” he says calmly.

I look at the pieces that are in the warming tray. Clearly, there are more than 12. Will she not sell them to me because they have been sitting for a long time and the quality is below their standards? Or is there another reason? I keep silent, not wanting to risk a permanent ban from Charles very fine establishment.

“It’s gonna take 25 minutes,” the woman barks to me.

Again I look at the pieces of cooked chicken. And then turn to my son.

“You want to wait?” I ask him.

His face darkens. I know the look. Tears will come next.

“Let me see what I can do,” I hear her say. I turn to the counter. She is playing with the cooked chicken with a pair of tongs. “What pieces you like?” She asks.

“Doesn’t matter. But an assortment would be nice,” I add, hoping I haven’t pushed it.

She then begins to take pieces out and assemble them in separate Styrofoam containers. When she has put together four sets of three pieces there are just a couple of pieces left in the tray, but Joe Buck has more cooking in the big pan.

Recognize this?

“I hope nobody comes in wanting fried chicken,” she says to herself.

I order sides of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread.

She totals up what I owe, piece by piece.  From what I can tell as she rapidly adds up the pieces on the old fashioned cash register, a breast cost more than a leg, and a thigh is cheaper than a wing, but she worked too fast for me to figure any of it out.

I pay her and thank her for her help. She takes my money. “Thank you, baby,” she says with the same smile she had when I walked in.

And then my son and I leave with our family’s Valentine Day’s dinner.

*I did not want to use the cook’s real name in fear of impinging on his privacy, thus here I called him Joe Buck.

One Response to “Neckbones’ Fried Chicken Diary: Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken edition”

  1. Gregory Lorenz February 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Ugh….I was going to guess the beginning of a Chicago style ricotta pie. But I knew you’d never stoop to that level. Much better the correct and delicious answer. You’ve recommended this place before and I need to get me and my brood there sooner than later. G.

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