Listen, if there is one common love in the McPolish-Swede household it is this:
I’m not kidding. Being from the south suburbs of Chicago, Swede and I grew up with some heavy, heavy South Side influences:
- Graduation parties are hosted in your garage;
- All Hail the White Sox;
- Red pop doesn’t have a specific berry-related flavor, it’s just Red Pop; and
- Fried chicken is an essential element to every gathering.
That last one has proven critical throughout my lifetime—fried chicken is present at every tailgate, eaten out of the trunk of a car. It’s at every graduation, first communion, and baptism party, alongside a huge tinfoil container of mostaccioli and a huge tinfoil container of thinly sliced roast beef. Hell, if I remember correctly, my sister had fried chicken at her rehearsal dinner.
Mind you, this isn’t the South, it’s the South Side. So when I say fried chicken, I’m not talking about some wizened grandma swinging around a cast iron pan like it’s a feather pillow and frying up amazing chicken using an old family recipe. I’m talking about South Side delicious fried chicken. And South Side fried chicken comes from Harold’s, or it comes from the deli counter at the grocery store. One time it came from a gas station in Northwest Indiana. And if you order enough pieces, it comes in what looks like a bankers box lined with tinfoil to keep it warm.
This is all to say that when we traveled to Nashville a couple weekends ago, and more than one person hollered at me that my life depended on tasting the goods at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, I made quick work of getting our Chicago patoots to the joint.
Hot chicken is a Thing in Nashville, and thank God for it. It’s not that it’s temperature-hot—though it is that, too—it’s that the hot is fried right into the batter, embedding the crispy, just-slightly-greasy-enough fried chicken skin and meat with heat. I got the medium, which was plenty hot for me (who does enjoy some spice and heat), and Swede got the hot, which he could enjoy once his tastebuds adjusted to the shock of intense heat.
Bawwwwk! Enough babbling, though, right? On to brass tacks, yes? Yes.
Going for the Goal #3: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
The restaurant itself nothing special by way of décor, and the place is in a dicey looking neighborhood, but all that is easily and happily pushed aside when you realize what delectable await you.
The Cake Lady. Before you even get to the ordering window you will encounter a congenial woman sitting behind a card table laden with thick, large, individually contained squares of baked goods. Chess pie. Red velvet cake. Strawberry chess squares. Hummingbird cake. All sitting there looking so happy you will want to love on each and every piece. I recommend loving on the strawberry chess squares. They will love you right back. And then you will both be in love with the Cake Lady for bringing you and your cake mate together in sweet, sweet harmony.
The Sides. Yes, the chicken is delicious, if you haven’t gotten that already. Yes, it is hot. Yes, you will feel fat and happy after devouring it. But also do yourself a favor, and devour a side or two with the chicken. There are only a few to choose from—baked beans, coleslaw, French fries, and pickles. Swede was a big fan of the coleslaw—a nice way to cool down your mouth from the chicken, and frankly, I practically did backflips over the fact that you can order a side of pickles. Like, your own personal Styrofoam cup of dill chips.
I don’t know if you know this about me, Interwebers, but This Girl? Loves her some dill pickles in any form. Almost as much as pizza. And fried chicken.
And whatever you do, don’t overlook the white bread upon which the chicken rests. It’s not an extra side, per se, it’s just part of the chicken package. It’s both functional AND scrumptious, soaking up the juice and the hot and the fried bits of the chicken, transforming a blah slice of industrial white bread that cannot be healthy for you in any way into a dreamy taste of heaven that…also…can’t be healthy for you in any way. But it doesn’t matter! It’s heaven! No such thing as bad-for-you-foods in heaven. Ta-da!
The Staff. Holy Mary Mother, people. I don’t know if it was because we were in the South, or if it is just the nature of the people in the joint, but dear Lord was everyone kind and (seemingly) happy to meet you. I mean, come on. I’m from the Midwest—I know from friendly. Clearly we can pick up some pointers at the very least from the woman working the register at Prince’s, who thanked me for joining them that afternoon. Sheesh. The pleasure’s all mine, ma’am, thanks for the food.
The Wait. With each order made as soon as you pay, it is inevitable that you will have to wait for your freshly fried chicken. And now, since Prince’s recently won a James Beard award (and also, it should be noted, a Steve Harvey “hoodie” award), lines will surely grow longer than they already are as foodies flock to this joint. (Get it? Flock? Ha.) Moral of the Story Part I: Go hungry, but not about-to-faint-famished, because, Moral of the Story Part II: a 30 to 45 minute wait is totally normal. Maybe bring a snack. And a book. And wear comfortable shoes because there aren’t many places to sit, and most likely the seats will all be taken by the time you get there anyway.
It’s Cash Only. And they don’t take personal checks, either. (Who writes checks anymore, anyway?) It’s not a huge con, but for someone like me who rarely carries cash, it was something I kept reminding myself about before we left: Don’t spend the little cash I DID have in my wallet, otherwise I’d be a sad, fried chickenless McPolish. And that’s no fun for anyone.
On a scale of one to go? If you’re in Nashville, don’t chicken out—Prince’s is an awesome experience that will set your fried chicken-loving heart—and mouth—aflame.
Three down, 10 to go.