Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen In the News
Fried Memories: The South's past comes alive on Tuesdays at Lucky 32
By Jeri Rowe
News & Record | March 6, 2011
GREENSBORO — It’s Tuesday night, fried chicken night at Lucky 32, and I need six paper napkins.
I sit on a stool, across the bar from local singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett. She’s singing another song about love and loss as I gnaw on a drumstick, my fingers slick from chicken fried in a tilt skillet as big as a barrel.
I was raised in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, and like many Southerners, fried chicken was the one food that connected my family around our table for any big occasion.
Weddings. Funerals. Birthdays. Reunions. And Sunday afternoons with cloth napkins at my elbow, the dogs at my feet and my mom’s arms white with flour from wrist to elbow.
Today, that’s a distant memory. Fried chicken is now fast food. But on Tuesday night, as I listen to Dossett sing and play her guitar, I realize something with each bite. I’m home. And I’m not alone.
The other diners are a lot like me. They come to mine their own memories, of eating chicken fried the old-fashioned way — in a skillet, in non-hydrogenated lard, like the kind stowed in a coffee can perched on a stove.
Ask them about it, and they don’t talk about the smell of some kitchen. They talk about people — Aunt Winkie, Aunt Al, Pearl, Michael and a tiny ax-wielding grandmother.
That’s Ma, Wendy Poteat’s grandmother.
“I can remember my grandmother killing chickens in her backyard,” says Poteat, 38, a director of employee relations for a mental health agency. “She was just 4 (feet) 10 (inches), and she’d grab that chicken, snap its neck and chop its head off in one fell swoop.
“Then, she’d fry it in flour, and it was the best fried chicken ever had.”
Poteat sits in a booth with two friends. A few steps away, on a stool by the bar, is Harry Clendenin. He’s 66, a lawyer. He tries to come every Tuesday night for the fried chicken. That makes his wife, Kathy, happy.
“Good,” she tells him, “I don’t have to cook for you on Tuesdays.”
When he comes, he sits in the same place — a corner stool behind Dossett — and he thinks of the 1950s, his Aunt Winkie from Raleigh and her Sunday dinners of corn on the cob, mashed potatoes and gravy and, yes, fried chicken.
“I don’t like grilled chicken; I don’t like boiled chicken; I like fried chicken, and this connects me,” Clendenin says. “It makes me feel grubby and young, like wiping your hands on your shirt when you were 12 years old.”
A few tables over from Poteat is Frenesa Hall. She’s 49, a physician with Lincoln Financial. She grew up in New York City. But she spent her summers in Murfreesboro, playing stickball, finding turtles and eating chicken fried by her Aunt Al.
In the big dining room is Jeanne Hassell. She’s 79, a Pennsylvania native who came to Greensboro in 1963 with her husband, Charlie, a pathologist at Moses Cone Hospital.
That’s how they met Pearl. She was the family’s maid for 30 years, and she made the best fried chicken. Jeanne’s four children are now grown, and she can’t duplicate Pearl’s culinary gift.
So, she and Charlie come to Lucky 32 — for fried chicken.
“Fried chicken means a great chunk of the South to me,” she says. “It’s the new world I came into, and now, it’s my old world. That’s a good thing.”
A few tables over is Faye McCollum. She and her husband, Bill, run a 440-acre farm in Madison. And she can cook.
When her children and grandchildren hear the sizzle-pop of a skillet in her kitchen, they gasp, “Oh my gosh, fried chicken!”
Her son Michael died two years ago of a pulmonary aneurysm. He was 45, and he loved her fried chicken, too.
“He’d come in and say, ‘Mom, you’re one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen,’” says McCollum, 64. “So, this reminds me of comfort and love and everything that is there between family.”
I find the fried chicken cook in the back. He’s Rene Campos. He’s 23. He used to cook at K&W Cafeteria. Today, he cooks for Lucky 32, and every Tuesday, he goes through the dunk-roll-and-fry technique he learned from Jay Pierce, Lucky 32’s chef.
Southern fried chicken makes a guest appearance at Lucky 32 on Tuesday nights.
Pierce started the weekly fried chicken night in October, and when you ask him about that, he gets downright philosophical. He talks about our need to connect, and he believes you can do that around a $17 plate of collard greens, mashed potatoes, cornbread and three pieces of fried chicken.
It’s that sense of slowing down through eating homegrown ingredients: chicken from Browns Summit, eggs and buttermilk from Julian, flour from Henderson, and lard from Snow Camp and Madison.
There’s nothing fast food about it. It’s a 36-hour process, where the chicken is rubbed with salt, pepper and smoked paprika, laid out in pans in a cooler overnight and later dunked in an egg-and-buttermilk batter, dusted in flour and partially submerged in lard, bubbling between 325 to 340 degrees.
Pierce tweaked a recipe he discovered from the late Austin Leslie, the famous cook from New Orleans called the “Godfather of Fried Chicken.”
“We’re individuals, we’re isolated, but this is a connection on almost a visceral level,” Pierce says. “It brings us together and reminds us of a shared history we’ve forgotten about.”
My mom can’t fry chicken anymore. Her hands are gnarled from arthritis. Yet, like Poteat and McCullom, Hall, Has-sell and Clendenin, she remembers. Her old black skillet, her flour-white forearms, her tradition on Sunday afternoons.
And you know, I remember that, too.
PHOTOS BY H. SCOTT HOFFMANN/Greensboro News & Record
H. SCOTT HOFFMANN/News & Record
Before Laurelyn Dossett starts to sing and waiter Steven Buckner delivers plates of food, the Lucky 32 fried chicken goes through a 36-hour preparation process that starts the night before.
PHOTOS BY H. SCOTT HOFFMANN/News & Record
Lucky 32 chef Jay Pierce started the tradition in October. Pierce is philosophical about the weekly event: He says people need to connect, and he believes we can do that around a $17 plate of collard greens, mashed potatoes, cornbread and three pieces of fried chicken.
PHOTOS BY H. SCOTT HOFFMANN/News & Record
Rene Campos helps prepare the fried chicken. The traditional Southern meal is made with homegrown ingredients: chicken from Browns Summit, eggs and buttermilk from Julian, flour from Henderson and lard from Snow Camp and Madison.