by Ray Linville
A few places serving food in our state are caught in a time warp and remain unchanged since the days that they opened. Price’s Chicken Coop, established in 1962, in the South End of Charlotte is definitely one. Seeing the name of Chicken Coop, you know exactly what to order.
The classic southern dish is fried chicken. Although just about every home in the South has a favorite family recipe, in the Charlotte area the preferred chicken is marinated in a secret blend for more than a day before being fried in peanut oil by the Price family. The prices are almost as popular at the chicken itself. A to-go chicken box is as low as $6.25, and a chicken sandwich is only $3.40.
Dwarfed by the high-rise banking buildings of Charlotte, the Chicken Coop initially seems out of place until the steady stream of customers ends only at closing time at its simple red-brick, one-story home on Camden Road. Less than two miles from the intersections of Trade and Tryon Streets (the intersection of the city’s origins where executives in the second-largest U.S. banking center work), Price’s caters to the high-salaried corporate leaders as much as it does to the working class. Expect to find top-of-the-line luxury and sports cars parked at lunch time in front of Price’s among banged-up sedans and pickups.
Although Price’s also serves burgers, fish and barbeque, the main attraction definitely is chicken as its name implies. On the day that I visited the quarter-chicken dinner (white or dark) was the popular order. Served with cole slaw, tater rounds, hush puppies and roll, it absolutely gives the workers of the Queen City all that they need for a midday meal. In fact, that was why the Coop started more than 50 years ago: to serve an affordable lunch to nearby manufacturing workers.
My wife and I ordered what everyone else was ordering – fried chicken, of course. However, because we thought that two dinners would be too much, we only ordered one and added a chicken sandwich. The sandwich itself was more than enough lunch for one. Much like burger chains advertise a Whopper or Thickburger, Price’s could easily apply the same description to its huge sandwich. It’s a handful as repeat customers know. (Don’t be surprised to find a bone in each sandwich because Price’s always cuts each quarter with a bone intact to add flavor during cooking.)
The Chicken Coop serves take-out exclusively. The only space to eat is outside – in your car. On-street parking in the vicinity is limited to 30 minutes – more than enough time to stop, order and eat chicken in the car before heading back to work. In fact, drivers of several cars parked in front of Price’s were doing just that – eating lunch in their vehicles well within the 30 minutes allowed.
Closed on only Mondays, the Coop is otherwise an organized hustle-bustle of servers taking non-stop orders. The fast pace behind the counter is only part of the hurried scene, and the kitchen complements the perpetual motion of preparing food for the next customer. Although Price’s does not deliver, call ahead. An order is ready in 30 minutes.
Don’t plan to use a charge card or check, although the Chicken Coop does have an ATM for cash-strapped customers. Obviously the best chicken in the state deserves to be paid for with real currency.
The fame of Price’s Chicken Coop continues to grow because the Travel Channel features it in a video and the Food Network proclaims it as a worthy destination in its “On the Road” series. Even with its continued fame and unrelenting lines of customers, the Coop is well worth a visit for old-time flavors and values.
Ray Linville is an associate professor of English and humanities at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, NC, and serves on the board of the N.C. Folklore Society. Read more about Ray’s ramblings at his blog: Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the American South.