There’s a lot to celebrate this week, but let’s not forget to include an important holiday on the list: National Fried Chicken Day, which falls on Thursday.
I know this food holiday will be proudly celebrated around Kentucky, my home state, but what about the Quad-Cities?
I asked around and places such as Big JJ's Fish & Chicken, 1904 N Division St., Davenport, Grubeez, 226 N Pine St., Davenport, Barley & Rye Bistro, 1320 5th Ave., Moline, and Mulkey's Restaurant, 3800 14th Ave., Rock Island, are go-tos for fried chicken here.
In honor of National Fried Chicken Day, Machine Shed Restaurant, in Davenport, is holding its Kickin' Chicken dinner special, typically on Tuesdays, on Thursday as well this week, according to chef Jeff Grunder.
"Everybody likes good fried chicken," he said. "It's one of our big nights at the Machine Shed. It’s a staple.”
On this topic, I also couldn’t help but ask my go-to source for Kentucky delicacies: My grandmother.
In October, I shared a recipe from the collection of Dolly Sue, who goes by “Nannie,” in honor of National Pumpkin Pie Day. Over the weekend, I made another call to Nannie, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, to get the rundown about her signature, if not legendary, fried chicken.
She put her book down and rattled off from-memory instructions for “good, Southern fried chicken.” She also told me about how the food got to be one of her all-time favorites to prepare, eat and share.
My grandmother grew up, as one of 10 children, in rural Estill County, Kentucky. During the week, dinner consisted of pinto beans and cornbread. But on Sundays, there was a special spread of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans.
“We looked forward to it, because it was just once a week,” she said.
She didn't make fried chicken by herself until she was 16. The occasion? She got married.
"I had never cooked a Sunday dinner before, but I just did it,” she said.
She owes being able to make the meal to years of watching her mother and grandmother in the kitchen.
"Some people haven't a good example of how it's supposed to be made," Nannie said. "My mom had been doing it all her life and same with my grandmother. It came natural to me."
That gave me the idea to try making fried chicken myself for the first time. I know, at 24, I’m way behind my grandmother.
I was nervous, but she had faith in me, saying “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
Thankfully, she also offered much-needed practical tips, such as "Listen to it cooking" and “It does require attention. Don’t walk away and read a book and forget about it or something.”
As I floured the chicken and heated my cast iron skillet, I started to realize why Jeff Grunder, the Machine Shed chef, said those Tuesday fried chicken nights, which the restaurant started in 1995, are so popular.
"It's one of those things you want to go out to eat for, because sometimes it's more of a hassle to make at home," Grunder said. "It's a lot of work."
Every now and then, it's worth it.
Now, Nannie tends to only make her fried chicken, which my family members agree is better than you'll find at any chain restaurant, for special occasions, such as her 81st birthday party last month.
“It’s a way to celebrate with family," she said. "It puts you in a good mood."
As for my first time making fried chicken, I have a long way to go before the result is up to Nannie’s standards. But, as she says, the key ingredient is practice.
By the way, she's been practicing for more than 60 years, and she still isn't fully satisfied.
“Mine is almost as good as my mother’s," she said. "Almost."