SWEET & SPICY MEMPHIS LOVE
NAME: SWEET & SPICY MEMPHIS LOVE
PLACE: Uncle Lou’s fried chicken
DATE: March 27th, 2017
WHAT: fried chicken dipped
ADDRESS: 3633 Millbranch, Memphis, TN
CHEF: Uncle Lou
WHAT TO EAT: Fried chicken dipped
It was Tuesday morning and I was in Memphis; the sun was out and I could feel a soothing breeze in my face. A very basic mission brought me to this part of the country, a search for fried chicken. Memphis is home to American blues, Elvis, and great southern cooking; finding good bird here should be a simple task.
Fourteen joints made my list to try to visit in just two-days, which meant I had a lot of chicken to eat in a short amount of time. A few shacks originally grabbed my attention because they showed real promise, have great fanfare, are in locations that make them dives, and lines of people waiting. When a hole in the wall has people buzzing, it’s a good sign that their food is going to be extremely tasty.
I loaded my luggage in the tiniest red rental car I had ever seen, threw my foot on the pedal and started barreling away from Memphis International. The first stop I went to was a southern kitchen located close by the airport. My mind drifted to thoughts of the chicken that was in my future and the stress of daily life disappeared. I was feeling the southern vibe already. A few stop lights, a quick turn off Millbranch, and my tiny car flew into the worn parking lot of an old strip mall, the type of structure that you buzz by without ever giving a second thought. I found a spot for the rented clown car between two well used pick-up trucks, verified the location on my phone, and slid out from behind the wheel. I had arrived at Uncle Lou’s, which is a dive known for something called dipped chicken. From everything I read during my research, dipped chicken is basically fried chicken tossed in a tangy sauce. Their storefront is marked by a yellow awning that reads “Uncle Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken”. Right away I was tempering my expectations. I have seen hundreds of signs claiming to have “the world’s best coffee” or “world-famous pizza” before, but it has almost always been false advertising. No restaurant I have been to has ever been able to live up to the self-proclaimed hype. As I moved a little closer, I came across a few men gathered in front of Uncle Lou’s shooting the shit about last week’s card game. Apparently, the man in blue shirt was the big winner and was reminding them of a good hand he had. He threw off a good belly laugh and slapped his friend on the back, adding more insult to injury. The conversation turns to football, and the Cowboys. Being a Packer fan and in unfamiliar territory, I quietly slipped past the three friends and into Uncle Lou’s.
I stepped in, and at first glance Lou’s is visually all I could have hoped for. Red linoleum tile floor, simple white walls, no art, just a bunch of boards with the food options, ceiling fans lazily turning, and paper towel rolls on each table. Oh, dear lord yes paper towel rolls, not cloth napkins, or even stainless-steel dispensers, but good old paper towel rolls, is a sign that this was going to get real messy. The simplicity of it all puts me at ease, they aren’t trying to be a high-end restaurant, and they’re not selling a theme; they are a southern kitchen. Welcome to the south.
I strolled up to the window, and I knew why I was there, but I still struggled with placing my order. They had a few southern options and I wanted to have them all: a fried baloney sandwich, wings & biscuit combo, monster burger, and the main attraction the “famous fried chicken”. The woman behind the counter throws me a smile, and fortunately she was in no rush, since it was early, I was their first customer and she was in a good mood. My name quickly becomes “Honey”, and I return the favor by naming her “Sugar”. Sugar asked me what I wanted, and guided me through the menu throwing in a few y’all’s and honeys along the way. I explained my dilemma, that I wanted the fried chicken, but I also needed to get the dipped version. She offered to split a 7-piece order for me and figuratively held my hand through the decisions of the available sides; she could tell I’m not from anywhere close to Unlce Lou’s. I asked Sugar a few ingredient questions about “Lou’s Sweet & Spicy Love Sauce”. A shake of her head, a little southern “hmm” and she asked me with a smile “Honey where you from?” I told her Milwaukee and about how cold it is there. She chuckled at my cold weather story, handed me the receipt, and told me my number. All the sudden I realized that she distracted me with another question and never intended to tell me about the ingredients in the sauce. Sugar is good at the art of deflection and I was not her match. Defeated, I grabbed a set of plastic utensils and retreated to a seat to take some notes.
A few minutes pass and the man in the blue shirt strolled in, checks with Sugar and comes over to me. I explain that I’m a chef who travels the country eating food and next thing I know I’m in the kitchen with him. This was Uncle Lou; the Dallas Cowboy loving card player is no other than the man himself. He was extremely outgoing and we started talking cooking and restaurants. He tells me how he learned his trait from his mom, who was a single parent. Lou is the oldest of three and thus learned to cook through necessity. Graciously he takes me under his wing and gives me a lesson in chicken frying. It all starts with the best chicken you can get he explained. Don’t get crazy in the breading just the basics, flour, salt and a lot of pepper. Lightly pull it through the seasoned flour and then off for a bath in hot oil. After a few minutes of crazy conversation, the chicken submerged in the vat of hot grease is ready, he gave it a shake, tossed it in a large bowl with his secret sauce, a few flicks of his wrist, and the chicken and sauce became one airborne for a moment. The result was a dark and shiny piece of fried chicken.
I went back to my table with a little more knowledge on fried chicken and my mixed plate of plain and dipped, anxiously I cleared a spot and prepared for the feast. The dipped chicken was swimming in a small pool of the sweet love sauce. The first bite underway, and all I could think was I wanted more, I don’t just mean more chicken, I mean more of the crispy skin coated with the addictive sauce. I took bite after bite, turning it around in my sticky stained hands looking for a little piece of sauce drenched skin that maybe I missed in my eating frenzy. Now, I was not sure how far to go with this, I mean we are just talking about fried chicken, right? But this is close to Ambrosia. I could taste sweet, spicy, salty all in balance and calling my name like sea sirens to Odysseus. The skin was so crisp, the meat moist and juicy, and the sweet and spicy love sauce; it has the right name, sweet, tangy, spicy and savory all at once, I wanted more, a lot more. I’m not new to this job of exploring food, I knew what was ahead of me today, eating at probably another seven restaurants, and yet I’m going to demolish this whole plate even if it means a long night of regret. The plain chicken was breaded in a flour, salt and pepper mixture, and it is so good. But the dipped, well the dipped was nothing short of amazing, in my opinion it is a must order when at Lou’s, hell for that fact when in Memphis.
Lou’s may be an Informal spot located in a worn strip mall close to the airport, but this is Landmark worthy for fried chicken lovers everywhere. This fried chicken lived up to the famous yellow awning proclamation, and may be in the top ten chicken dishes I have had in the country. Come early, hungry, and don’t wear good clothes as this can get messy. All I can say is Thank you, and see you next time I’m in Memphis Lou!
The Pig is formally trained in the culinary arts, a graduate of the C.I.A., worked in the food industry for over 40 years and currently travels the country as a research chef searching food trucks, street vendors, little restaurants and hole in the walls seeking out the best this country has to offer. For more great articles, culinary travel guides, and tips on travel and cooking follow us to our website.