Something beautiful is happening in Laurinburg, North Carolina
This article originally appeared on Food & Wine
Ask any of the 15,000-plus residents of my hometown Laurinburg, North Carolina, what one of their top favorite things to eat around town is, and nine times out of ten, fried chicken from Nic’s Pic Kwik comes up. The convenient store serves the most glorified gas station fried chicken in the state, possibly the entire region. To me, there’s something wildly nostalgic about grabbing a box of chicken and taters while simultaneously paying for gas. Maybe it’s the unpretentious setting that adds to the flavor, but I can attest that is honestly some of the best tasting chicken in North Carolina.
The late Charlie Nichols opened the first Nic’s Pic Kwik in 1971 and the first official store with a deli inside opened in 1977—making it the first convenience store to serve fried chicken in North Carolina at the time. From there, a fried chicken revolution was born, and many other owners of convenience stores and gas stations have taken note. Today, the family-run chain, still in the Nichols family, consists of 16 stores, with ten of them serving fried chicken. The two-piece snack box is where it’s at: $5 will get you a leg and thigh, potato wedges (we call them "taters" in Laurinburg), a roll and a fountain drink—in other words, the best bang for your buck.
WATCH: Mama's Fried Chicken
I grew up playing hooky with my dad with the express purpose of getting that crispy, perfectly fried chicken alongside taters and gizzards, too. It was something I cherished back then, and still do today when I go home to visit my family. I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face when we stopped at a Nic’s for gas on the way to Raleigh, and I giddily walked out with a paper box filled with fried chicken. He was doubtful at first, but all it took was one bite.
So, what’s so great about this chicken? The family divulges its big secret: the chicken breading. While the claim is that each store uses the same chicken breading and frying oil, locals will be the first to say that there are three standout locations where it just tastes better: The corner of Hasty Road and McColl Road, Wagram Street and North Main Street.
“It’s a tough call,” says local resident Mandy Callahan, when asked about her favorite spot. “I’ve made plenty of stops at North Main and the corner of Hasty and 401. It's the scalding of the chicken that makes the difference to me. It's like the grease is the perfect temp, and they drop it at just the right time.”
My sister, Susan Rice Covington, and I have debated this for years. “North Laurinburg,” she says. “Really, it is the best. The girls that work there are great, and obviously good ol’ southern fry chefs.” I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, but there’s no denying that the chain as a whole serves the best fried chicken around.
Before you jump the gun, here’s what several Laurinburg divulge about their favorite location for the coveted fried chicken, so choose wisely:
The corner of Hasty Road and McColl Road
“Some of the tastes are notable right away,” says Phillip Johnson. “I would think they use the same oil at each place. Maybe one stretches it further.”
“McColl—it tastes different there,” says Blair McPhatter.
North Main Street (North Laurinburg)
“North Main, but the right person has to be cooking,” says Brian Chavis, “or it just doesn’t taste as good. I know which car to look for outside to tell of she’s working, though.”
“I always went to North Main too—the chicken wasn’t overly greasy and was perfectly crispy,” says Ryan Doren.
“North Main for sure,” says Angell Brady Buie. “It is just better! We order from there for every party. Occasionally my husband picks up from Wagram. We like it from there too, but North Laurinburg is still our favorite.”
“It's always fresh, and everything else is amazing there too,” says Brittany Strong Locklear adds. “The taters are always on point. They have just how long to fry everything down to a science.”
“I think most people forget about the Wagram one since it's not in Laurinburg, but they really have the best chicken,” says Mary Gardener.
“I hear it's Wagram, but I typically get it from North Main street,” says Erin Nichols.
“Wagram, it seems to always be fresh,” says Annie Peele. “We go through Wagram all the time for work and then when we go to Wagram State Park, it's the perfect picnic.”