Granite State of Mind, #111: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Portsmouth
Yes, I'm going to tell a story about KFC. I'm going to tell it because even to this day, almost thirty years later, I can't drive down Woodbury Avenue in Portsmouth without remembering it. Because it remains one of the most hilarious, endlessly retold, slightly shameful moments of my youth, and it belongs on this list.
Back in the 80s and 90s there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint in Portsmouth where the Verizon place is now, right across Woodbury Ave from the Jiffy Lube. My family would get a bucket of bird for dinner once in a while, but the action really started when they decided it was a good idea to have an all-you-can-eat buffet for maybe six bucks a head. I might have been thirteen or fourteen when that masterfully misguided innovation came into being, and it wasn't long before my father Albert Pace brought me and my brother Al Pace to luxuriate in endless KFC. My mother wasn't there, though I don't recall whether that was an example of gustatory self-preservation or some scheduled absence that opened the window of opportunity for the Pace menfolk.
Well, we descended on that place like a black cloud of plague-locusts on the green valleys of Biblical Egypt. Disregarding the potatoes, the biscuits, the quasi-vegetables, we steadily worked our way through plate after plate of chicken. Original recipe or extra crispy, breasts or thighs or wings, it made no difference. I'm not sure we noticed. It was glorious. For the better part of an hour we ate, lying in predatory ambush for the skittish kid in his red vest to refill the lukewarm buffet trough. I suspect he was afraid, and not without reason, that we might not differentiate between the chicken and his arm.
I'm equally certain that the other patrons were beginning to grumble that nobody else was getting any chicken, because at some point we were approached by the manager on duty, who seemed equal parts irritated and impressed. "Look," he said, "it says all-you-can-eat, not eat-it-all." It's a phrase that has lived on in my family, surfacing at need when we put the hurt on a tableful of food. Anyway, we got thrown out of the place. Thrown out of Kentucky Fried Chicken! Look, I've been asked to leave some places, but this is the only one that involved eating too much fried chicken. To this day, it remains a badge of honor.
As for the Woodbury Ave KFC, they discontinued the buffet soon after, and before long the restaurant itself closed. I don't think it was because of us. But it might have been.