Day 4: Good news on the road — Pittsburg!

1106 1_2

Day 4:

Made a trip for oil for my car, I’m dry and there was a suspicious looking oil spot where I parked!!

The oil seemed to take.

I’m off to P-burg, it’s less than 200 miles now! I’m going down on 69!! (That’s the name/number of the highway and the butt of countless junior high jokes!!)

Day 4: Continued

Stopped to see the site of Mine Creek, a big battle during the Civil War. This is along 69 highway, around Fort Scott, Kansas. Just look for the historic marker sign!
Stopped to see a coal-mining strip-pit (hence the name: PITTSburg). I used to go fishing with my dad at strip-pits; um, they were also where we would go in my decadent youth. We called ’em “pit parties” and they often involved beer drinking. Tragically, the strip-pits are steep and deep — just think, they scoop out the earth in increments of about 90 feet per strip-pit, and that’s pretty near straight down. So… that’s not a good mix with crazy teens and beer. I can recall a couple of drownings, happily not on my watch!

Made it to Pittsburg.

Stopped at 1106 Drive-In for a grease-burger — delish!

My old house.

Lakeside Park: This is the site of many sweaty hand-holding walks with boys from my junior high school days. Do people even hold hands anymore?!

And finally — Chicken Mary’s: Alright, the chicken is greasy, yes. That’s why they give you extra napkins. The side of spaghetti is very um, Franco-American. But the German potato salad and German cole slaw —garlicky and tasty! This place hasn’t changed one whit. As far as atmosphere, you can expect paper napkins, plastic dinnerware and glasses, bright lights (the lighting is reminiscent of oil-lamp fixtures) and um, is that the same indoor-outdoor carpeting from the 70s?

As far as the food: Just close your eyes. You don’t even have to click your heels. Now, as for the Chicken Mary’s/Chicken Annies history and debate over which is better: Of course, both Chicken Mary and Chicken Annie have moved on to that great chicken house in the sky, but yes, they were both sisters. As for the rivalry, well, I’m pretty sure each one thought their’s the best. As for fried chicken lovers like myself — and btw, you can get orders of fried livers and gizzards here, too, you don’t see that much anymore! — I think I have to go with the Chicken Annie’s Annex in Pittsburg. Succulent, juicy, tender chicken!

Yeah, I ate at Chicken Mary’s AND Chicken Annie’s. I even talked to Anthony Pichler, now owner of the Chicken Annie’s Annex in Pittsburg. His grandmother was the original Chicken Mary, so it’s still all in the fam. “I started with Grandma when I was nine-years-old,” Pichler says. “I’ve been at this location for 39 years.” When I asked for the recipe, he just smiled and shook his head. “Grandma had that recipe in 1934.”

He did say it was a simple recipe and I read on the menu that they use breadcrumbs for the coating. Pichler also told me: the chicken is hand-battered and deep-fried in a mixture of shortening and lard in open vats. As for one place better than the other? Hogwash, Pichler said. “They all should be the same.” Hmm. I still say the Annex reigns supreme. “Well, we do weigh and measure all our ingredients,” he conceded. “It’s an exact science.”

The Food Network hasn’t knocked on his door — yet — but Pichler said the New Yorker wrote about the place. And if you like white meat (chicken breasts), here’s a tip: you can order the wishbone cut here, as at the other chicken houses and oh, yeah, there are more. In fact, there’s a contest going on. Sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, the following Crawford County Fried Chicken restaurants in the 8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce Contest are:
Chicken Annie’s Original
Chicken Annie’s Girard
Pichler’s Chicken Annie’s
Chicken Mary’s
Gebhardt’s Chicken Dinners
Barto’s Idle Hour

The chicken dinner havens are up against seven other Kansas wonders. You can vote for your favorite at:

Later, I stopped at Starbucks and watched my dear old (she’s not old, but our friendship is — we were roomies, my first apartment; we were known as the wild girls) and great friend, Holly. She’s in a band, Holly & the Bongo Girls:

Sorry, all of these entries are just snippets and videos, but I am kind of in a surreal state of mind, wandering around and trying to find some touchstones. It’s about a 50-50 proposition, as far as what’s gone and what is still here in Pittsburg.

Still here: Crowell’s Drug Store. The Mall. Pizza Hut. 1106 Drive-In.

Gone: Taco Pete’s. The PX across from Lakeside. Picco Ice Cream Co.

I search every face I see for some sense of familiarity. Do I know you? Did I go to school with you? When I lived here, I probably knew every face in town…

I’m touching base with my dear friend Holly tonight. She’s one of the very few people I can talk to after not talking to her for years on end, and just be so comfortable, right back to the girlfriend point, right back to those days when we shared an apartment and stayed up all night talking. And laughing. And dreaming.

It feels so good to talk and dream!

Good night.


3 responses to “Day 4: Good news on the road — Pittsburg!

  1. I too stumbled upon this while searching for that awesome cole slaw recipe. We had Pichler’s for dinner Christmas Eve and it was a tasty as ever. The sides are even better including the homemade onion rings. This brings back great memories as I had forgot about the PX but was a Lakeside rat and graduated Pitt State twice, last time 1998. Parents still live there and have fond memories and make it back a couple times a year. Thanks for writing about it.

  2. Stumbled upon this as I was searching for the ever-elusive recipe for Chicken Annie’s potato salad and slaw. Your writing sure took me back to my college days in Pittsburg! I’m happy to hear the 1106 and Crowell’s are still there. What about the Tower, or the Roadhouse, Pear’s, or the Filling Station…? I must say, I miss Chicken Annie’s most of all! My mouth is watering!

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