‘Bama chicken finds Florida home

When I moved from Alabama to Florida in 2002, I left behind a plethora of things I loved. Of course, leaving behind mom is always a tearjerker, even for the most manly of men. There were many splendid things I left behind, including hills, trees that shed their leaves during winter and winter itself. Among these was a restaurant called Guthrie’s.

Chicken done right is mouthwatering. It should produce an experience of such euphoria that words lose their previous meanings. The amalgamation of meaningless words then form a union and chant unanimously in your head, “Chicken, chicken, chicken.”

In 1978, the Guthrie family developed a way to create this taste through their original family sauce. The sauce goes on anything and everything. I ate it on toast, french fries and even chicken. Why is it called “finger lickin’ good?” Because it even tastes good on your fingers. It is so good there isn’t a word to describe it, so I turn to the Saturday Night Live skit where Will Ferrell impersonates James Lipton and term it “scrumptulescent.”

Though the breaded, country-fried chicken strips are delicious in their own right, it’s the special dipping sauce that sets them apart. The mayonnaise-based concoction has a tangy, peppery taste. It looks vaguely like Thousand Island dressing but it tastes completely different from the Big Mac’s condiment of choice.

Guthrie’s was started in 1965 as a family-owned and operated restaurant in Alabama. When one of the sons, Chris Guthrie, went off to college at Auburn University, he tried his hand at owning a restaurant to bring in some cash. He sold hot dogs, hamburgers and the chicken from his family’s recipe. He noticed, from sales records, that people were not coming back for the dogs and burgers, but they came back because they loved that special family recipe. They focused all of their attention on the “scrumptulescent” chicken.

Since then, the restaurants have spread throughout Alabama and even extended into parts of Mississippi and Georgia. Finally, they made their way into northern Florida, and now the Florida franchise is preparing to come to the Tampa Bay area through the work of William Hobson and Tommy Howell, managing partners of Guthrie’s Florida franchise.

Larry McQuinn is the manager of the first location in the USF area, located at 1911 E. Bearss Ave. He is laboring hard and hiring employees in anticipation of the grand opening March 2.

“We are excited about bringing the same great chicken fingers to the USF campus that have made Guthrie’s name legendary at Auburn, Alabama, FSU and other major campuses throughout the Southeast,” McQuinn said. “And as a way of introducing Guthrie’s to the students, they can bring this article in anytime in March, and receive one box or plate for free when purchasing one.”

Many good things have come from Alabama: Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron, Helen Keller, Coretta Scott King, Lionel Richie, Condoleezza Rice, Rosa Parks and Father of the Blues W.C. Handy. And now, we can take pleasure in southern advances in chicken fryology. Even though I still miss the hills of Alabama, at least I don’t have to miss everything. It is time for a family reunion, and a bucket of Guthrie’s chicken.