Hot, juicy and cooked to order chicken fingers are at the top of the food chain at Carol’s Chicken Basket in Scottsboro.
Top them off with their super secret homemade sauce and most people say you can’t beat the taste.
For more than 50 years, the small dairy bar has served everything basically the same way to generation after generation of residents.
“I grew up eating here,” says owner Carol Keele. “I used to walk here as a child and the food was always delicious.”
About 25 years ago, Keele purchased the restaurant from the original owners, the Adams’.
“I worked in food service,” she says. “When the place where I worked was sold, this place came up for sale at the same time. So I bought it.”
Since then, every morning, six days a week, Keele gets up and gets to work hand cutting the fresh chicken into huge slices for her best-selling item.
“Everything we sell is fresh,” she says. “We buy fresh hamburger meat every day and we make our own potato salad, coleslaw and sauces.
“We also buy fresh tomatoes which we slice every morning. Our customers expect that and we never let them down.”
Besides selling more than 120 pounds of boneless chicken fingers each week with more than 8 gallons of sauce, Keefe hand makes hamburger patties that can be ordered in sizes up to a 9-10 oz. burger called the Big Boy.
“We make every order fresh as we get it,” she says. “Nothing is sitting around under lights waiting to be served. Nothing. It’s been that way here for years and that is the way it will stay.
“Most orders are called in,” she adds. “Ninety percent of our business is over the phone. It’s a big convenience. Besides burgers, fries and chicken fingers, we do grilled chicken, fried chicken, pork chops, hamburger steak, barbecue and country fried steak. We also have chicken livers and gizzards.”
Customers come from all around the area to get a taste of the down-home dairy bar food that makes their mouths water.
Jeff Gifford and Jimmy Kennedy, both of Scottsboro, have eaten at Carol’s Chicken Basket for years.
“The chicken is excellent,” says Gifford. “The sauce is the best. I’ve never had a complaint about the food.”
“Carol is a good cook,” adds Kennedy. “She’s about the nicest person you’d ever want to meet, too. We eat here two or three times a week. The food is delicious and I like that it is always served fresh and hot.”
Keele says every plate is piled high and customers never have to leave hungry. “People say we put too much food on our plates,” she says. “But I believe they should get their money’s worth, so we make sure of it.
“Our family packs feed four people very well,” she continues. “For $14.97 tax and all, you can get either 16 chicken fingers with all the sides, or four cheeseburger baskets with drinks included. We also have a barbecue family pack for the same price.”
Besides herself, Keele has one cook, Becky Denham, and occasionally Keele’s son, Carson, helps out too.
“He’s a student at Northeast College,” she says. “He’s majoring in business. If he wants to go into this business, that’s okay. But I don’t want him to have to. It’s hard work.”
Because the Chicken Basket is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Keele says the hours are long.
“I work 66 hours every single week,” she says. “People who think the restaurant business is easy have no idea. I love it, but this business is not for anyone who doesn’t want to work hard. It’s a commitment. If you don’t want to do that, you don’t need to be searching for that American dream.”
While working on her American dream over the years, she has seen many people come and go in Scottsboro and her business has built up a regular clientele.
“We have built a good following over the years,” she says. “People’s kids grow up and then they come here with their families.”
She believes the good food and the familiar taste is what keeps them coming back.
“You have to have a gimmick in this business,” she says. “You have to be known for something - a specialty. Here, it is the chicken fingers and the sauce. While I can’t give away the secret to our sauce, it does have pickle juice in it and it tastes kind of like a barbecue sauce. You either love it or you hate it. We have other sauces too, just in case.”
One thing Carol’s Chicken Basket does not do is offer ice cream. “Everybody in town does ice cream,” Keele says. “Some things are just not worth the money you have to put into them. I can go up the road and get a delicious milkshake anytime, so I like to just stay with what I do best here.”