Christel Albritton MacLean didn't think she'd ordered fried chicken and biscuits on her first visit to Hattie's Chicken Shack in Saratoga Springs, New York, but that's what the waiter brought. He was virtually deaf, as Christel later learned, and simply assumed she wanted what everyone else who came to Hattie's wanted.
Not that in those days Southern food was the only reason people went to Hattie's. They went for atmosphere--the checked cloths on the tables, the chipping lime-green paint on the wooden chairs, the framed photographs of Cab Calloway and Jackie Robinson. They went because Hattie's was a survivor of the old Congress Street neighborhood, Saratoga's erstwhile Harlem, famous in its day for speakeasies, jazz clubs and casinos, all leveled by urban renewal in the 1960s. They went for Hattie Austin Moseley herself, who started her restaurant in 1938, ran it, in its heyday, around the clock and relocated to Phila Street before Congress Street was bulldozed (she managed this, it seems, by reminding the mayor that he owed her; after all, she used to give him cookies when he was a boy). They went, finally, because Hattie was in her nineties, and who knew how much longer the place would last?
But in 1991 Christel didn't know all that. She went because she'd fallen from a horse. A Wharton M.B.A. and a Manhattan investment banker, Christel was recuperating for seven weeks at her summer home nearby and needed to get out of the house, so she drove to Saratoga Springs for lunch.