The actual American South—like most of the actual America—is not a nice place. It is beer breath and Christian-only motels and fried chicken that gets the grease up under your fingernails and makes you wish you had not ordered the fried chicken. It is disappointment.

Maya Lovelace's fried chicken, by contrast, is so immaculate that in hindsight it seems imaginary: No way did a platter of thighs and legs really arrive at your table by the dozen, each piece lacquered with a shell of three fats that somehow managed not to seep into the bird, but instead protect the meat like a little birthday present. Lovelace brings these gifts personally to each table with an anecdote about what they meant in her North Carolina childhood, and one suspects that her talents as a storyteller have helped propel her to a James Beard nomination after just two years running a pop-up in back of a Cully butcher shop.

(Thomas Teal)
(Thomas Teal)

The acclaim is deserved. At least two dishes on a recent Monday night—the pimento mac 'n cheese and an iceberg salad—had patrons talking semi-seriously about licking the bowl clean. And that salad did taste like a Thomas Kinkade vision of heaven painted in ranch dressing. But Lovelace is also conjuring a world we wish existed, clean and generous and warmed by a bottle of brown-bag whiskey. For two hours, nothing disappoints.

Mae, 5027 NE 42nd Ave., Dinners at 6 and 8:30 pm Mondays and Wednesdays. $$.

Pro tip: Getting a ticket to Mae isn't easy, whether the $40 Monday meals or the full $75 Wednesday ones: Sign up for the mailing list to know when sales go live. Also, it's BYOB, so take note that bourbon mixes especially well with the sweet tea you'll be served.