When I was putting together my Sweet Spots paper for Nashville, I realized I needed a local feature for the front cover- so of course, Hot Chicken came to mind. It's a specialty cuisine that derives from the Music City and it's certainly something you need to try at least once in your life. Hot Chicken is typically a portion of breast, thigh or wing that has been marinated in a water based blend that includes specialty seasoning (always a chef secret). It's then floured, fried and sauced with a spice paste made with lard and a copious amount of cayenne pepper. But be forewarned, if you order the Hot Chicken served hot (comes in mild, medium and hot) you will be in for an intense, body numbing, body aching, hell on earth type of experience that can last for days. As Anthony Bourdain summed it up after he braved the hot, "Faces will melt, heads will explode, lives will change." So before you decide to delve into this culinary adventure, here's a bit of know-how on what to expect and where to go...
It all began with Prince's Hot Chicken. In the 1930's, a man named Thornton Price was a bit of a ladies man. His girlfriend didn't appreciate his wayward ways and concocted a fried chicken recipe so hot and spicy, she was sure it would bring him tremendous pain and regret. But alas, Thornton loved it. He perfected the recipe and opened up the nation's very first Hot Chicken restaurant. It's still family owned today and is as authentic as you can get. But a word of advice, if you're a hot chicken rookie, start with mild or if you're feeling particularly adventurous, medium. I promise it'll be hotter and spicier than you ever imagined. As local Mark Miller shared, you go to Prince's "when you absolutely want to lose the feeling in your legs."
Hattie's B's began as a meat and three but after owner, Nick Bishop created his own hot chicken recipe that received rave reviews from the locals, the switch was made. Their fried chicken batter is a bit sweeter here and they are known for their tasty side dishes like Southern Greens, Baked Beans or the popular Pimento Mac & Cheese which is a favorite of local, Kristin Schleihs. Sweet Spots curator, Lisa Garcia recommends going to Hattie B's second location on Charlotte Ave as they have a parking lot and the lines move quicker. Lisa, "In the summer, you can also top off your meal with soft serve from Bobby's Dairy Dip across the street." Added bonus here- beer is served.
Bolton's Spicky Chicken and Fish opened in 1999. The restaurant is a homage to the owner's uncle, Bolton Pope, who fashioned a hot chicken recipe that soon became a family (and fan) favorite. Their spice is a tad tamer than Prince's and they serve their version atop a white piece of bread with pickle slices. At Bolton's it's not just about the chicken as they also offer a delicious spicy fish served with mustard, pickles, onions and hot sauce. As you are now equipped with a bit of knowledge, may you go forth bravely to experience Nashville Hot Chicken. But just as a friendly safety reminder to all- if it's your first time, please order mild.