When you think of Tennessee and barbeque it’s Memphis, not Nashville, that comes to mind. Nashville is just a bit too far east and bit too far north to be a real barbeque town (not to say there isn’t good BBQ in Nashville). But Nashville has been wisely promoting itself as a hot chicken capital.
Hot chicken is fried chicken that has been seasoned heavily with spices dominated by cayenne pepper. A lot of cayenne pepper. It began as “soul food,” but has caught on popularly. This is a long way from your father’s KFC.
Hot chicken has been in the news, has its own website, and even has its own festival–The Music City Hot Chicken Festival, tomorrow, July 4. With a family appointment in Nashville recently, I figured it was high time I found out what the hot chicken fuss was about.
Probably the most famous of the hot chicken joints is Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The name alone demands a visit, and visit I intended to do. I even dodged a ‘No Through Traffic’ sign across the road only to find this:
Closed on Mondays. But having seen the front window I want to eat there even more.
My crew was anxious for food, so a quick search turned up Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish as the right alternative. A phone call confirmed they were actually open.
Bolton’s turned out to be far more of an actual shack than Prince’s (which is in a strip mall). The parking is wonky, and you probably won’t figure it out until one of the guys there tells you what to do. Although I would advise visiting during daylight hours, the folks at Bolton’s were very friendly and helpful.
Bolton’s is really designed as a carry-out place with just a few odd tables for those waiting to pick up their orders and the odd customer who stays around to eat in (that would be us). You knock on the door when you’re ready to order and the window slides open. The gracious Tee took our order and waited on us. We were there during the early afternoon, but past the lunchtime rush. Some hipsters were hanging around to pick up their carry-out order.
With the family in tow, we ordered chicken wings for one daughter, catfish for another. My lovely wife got the leg quarter. I ordered the breast. You are presented the options of hot, medium, or mild for the chicken. We went mild on the chicken wings, but full bore hot on the leg and breast quarters.
Those of you who have had hot chicken know this already, but hot chicken is aptly named. Our food was made to order, so when it came out it was doubly hot. We had to let the food cool a bit in order to eat it (no heat lamp food here). But there is no moderating the spicy heat.
Prepare for your lips to burn, for sweat to break out on your brow, and for your nose to run. I was told my face turned red. This is Nashville hot chicken. The key is to get plenty of the juicy meat in your bite with the spiced skin. It helps control the heat per bite plus adding flavor to the meat. The chicken was well prepared, moist and tasty.
One of the benefits of bringing family with you is that you can steal bites of their order, too (hey, I was paying). The wings were also quite good, although I’m not a big wings guy. The mild chicken tastes like simply good, perhaps slightly spicy, fried chicken. If you’re leery of the heat, then try out their mild. Alas, I’ve not tried the medium heat level. The catfish is also quite good, and is recommended.
Having your first hot chicken is not an event you will forget. It is not for the faint of heart or taste bud. I admit to being a hot chicken novice, but I’m ready for more. And while I will certainly be heading to Prince’s sometime soon, I’m not at all sorry that circumstances led me to Bolton’s. Put it on your list the next time you’re in Nashville.