Nashville's native palate scalding poultry dish can be found everywhere in Music City, from straight up dives to three knife setting fine dining establishments. Traditionally, this fried chicken variant is marinated in buttermilk, smothered in a cayenne pepper heavy paste and then sizzled into a piping hot package in a cast iron skillet or deep fryer.
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack's six decades of hot chicken prowess earned them a James Beard "America's Classics Award" earlier this year and it has the lines to match the hype. But, there's no need to make the fifteen-minute drive from downtown to Prince’s. Hot chicken cravings can be sated on pretty much every block in town.
The attraction of hot chicken mimics hot wing lust, but there is also a feeling that hot chicken can fuel the flames of desire that heightens its mystique. Andre Prince Jeffries, Prince's proprietor, told Garden & Gun magazine that there are people who consider hot chicken to be an aphrodisiac: "There’s a lady of the evening who brings all of her different suitors here. She's got to have the chicken before they go home."
Cabana, a chic southern comfort cuisine specialist in Hillsboro Village, stole my hot chicken virginity. Their take is jalapeno marinated leg meat served with a bacon cornmeal waffle and pickled green tomatoes. I complement it with crispy wasabi shrimp tossed in sweet chili sauce, garnished with sesame brittle, and served in a martini glass. While my mouth was hot and bothered in a good way and it did make me sweat a little, I cannot report back any libido boosting properties. I inquired with a Nashvillian in the know to get the native take.
"Hot chicken is ubiquitous here. Prince's is usually at the top of everyone's list. Although a lot of people pledge loyalty to Bolton's, and Hattie B's is a newer hot chicken restaurant in midtown that has been generally well received," explains Abby White, a staff editor at Nashville Scene.
Though White isn’t a hardcore hot chicken fan -- "I like eating food that doesn't fight back" -- she does somewhat understand the appeal of her city's most noted culinary contribution. "I'd assume there is some sort of adrenaline rush that accompanies eating something so spicy, but it's lost on me."
While the kick of hot chicken may not inspire a passionate rendezvous, there is no denying that it can get the creative juices flowing. Alt rock grey hairs Yo La Tengo named three songs after the tongue-blazing dish, including the funky instrumental track "Return to Hot Chicken" that opens their critically adored I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One album.
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