While barbecue keeps the locals and tourists happy with piles of meat and sides, it’s the hot chicken that’s at the heart of the Nashville food scene. It’s soul food that makes you feel alive and humbles you.
There are many option in your hot chicken quest, but I went to the three that are most mentioned — the two old school places, Bolton’s and Prince’s, and a new school joint, Hattie B’s. I lived to tell the tale.
Bolton’s was first stop when I arrived on Sunday. It was closest to my AirBnB in East Nashville and only one opened on a late Sunday when I arrived from Lynchburg.
If you watch the Anthony Bourdian show, Parts Unknown, this is the place that he visited with Alison Mosshart from The Kills. I rewatched that segment on the Netflix just now and there some very suspect staging in that episode.
First off, they got served their food on black plastic plates on trays. You will not get this. Even if you say you are eating in, you will get your food in Styrofoam containers in a brown paper bag.
I got the chicken tenders with a medium level of hotness with a side of mac and cheese. It comes with white bread and pickles. That medium will tear your insides out. My introduction to Nashville hot chicken was trial by fire in my mouth.
They warn not to rub your eyes because you might come in contact to with spices. Luckily, I avoided that happenstance thankfully since I used plastic utensils for my tenders. But, I was seriously watering up and snotty from my noise. Twice, I had to get up and wash my face. THIS WAS THE MEDIUM. The mac and cheese was ass, so avoid it.
With all that a said, this was flavor bomb of epic proportions. Getting the tenders was a good idea so I wouldn’t have hot chicken spices all over my face if I was eating off the bone.
As you see, the red, no-thrills interiors adds to the down-home, good eatin’ atmosphere. As a side note, I guess rock stars like Mosshart get great parking right in front of the joint.
The next day for lunch, I went to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in West Nashville, the new school joint that’s sleek with pretty interiors, fancier sides, a better presentation and craft beer. This is your gentrified hot chicken joint.
Since I figure they didn’t want to test their customers heat limits, I went with the hot level of hotness with side a pimento mac and cheese. This time, the mac and cheese was stellar.
The juiciness of chicken was on point. A great level of crunch with the a juicy inside and heat was definitely tear educing, but not at the pain level at Bolton’s. This hot chicken will get you just enough hotness to get you to HOT DAMN level but not running out the door screaming. It’s just pushing past tolerable for the average mortal.
Finally, after a long drive from Memphis, I got to Prince’s an hour before closing, which was great but they were out of a lot of sides and drinks.
Apparently, Prince invented the hot chicken back in the 1940’s and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. It’s even more no-thrills joint then Bolton’s. It’s a strip mall with parking lot that hasn’t been paved ever. Inside, it’s packed with locals where you’re forced to eat with strangers who quickly become friends.
All customers are told to have a blessed day. Sales of their desserts helps local charities, so this is a friendly place even when it gets crowded and hectic.
Even though it was a Tuesday, there was a still a wait to get my food. I was ready to sit with strangers but all the booths were taken. I ended up taking it back to my AirBnb.
I went with the breast quarter white meat medium heat and side of potatoe salad (as spelled on the menu) and a chocolate cheese pie for dessert. They only serve tenders on Thursday and they were out of cole slaw, water and ice tea.
When I got my food in a brown paper bag, I darted back to my place in 7 minutes. When I got in, the bag was already soaked through with grease. I tore into chicken with both hands and discovered that the heat level of medium was weak compared to the others. It was still well-fried and juicy, but way too greasy. The potatoe salad was meh.
After I was done, I felt a little ill from the grease.
My verdict, Bolton’s takes the crown because of the flavor, not greasy, great crisp and no fuss interiors. If you have to go to one place while in Nashville, it’s Bolton’s. Sides were best at Hattie B’s with best looking chicken. Prince’s had the best crunch, but weak heat wise.