"…hot chicken is a unique brand of fried chicken that's highly seasoned, some would say to incendiary proportions."
I was intrigued by the special "Hot Chicken" section in our Nashville guide book. When our friend saw it and also expressed interest, we had our dinner plans.
The guide book recommended a hot chicken place near us, Bolton's (the only spot that also does hot fish, according to the fifth edition of Insiders' Guide Nashville). We ordered through the window -- medium spicy wings to share, and various levels of spice from medium to "as hot as you can make it" on our individual orders of quarters and legs. The guy in line behind us overheard our friend order his chicken "hot" and said, "Oh… you don't want hot."
Now. I love spicy food. I grew up in Texas, and Picante commercials taught me that my home state knew salsa (and to me, salsa means heat, or don't bother). My dad ate Tabasco on everything, and my mom made him (and later me) homegrown Scotch Bonnet-Habañero relish. I like it hot and am stupid about it. So yes, I do want it hot.
I volunteered my Texan origins to this wise gentleman, which convinced him that I'd be "good." I'm glad others will so easily join in my delusion.
Bolton's waiting-and-dining area has four tables and hardly enough room for the crowd that gathered, so everyone overheard our order. They were eager to witness our first hot chicken experience (I think they just wanted to see if we'd cry), but we got our chicken to go. On the patio of our weekend home, we spread out our boxes, napkins and beers. The chicken comes with slices of white bread and two sides. These, I suppose, are to ease the burn.
I started with the medium-hot wings and knew I was in trouble, Texas roots and all. Next to me, our friend drank his beer and announced he was burning. I was officially concerned about my hot chicken leg and knew I would not try my husband's "hot as you can make it" chicken. We soldiered on, tongues and stomachs burning, gulping beer and sides -- mac and cheese, greens, baked beans, slaw -- fists clenched, "experiencing THINGS."
And then it happened. My husband knows this feeling, and though I believed him, I had a hard time imagining it. But it happened. We passed to the other side of spicy. I could still feel the heat in my stomach, but slowly, the pain was gone. And I felt… good? I really did experience things and was able to eat the rest of my meal without feeling like a cartoon of a guy eating a hot pepper.
If you're headed to Nashville and want to experience your own spicy feelings, in addition to Bolton's, 400 Degrees, Prince's (here's a great video about them), and Hattie B's were recommended to us. There's also a Hot Chicken Festival in July. I will be looking for something comparable in Louisville, and I welcome tips -- not just for chicken, but any really spicy food. Have you ever traveled to the other side of hot?