Tennessee Fire: Nashville’s Hot Fried Chicken

Other than barbecue, no other food evokes the South more than fried chicken. Southern cooks all have their secret recipes, the Colonel notwithstanding. I was going to be in Nashville. Eating its hot fried chicken is as essential as going to The Grand Ole Opry and the Parthenon.

As the story goes, the dish was concocted by a jilted lover who figured she’d teach her womanizing boyfriend a lesson by serving him a surprise breakfast. She slathered fried chicken with a nuclear paste made with plenty of cayenne pepper. As it turned out, presumably without so much as a missed heartbeat, Thornton Prince loved the chicken so much that he convinced his brothers to help him perfect their own recipe and open a restaurant in the 1930s. It eventually became Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which went on to become a Nashville institution. Today, it is run by Prince’s great-niece Andre.

How spicy is the chicken? How does the proportion of 3 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper to a tablespoon of lard sound? The chicken is served on top of white bread which soaks up the Godzilla sauce and grease, with sliced sour pickles served on the side.

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish

Bolton’s is set back in what looks like a narrow parking lot, except the lot is completely blocked off. Customers can park along a row of spots just north of the restaurant, which looks to be made of cinder blocks. The interior has been freshly painted in black and red. The paint was so fresh the men’s restroom door had to be propped open to air out the paint fumes. When you place your order at the window, you’re given a number and you get seated. Since the chicken is made-to-order, it takes about 20 minutes to get your food.



Bolton’s claims to make one of the spiciest fried chickens in Nashville. I ordered mine extra-hot. The chicken leg quarter arrived at the table in two shades of red, a distinct dark red paste layer and a brighter red dusting on top. Perhaps the ‘extra-hot’ has a generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper? The skin was ultra-crispy.

With my first bite …

The pain was searing.
It was like injections of wasp venom by a thousand tiny needles jabbed into my tongue.
Tears welled up in my eyes.
My lips and tongue burned relentlessly.
Noxious gases went up my nose and felt like fire flaring out of my nostrils.
I gulped down cold water.
When that didn’t help, I tried to douse the flames with cole slaw.
I blew my nose once, maybe twice.
I sat for a moment to recover.
This shit is f–king hot!

Then I took my second bite … And so it went until the gasping end. Underneath the radioactive shield, the chicken meat itself was very moist and, from what I could tell, tasty. Buttermilk does wonders for fried chicken. Wow, did I get an endorphin rush. I can’t say I enjoyed myself. The pain detracted from giving the chicken its proper due. For now, I’ll say it was good (☆☆½); the rating might’ve been higher if I had been able to taste the chicken.

Extra-hot chicken leg quarter

But, this experience changed my plan. After meeting more than my match, I no longer was going to order extra-hot anywhere else.

As an aside, my wife picked the plain (i.e., no spice) fried fish (whiting). The fillets were very thin, which after frying produced fish that wasn’t very moist at all, almost dry. You could literally pick up an entire one without its bending. Thicker than the one coating the chicken, the batter was too crunchy. There was still a spicy sprinkling of cayenne pepper, which made us wonder what ’no spices’ meant. She enjoyed the yellow mustard and pickles as counterpoints to the fried fish. Even if the fish was tasty, it failed to impress. (☆☆)

Fried whiting

Fried whiting

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

I wanted to make sure I stopped at the place that started it all. The parking lot was completely full but luckily someone was just pulling out. Inside, there was a good lunch crowd. The walls were a vast sea of turquoise. Like at Bolton’s, you order at a small window and get a ticket. After I learned my lesson at Bolton’s, I got the ‘medium’ spicy chicken this time. It would give me better than even odds of tasting the chicken without cauterizing my taste buds.

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

The word is that Prince’s, after a light dusting of flour, fries its chicken in lard, which explained why the skin was so flavorful. It was also shatteringly crispy. The chicken wasn’t as red all around as Bolton’s. The dark paste of cayenne and lard covered some of leg quarter, making me wonder if the hotter versions just have more paste. Even so, the hotness wasn’t just in the paste. The flesh was moist and tender. Two slices of white bread were underneath. Sour pickles were a good foil for the grease. This was a much better experience for me. (☆☆☆)

'Medium' hot chicken drumstick quarter

‘Medium’ hot chicken drumstick quarter

After the barbecue taste-off in Memphis, I grew weary of eating the same thing over and over. I had intended to try the chicken at 400 Degrees as well, but my spirit wasn’t in the chase any more. Instead, on Friday, my wife and I had New York-style pizza for lunch and Thai food for dinner.


I enjoyed the chicken, at least at Prince’s. Sensibility aside, I could never make a consistent diet of it though. It’s likely that, going along with my aging body, my tolerance for especially spicy foods is waning, so I would never get the extra-spicy chicken again. Nashville’s hot fried chicken is truly a regional specialty, one that seems confined to the city itself. There isn’t the plethora of restaurants that serve it like there are barbecue restaurants in Memphis, but enough are around to choose from.

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish
2309A Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
123 Ewing Dr.
Nashville, TN

Sunday Fried Chicken at Brave Horse Tavern

When Amazon moved its headquarters from the imposing, ex-VA hospital building atop Beacon Hill to the soon-to-be industrial park at the southern end of Lake Union, it dramatically changed the economy and redevelopment of a section of town that had been characterized by light industry, small businesses and warehouses. Not only do employees of Amazon now work and live in South Lake Union (SLU), but eat here, too, as restaurants quickly opened to take advantage of the concentration of young, well-paid high-techies. Local restauranteur extraordinaire Tom Douglas was one to jump on the bandwagon. To go along with his other endeavors elsewhere in Seattle, he now has three places in SLU: Serious Pie & Biscuit, Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern.

Sunday would seem to be the ideal time to go to any of these, for on any other day of the week, they’re packed with Amazonians and other diners who appreciate the goodness that Douglas consistently produces. There is also another incentive to eat at Brave Horse Tavern (located above Cuoco)—buttermilk fried chicken dinner that is served only on Sundays. Four of us split the dinner, smorgasbord of bar snacks, house-made pretzel and beers.

Tonight alone, I counted 34 beers on tap, most of them from West Coast microbreweries, which can be ordered in 12- or 16-ounce glasses or in a pitcher. Three of us individually chose Dos Borrachos Mexican Lager, Thai Fi Basil Pale and Rio’s Rompin’ Rye Ale. A good selection of ciders is also available as well as cocktails, wines and a long list of stiffer drinks. This place is not lacking for ways to get buzzed.

Brave Horse makes its own soft pretzels baked in a brick oven. By itself, the pretzel was very good, but the tavern gives you a choice of several accompaniments, including smoked peanut butter and bacon that one of our party ordered. Personally, peanut butter is on my list of prefer-not-do. I do like it in sauces used in southeast Asian cooking. But, I have to say that Douglas’ smoked version with bacon was remarkably good paired with a pretzel straight out of the oven, deeply browned and as good as a freshly made soft pretzel should be (☆☆☆½).

Brick oven pretzel with mustard, smoked peanut butter and bacon

Brick oven pretzel with smoked peanut butter and bacon

The tavern’s equivalent of an antipasto plate is its smorgasbord of bar snacks (☆☆☆). Outstanding were the house-made kielbasa, pickled vegetables and onion dip. Not quite so lofty were deviled eggs, pretzel chips and trail mix. Least impressive was an ale cheese that seemed curiously bland. Sliced apple and Rainier cherries completed the snacks.

Smorgasbord of bar snacks

Smorgasbord of bar snacks

It’s not clear why Douglas doesn’t offer fried chicken every day. It could be that the kitchen would be overwhelmed by orders on any other day but Sunday. The chicken is that good (☆☆☆☆). The flesh is supremely moist, encased in a perfectly seasoned and crunchy batter that hints of herbs. My first bite released juices that ran down my fingers and onto the plate. The sides changing seasonally, tonight were served (in Southern style) waffles, grilled corn and watermelon. The waffles were almost the chicken’s equal (☆☆☆½), studded with bits of bacon. The corn was blackened too much for my health-conscious comfort but tasty nonetheless, and I will probably not have a juicier melon all year.

Buttermilk fried chicken dinner

Buttermilk fried chicken dinner

Brave Horse Tavern can accommodate lots of people. The interior space is huge, filled with long tables for communal dining. We were the only ones at our table, and we would have enjoyed our own “space” just as much dining al fresco at individual round tables outside. There have been complaints about the extraordinary noise levels when the place is packed and even shouting at your companion is not a guarantee of being heard. Shuffleboards and darts, not to mention beers and plenty of good noshes, encourage customers to hang loose. You must be 21+ years old to enter. This is a fun tavern and another win for Tom Douglas.

Related posts of other Tom Douglas restaurants

Brave Horse Tavern
310 Terry Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

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Lunch at Marco Polo Bar & Grill (Seattle, WA)

There aren’t too many destination restaurants in the Georgetown area. Good restaurants, but not great. Occasionally, I’ll stop at Maruta Shoten and pick up things to go, like their terrific garlic chicken wings and well-made sushi. In the northern part of Georgetown, almost to the SoDo district, is Marco Polo Bar & Grill, which has been serving its popular fried chicken for decades. Inside, the ambience is a dimly-lit bar with pool tables. Its darkness is muted by the white walls, and there is auto racing paraphernalia on the ceiling and walls and a race car in the pool table room, not to mention Cougar football posters.

The menu is basically pub food: burgers, fried things, beer on tap, etc. But, the main reason people come here is for the fried chicken, which as of this writing sets you back $8.95 for three pieces, $1.50 for each additional piece. When the order arrives, which will take some time (apparently, each order is individually prepared), you will get thigh, leg and drumstick pieces, which are my preferences and therefore fine with me, but may not appeal to diners expecting breast meat. That, it seems, is reserved for their chicken tenders and sandwiches. With the fried chicken, you also get your choice of a side: jo-jos, fries, mac salad or potato salad.

Because it’s broasted, the chicken meat is moist. The batter is very thin and crispy, which those who want a thicker and crunchier batter may not prefer. The chicken itself seemed in need of more seasoning, perhaps brining, to suit my taste, but it appears this doesn’t bother a lot of diners. The jo-jos were limp and mealy.

Marco Polo's f ried chicken with jo-jos.

Marco Polo’s fried chicken with jo-jos.

Marco Polo Bar & Grill
5613 4th Avenue S.
Seattle, WA