Sisters and Brothers: Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Arrives in Seattle


I don’t know if Nashville, both the city and its food, has suddenly become trendy, or not. Articles about it seem to be appearing in print and digital media wherever I turn. Could it be that I’ve become more attuned to these write-ups because I had just been there last year (and loved it)?

While the Grand Ole Opry and country music need little introduction, Nashville’s hot fried chicken, its homegrown grub, is becoming a hot food topic. Even the colonel jumped on the bandwagon. The chicken is not for the faint-hearted, a blistering recipe of bird, buttermilk, herbs, spices and staggering amount of cayenne pepper. I suspect the real thing will never go mainstream, only a wimpier version of it. I made the ‘mistake’ of ordering the extra-hot chicken at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish in Nashville and paid the price, both before and after. If you read what gasping fans have to say, the reaction is pretty much the same. The whole point IS to suffer pain, metaphorically to hit your head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. The legendary endorphin rush. I can tell you that my body hasn’t evolved to that exalted plateau. After Bolton’s, I had to adjust the spice level at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (the restaurant that started it all during the Depression, see video below) to medium and was able to taste the chicken while still breaking out in a sweat. Would I ever have this kind of chicken again post-Nashville?

Most recently, KFC added Nashville hot chicken to its menu. This is a non-starter for me. So it was with more than passing interest that I read that Sisters and Brothers officially opened for business today (March 25), specializing in none other than Nashville hot fried chicken. And who should run the place but Nashville proprietor Jake Manny who still owns The Crying Wolf, a bar with live music that also serves food, mainly burgers. And it’s located only blocks away from Bolton’s. I find it uncanny and coincidental that the interior of S&B has a similar interior paint scheme as Bolton’s—black and red.

IMG_20160325_115028982

Sisters and Brothers

Bolton's

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish (Nashville)

Sisters and Brothers is located in the up-and-coming food area of Seattle called Georgetown, right next door to Charles Smith’s winery that relocated from Walla Walla. Parking is very limited. The stand-alone building used to be occupied by The Runway Cafe where I’d once come many years ago when I worked nearby. The restaurant was so named because you could watch airplanes, including Boeing jets on test flights, land at Boeing Field just to the south. It appears S&B kept many of Runway’s furnishings and paraphernalia, including old pictures, decals, posters and such, and even sells locally beloved Rainier beer in cans.

The menu is short, written on a blackboard just to the side of the fully stocked bar, where you place your order. You’re given a number and take a seat. Just as in Nashville, it takes a little while to get your chicken; they’re all made-to-order.

You have a choice of four kinds (light meat, dark meat, half bird or tenders) and four levels of spiciness: naked (no added hot spice), mildhot or insane. I ordered dark meat ‘hot.’ There was none of the full frontal sensory assault that I’d expect from anything labeled ‘hot’ in Tennessee. There was some burn surely, but not enough to make me wince. Even so, spiciness accumulated with each bite, but still not Nashville-hot. Maybe the ‘insane’ is different. A very light dusting of flour made for an exceedingly crispy skin that nicely soaked up the flavorful spicy sauce.

The problem I had with the chicken was the meat itself. Brined in buttermilk for two days, it was juicy but wasn’t fried enough, the thigh and drumstick beyond pink but having that unpleasant raw texture. Tender, it was not. Let’s hope the kitchen improves this in the future. Prince’s spiciness infused the entire chicken, while S&B’s seemed under-seasoned, although the sauce itself was zippy and salty enough. As is customary, the chicken is served with a slice of white bread (dry) and pickles. Nashville pickles are sour, S&B’s are bread and butter, which I confess I prefer. For Seattleites, the chicken here is a good introduction to Music City’s pride and joy but at this point won’t oust Nashville’s best (☆☆½).

One of the sides is Barton’s Baked Beans, which had the potential to be one of the best I’d ever eaten if they hadn’t been undercooked, a bit hard and chalky. Again, opening day fumble? Thankfully they’re not as sweet as most baked beans, almost sauceless, and the bacon chunks added great flavor (☆☆☆). The cole slaw, meh (☆☆).

Listen to an NPR podcast about Prince’s that was aired on 4-28-16.
http://www.npr.org/player/embed/471436355/475985558

Return Visit (June 2018)

The kitchen has seriously slipped since my last visit. The meat was still under-seasoned and the batter has become a liability. It was so thick and crunchy that it pulled away from the meat. It became an unwanted focus of attention. More than that, the hot sauce seems to have picked up sweetness that Nashvillians wouldn’t recognize. Is this the way Seattleites prefer it? The wonderful baked beans is no more, not having gained any traction among customers.

I no longer recommend this place. My friend I came with would also agree.

Related post

Sisters and Brothers
1128 S. Albro Place
Seattle, WA 98108
206.672.3767

Advertisements

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

Bolton’s

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.

Conclusions

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
615.383.1421

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
123 Ewing Dr.
Nashville, TN
615-226-9442