Nashville's Best Spots for Fried Chicken
Photo By: Andrea Behrends ©Andrea Behrends 2013
Photo By: Andrea Behrends ©Andrea Behrends 2013
Get Fired Up
Few things shout Southern hospitality like a heaping plate of crisply fried chicken — and Nashville knows how to do hospitality. The fried chicken in Music City runs from the traditional, skillet-fried Sunday version to the now-iconic Nashville hot. Whichever you’re after, these 10 spots are sure to satisfy your craving — and even offer up a little bit of love on the side.
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
You can’t talk about hot chicken without starting at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Now legendary, the story goes back more than 70 years, when Thornton Prince supposedly returned home from a night of fooling around to find an unhappy other half. Though she tried to exact revenge by rolling his Sunday chicken in a fiery spice blend, Thornton loved the sweat-inducing flavor. The addictively iconic recipe has since been carried forth by Prince’s descendants; it’s now overseen by Andre Prince, who’s held the flame for more than 30 years. The well-worn North Nashville strip-mall joint has a counter at the back where heat seekers order breast or leg quarters, or half or whole chickens that are fried and rubbed in a still-secret incendiary blend that sizzles with herbs and crushed peppers. Running from mild to extra hot, every piece is served over two slices of Colonial white bread and speared with dill pickles.
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish
Another hot-chicken original, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish has been in business since 2000. Inspired by a restaurant once owned by his uncle, Bolton Mathews picked up the hot-chicken torch and now offers his version of chile-laced fried poultry at two Nashville locations. A dry rub goes on the bird before it’s fried, then a second, heat-filled rub covers the skin at the end. The result is a slow-building, lip- and tongue-tingling burn that inevitably makes you want to come back for more.
Soon after Isaac Beard tasted his first bite of hot chicken (at Prince’s, naturally), the lingering lick of heat woke him up in the middle of the night — like an addict, he craved that fiery crunch. Since then, he’s sought out and eaten hot chicken almost every day for 14 years, perfecting his own recipe along the way. In 2010, he opened Pepperfire in East Nashville, a shack of a spot that puts out one of the juiciest bits of chicken in town, thanks to a quick brine before it hits the fryer. Just out of the oil, it’s dressed up with the standard levels of heat: light mild, mild, medium and hot (there’s also a double extra hot involving the rare Carolina Reaper pepper). Each order is served with thoughtful sides like pork-laced collard greens and fresh potato salad.
Like many of the dishes the acclaimed Southern chef Sean Brock sends out of his kitchens, his fried chicken recipe took years of time and research to develop. Inspired by the many variations of crispy fowl he’s encountered across the South — from gas station birds to Nashville’s own hot variety — Brock has crafted a slightly spicy recipe that’s crusty on the outside, and hot and tender on the inside. Only available at the Nashville location (and only at lunch), the chicken has a crisp exterior that lends just a hint of heat to the otherwise flavor-packed meat.
One of the newest fried-chicken shacks to hit town, Party Fowl offers far more than good poultry: It’s the only place in town that features hot chicken and a full bar, which certainly amps up the fun factor. And while this place doesn’t take itself too seriously (they serve a Bloody Mary topped with enough food for two, including fried Cornish game hens), they don’t kid around when it comes to fried chicken. Their Nashville Hot arrives with crackling skin, juicy meat and thick slices of brioche-like bread. As for the heat, they’ve perfected their levels since opening, offering a wide range that runs from mild to their hottest version, Poultrygeist (beware the ghost peppers).
Chicken-fried chicken has long been a staple on many Southern breakfast tables. At Sinema, Sunday brunch by Top Chef alum chef Dale Levitski includes an amped-up version topped with two sunny-side-up eggs, slivers of red onion and bacon, and slow-roasted tomatoes. Thankfully, those embellishments only improve upon the fried cutlet, which gets a super-crunchy crust from its herb-flecked breading. Served with potato salad (and, for many, a “Mary Mary” Bloody Mary), it’s a glorified new version of the Southern staple.
Photo by Mary Breen
Nashville’s most-playful hot spot, Pinewood Social offers an all-day space to while away the hours, with a coffee bar, bowling lanes, wading pools and a killer bar scene. But even in such hip confines, the menu stays grounded with a list of updated Americana favorites like pot roast and fried catfish. The fried half chicken, which at dinner is served in a tin with a cloth napkin, offers a homespun, good-as-Grandma’s flavor. Dark, super-crisp skin yields to perfectly cooked white and dark meat. If you’re really looking to recall a family-style weekend supper, head in with a group and order the large-format version.
Hattie B’s may not have created hot chicken, but they can certainly take some credit for pushing it into the national spotlight. Opened in 2012, this family-owned counter-service spot now has two locations (and more on the way) that pump out baskets of fried goodness with varying degrees of heat, from Southern-style (no spice) to Shut the Cluck Up (insane spice). All of their chicken starts with the same process, which involves double-breading the bird before frying it in shortening — so even if you can’t stand the heat, you’ll still appreciate the crisp and juicy pieces of poultry that come out of their kitchens.
Arnold's Country Kitchen
One of Nashville’s most-revered meat-and-threes, Arnold’s Country Kitchen also wins the prize for its crispiest fried chicken. The secret, says Kahlil Arnold (who now runs the show that was founded by his parents), is all in the breading. After a good, weekend-long brine (water, salt and a dash of hot sauce), the team breads the bird once, refrigerates it for a bit, and then breads it again before frying. The result is a crust that nearly shatters at first bite. A long, lingering kick of pepper runs through the meat, as does a hint of that hot sauce. Only served on Mondays, it’s the proper way to kick off any week in Nashville.
Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant
Open since the 1950s, Puckett’s Grocery has a lock on down-home Southern cooking. Their fried chicken has been on the menu from the get-go and still today emulates that revered institution of Sunday, skillet-fried chicken. Be prepared to wait about 20 minutes, since the kitchen fries their marinated, floured bird at a low temperature to ensure that each piece gets a golden brown skin and remains juicy throughout. A pop of pepper adds a little bit of heat, but otherwise Puckett’s version of fried chicken is a perfect example of this traditional Southern staple.
Photo by Amy Whidby