Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who's got the sexiest fried chicken?

My recent book travels included a precious 24 hours in Nashville, one of the few Southern towns I haven't had the chance to visit.

Big problem, though: No car. I had a shuttle from the airport to downtown, but no way to get from downtown to the one restaurant in Music City that I really wanted to visit.

That, of course, would be Prince's Hot Chicken. In the South, there are two poles in the fried chicken world. One would be Price's Chicken Coop, right here in Charlotte. The other would be Prince's Hot Chicken, in Nashville.

As an aficionado of Price's, I felt I owed it to myself to try Prince's. When it comes to fried chicken, Prince's is a bird of a different feather. It's chicken that's dipped in a hot sauce, rolled in spicy flour, deep-fried, then coated with more hot spice and sprinkled with more red pepper. It's served on a slice of white bread that soaks up the spices -- wouldn't want to miss any -- and topped with pickles.

There's more to the legend, of course. Supposedly, the endorphin rush causes addiction. And, um, there are claims of hotter reactions, including to the libido. Never heard that about Price's.

So I skipped all other arrangements for my trip to Nashville to focus on trying to get a ride to Prince's, in a neighborhood too far from downtown to take a cab. I begged and sent around inquiries, and I thought I had a ride secured. All day Saturday, from book talk to book signing to book-tent duty, I kept trying to hook up. Didn't work. They were tied up, or their schedule never meshed with mine.

I expected to walk away from Nashville, denied glory. But then I looked at the line of food trucks stationed outside the Southern Festival of Books, on War Memorial Plaza. At the end of the row, there was an unassuming white bus: Bolton's Hot Chicken.

Part of the Prince's story is that hot chicken is so addictive, versions of it have spread all over Nashville. Since this was the closest I would get, I decided to at least start my hot-chicken education. I got an order of chicken on a stick, "medium hot," (which earned me an "allllll right!" from the guy inside the bus. Medium is a long way past mild, apparently.)

I sat down with Angela and Paul Knipple, authors of "The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover's Tour of the New American South" and old Tennessee hands. The chicken was on the required slice of white bread.

 "It's to soak up the  spices," Paul explained. "Otherwise, you end up in serious pain." As he said this, he was weeping - he had foolishly put a finger near one eye. Meanwhile, his wife Angela didn't show concern for him or slow down in attacking her chicken.

"This is ice cream for Angela," he said. "It's Parris Island for me."

Bolton's version of spicy chicken was chunks of white meat, threaded on a stick, battered and fried, and covered with a bright red coating of what tasted like a mixture of cayenne and seasoned salt. Good? Very. It wasn't Prince's (or Price's, for that matter). But it was seriously hot, with a lot of flavor. I might have been able to tackle extra-spicy.

As for that addiction thing, I haven't stopped thinking about it and plotting ways to return to Nashville, this time with my own car keys.

Have you been to both Prince's and Price's? Let me know how they compare.


Anonymous said...

You seem to have forgotten that other bastion of southern fried chicken in Tennessee. That would be Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. I have eaten at Gus's many times and at Price's many times. Gus's wins every time.

Anonymous said...

Didn't forget, didn't know about it. Where is Gus'? Memphis or Nashville?

Anonymous said...

A Gus's just opened on Old Hickory Bvld in Nashville. Tried it and would never go back. Terrible.

Anonymous said...

The original is in Mason, TN. There is also one in Memphis, though I hear that it is not as good as the one in Mason. Apparently, they opened one recently in Nashville. The original burned down in Mason, but the current one was built on the same site as the original.

Here is a youtube of when man v food goes to Gus's. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZN-BdcoR1Q

It is kinda like Price's in that the sides really are not that outstanding. In both spots, it is the chicken that truly shines.

Anonymous said...

Also, their slogan rocks. "If you have had better chicken, you had better been the rooster."

Anonymous said...

I have no input on what anonymous said @ 1:31. Just check out the reviews on yelp, urban spoon and trip adviser. When all 3 have an average rating of 4.5/5 or higher, you know its going to be good.

Dean said...

Oh, damn, we had some cold Gus's chicken in our fridge at the "party" house on Saturday. It was particularly tasty as the night went on. I always hit Gus's when in Memphis. It's not as spicy as Nashville bird, but it's absolutely delicious. Next time, we're there -- my treat.

Anonymous said...

Dean, how you do taunt a girl. My life would be complete if I could try both Gus' and Prince's. And if you ever get to Charlotte, I'll stand you to Price's, including the gizzards.

Anonymous said...

Prince's is very good. It is unique, and hot and spicy. Had it a few times about 10 years ago when I was working in Viet Nashville for a long time. No love lost for the city or the work, but there were a handful of great places to eat. The only problem with Prince's is that EVERYTHING there is the same hot and spicy. The fries, the beans, even the corn on the cob. If they had something sweet or savory to contrast the flavor, it would have been outstanding. For my taste, it was too much of the same thing to be considered better than Price's.

Jimmy Harrell said...

Kathleen, maybe you can try this place closer to home if you haven't been there before. Keaton's BBQ is a hole-in-the-wall place near Cleveland, NC (east of Statesville off Hwy 64) that's been in business for over 50 years. They serve chicken that's first fried, and then dipped in their sauce (hot or mild). Doesn't sound like it's as intense as Prince's, but it's definitely good eats. Be warned though, the hours are erratic and they can get a little cantankerous with strangers who don't follow the protocol for ordering.


Anonymous said...

Love Keaton's, Jimmy. Here's a blog post I once wrote about it: