Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Nashville, Tenn.,

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No matter who created a dish first, when it becomes the signature food of a city, there are going to be plenty of places who claim they do it better than the original. In Louisville, that’s the Hot Brown. In Minneapolis, it’s the Juicy Lucy. In Butte, it’s the pasty, and in Nashville, it’s hot chicken.

Hot chicken has been a part of Nashville lore ever since Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack created it and unleashed the fires of hell on the Music City, burning lips across the country music capital with its combination of quality meat and spices at every level. It’s meant to cause pain, but the taste brings so much pleasure that it doesn’t even matter how much you’re hurting, you have to finish it.

Prince’s might be the one who created it, but that doesn’t mean other places can’t master it as well. The latest to discover the secret is Hattie B’s, a place that has all of the ability and flavor of Prince’s with none of the location problems that plague the original. I’m not honestly sure how it found a spot when Hattie B’s is almost in both Music Row (the area where country recording studios are located) and the campuses of both Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities, making it a much nicer area than Prince’s seedy strip mall. As Amy was making her move north, the idea of being in a more protected area was appealing to us, and since you can’t go through Nashville without having experienced hot chicken, Hattie B’s was the choice.

It proved to be a great one. Hattie B’s might be new to Nashville, but its owners are no strangers to the restaurant business. The Bishop family got its start running Bishop’s Meat and 3 in Franklin, just south of Nashville, and bring over 50 years of experience to the table. Given their long ties to central Tennessee and their experience with serving quality meals, they decided to give Nashville’s legendary bird a try, naming it after Nick Bishop’s great-grandmother.

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It’s safe to say that they know what they’re doing. Like most hot chicken places, Hattie B’s offers various levels of heat, offering guests the chance to choose just how much pain they’re willing to put themselves through. At the lowest level is regular southern fried chicken, completely devoid of the blazing spices of hot chicken. This is not necessarily a standard at hot chicken places, as some restaurants only go as low as mild, but Hattie B’s philosophy is that some like it hot and some don’t, so those who can’t take the heat have an option.

From there, the levels keep increasing. Mild is the lowest level of heat, followed by medium, hot and Damn Hot. From what I’ve heard, Damn Hot is basically like someone lit a match inside you and decided to burn you from the inside out. As far as my preference, if you remember my escapade at Prince’s, mild felt like I had licked a spark plug because of my low spice tolerance. But at Hattie B’s, the spice is reined in a little to a more sensible level. With that being the case, I decided to give medium a shot.’

This was excellent. The bird was still painful, but it wasn’t as ridiculously spicy as my first experience with hot chicken. At Hattie B’s, the spice of medium doesn’t hit you right away. Instead, it takes a couple seconds before the burners kick in, taking your experience from tasty to spicy in a matter of seconds. But again, with hot chicken, pain is pleasure. Despite the heat, I had to keep going and finish the whole bird, plus the bread they serve you to soak up the grease and heat.

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That’s because inside that heat is one juicy and moist chicken. I’ve had some really good fried chicken before, but this is some of the best there is, hot or not. The meat is so tender and filled with so much juice that you just have to keep going beck for more. The spice does not soak in from the skin to the meat, which means that all you taste once you get through the skin is one delicious bird. I love dark meat, and this chicken’s leg and thigh were simply incredible. When I was done, I just wanted more of it.

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Amy opted for a different kind of hot chicken that’s not always available, going with chicken tenders. She has a higher spice tolerance than I do, so she opted to make it hot, which is the most common order at Hattie B’s. She greatly enjoyed it, finding the heat to be exactly to her liking. Personally, the hot is a little too much for me, but it still tasted pretty good. These guys really know what they’re doing on the chicken.

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However, it doesn’t stop there. Other than its fries, Hattie B’s makes all its sides in-house, and I had to sample their pimiento macaroni and cheese. This was a very different and very outstanding taste. The pasta is creamy and cheesy, and the pimientos add a new layer of flavor which fits perfectly at a hot chicken place. I was very impressed with what I found. I also enjoyed some of Amy’s cole slaw, which she was not as pleased with. Turns out, she’s used to slaw being a bit sweeter, while the vinegary taste of it at Hattie B’s worked well for me. I don’t even like slaw, and I found theirs excellent.

It doesn’t end there, either. Amy decided that while she was still in the South, we had to get some banana pudding, and since I’d never had it before, it was something I had to sample. It was outstanding. The cool, creamy pudding with real whipped cream is the perfect finish after a round of hot chicken, allowing you something sweet and satisfying after you’ve put your mouth through a meal of sheer torture to get the taste you wanted. With vanilla wafers, it’s simply perfect.

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If you want the original hot chicken, you’re simply not going to find it here. But if you just want a high-quality bird spiced the Nashville way, Hattie B’s is definitely worth making a stop. It might not have been the first place. But it’s definitely one of the best. There will be pain, but hey, some like it hot.

Recap

Time to go: Lunch or dinner. Hot chicken is best eaten at one of these times, although it can be consumed very late at night.

Wait during my visit: None. Surprising, given that Hattie B’s is not exactly big, but we were fine.

Location: Hattie B’s is at 112 19th Avenue South, near Nashville’s Music Row.

Cost: Most plates will run you about $10 total. Not bad at all.

Parking: Hope and pray. Hattie B’s has the tiniest lot possible, and you have to go up a curb to reach it. It can be done, but it’s tricky. Also, you are out of luck if there’s no open spot. All you can do is find a place to park and walk if possible.

Seating arrangement: Picnic tables

Website: Hattie B’s

Specialty items: Hot chicken

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Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

About nighthawk2005

A hungry guy in the land of the Hawkeye discovers America's best restaurants for himself.

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