Nashville's Hot Chicken
& Fish Joints
By Tim Leffel
First you feel a sting on your lips. Then sweat beads up on your brow. Soon you’re reaching for the lemonade, feeling as if you could breathe fire like a dragon.
Next week, though, you’ll probably be back, the hot chicken shack calling you in for more. One popular joint, King Fish, is shown at right*
Southern food takes on different characteristics in different cities. Nashville's soft spot — or perhaps a heartburned spot — is hot chicken.
The exact recipe is always a secret. But you can bet the bird will be covered with liberal doses of paprika, cayenne pepper and hot sauce.
Then it gets fried in a skillet and served up with plain white bread, pickles and a few sides.
The décor will be uninviting and the accompanying dishes will probably be routine, but the price is right. Figure on $6.99 plus a drink and tax for a breast quarter plate.
The hot fish sandwich is a staple throughout the Deep South, prepared with whiting in Nashville and catfish in Mississippi.
The “hot” in this case refers to the temperature, as the cornmeal-breaded and fried filet is usually served still steaming.
Mustand, pickles, and onions go on top. The chow from King Fish is shown at right.*
Nothing keeps you from splashing on your own hot sauce or you could simply head for Bolton’s where the fish gets the spicy breading touch.
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack (615-226-9442), 123 Ewing Drive, is the "original." All other chicken joints are measured by this one and have been for decades.
A 2004 Tennesee State University football schedule poster over the pickup window is appropriate for this reliably consistent place that seems stuck in time.
Customers wait up to an hour but not because of the faded strip mall ambiance or the service. They come because they are addicted to the savory hot stuff.
A “medium” order packs a whollop and “extra hot” might land a weak stomach in the hospital. Cost? You'll pay $9.85 plus tax for a breast quarter, two sides, cornbread and a lemonade.
400 Degrees (615-244-4467), 2012 Clarksville Hwy, is as out-of-the-way as Prince’s.
But it has even less of a sitting area: a few stools and one table.
Call ahead to cut down the wait. Then pick your heat level -- from 100 to 400 degrees.
It's soul food and more (as the sign above proclaims*)
As the flames painted on the front attest, the highest level comes with a combustible level of heat.
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish (615-254-8015), at 624 Gallatin Rd. is the best hot chicken place if you don’t like driving around, getting lost, and then standing around to wait for your order.
Only a short hop from downtown Nashville, Bolton’s serves up just one heat level, but (in this author's opinion) it’s the most flavorful bird of them all.
The side dishes are also better than the norm. And, this place (its humble exterior is shown at right*)also serves a mean hot fish sandwich.
Kingfish (615- 242-5700), 708 Monroe and 8th Ave., near the Farmer’s Market, is the closest you'll get to a real restaurant. It features ample seating, a pleasant interior and even has a beer license.
A hot fish sandwich costs $6.90 with two sides, a soda and tax. Kingfish also serves hot chicken, fried shrimp and scrumptuous homemade pie.
East Side Fish (615-227-8388), at 2617 Gallatin Pike, is billed as “the crunkest (think "rap") fish in town.”
Expect two huge breaded whiting filets on white bread and plenty of freshly prepared side dishes.
Definitely opt for the excellent onion rings. You'll also find an odd fish sandwich accompaniment --spaghetti! This place is takeout only, though, except for one outside picnic table.
Whichever place you head to, call for current hours. Most are open for lunch and dinner, are closed Sundays, and don’t take credit cards.
So just bring cash and your appetite for hot chicken and fish. Don't expect frills. But do expect great fried southern food.
Nashville resident Tim Leffel is author of several books, including Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. He is also editor of the narrative webzine PerceptiveTravel.com.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission from Tim Leffel. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.