Hattie B’s: Serving Up the Heat

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

0715_mzezewaBy Tariro Mzezewa

In addition to its country music history, Nashville, Tenn., is known for its fiery food scene. Biscuits, Belle Meade bourbon and barbecue are on many tourists’ Nashville bucket lists. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, a small but vibrant restaurant, is also finding its place in those ranks by concentrating on a sizzling specialty and doing it big: Nashville hot chicken.

Customers ordering the deep-fried chicken from Hattie B’s can ask for chicken with levels of heat ranging from “Southern,” which is cooked with no spice, to “mild or medium,” which has a slight burn, to “shut the cluck up,” the one flavor general manager Jordan Luckett admits the staff has to caution customers against.

Hattie B’s staff of 25 isn’t kidding when it warns customers that shut the cluck up is the hottest thing they’ll ever eat. For the most devoted eaters, like 23-year-old Brandon Roth, the burn notice is no deterrent.

“It looks like death,” said Roth. “I’ve definitely never had chicken like this,” he added, while hissing at the burn. But he had no regrets.

His two friends, Josh Roberts and Matt Richardson, dragged Roth to the restaurant on 19th Avenue South in the Midtown neighborhood after eating there a few months ago. The trio seemed to have a routine—bite the chicken, chew while hissing at the burn, shout “whoo,” drink a gulp of beer, then sigh before doing it again.

“I thought I could handle it this time, but it’s too much,” said Richardson, 23.

Across the patio sat 37-year-old Mark Metcalfe, who goes to Hattie B’s whenever he’s in Nashville from Atlanta. “It’s the most authentic hot chicken I’ve ever had,” he said.

There are countless hot chicken recipes, and in the name of tradition, most cooks don’t share their specific ingredients and process. At Hattie B’s, a wing, breast or thigh is marinated in seasoning, smothered in flour, fried in a vat of boiling oil and covered in spicy cayenne-based sauce. Hattie B’s shut the cluck up flavor is infused with ghost pepper, which can bring a tear to even the most heat-loving taste buds.

“I love spicy food, but that is ridiculous,” said Kristen Bender, as she dabbed at her eyes with a paper towel and pointed at her chicken. Bender is a product manager for a Massachusetts recording company, and she ordered hot chicken instead of barbecue after her colleagues told her how delicious it was.

The 19th Avenue location of Hattie B’s opened three years ago, and last year a second location opened on Charlotte Avenue. The Hattie B’s team was waiting for its catering kitchen and food truck to pass inspection and expected it to go into business in the next few months.

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