When I was in culinary school in Birmingham, Alabama, Nashville was the destination of dozens of fevered road-trips. An excursion that only took three hours ended with me and my crew sitting down at some of the best fried chicken joints on God’s green earth.

It wasn’t that Birmingham didn’t have good fried chicken, Hell, the original Green Acres Cafe (est.1941) on 29th Avenue North puts out a platter that can rival any restaurant in the US; but they don’t serve Hot Chicken.

Hot Chicken is a Nashville phenomenon with cafes and diners across the city putting out their own versions of this regional dish. The best, Prince’s, is the finest exemplar of the form that I’ve ever found.

New Orleans Hot Chicken

New Orleans Hot Chicken

What is Hot Chicken? It’s a potent mix of acid, salt, chile and fat imbued into a hapless chicken that’s been fried hard, then served with sour pickles and light bread.

This is not a dish that you commonly see on New Orleans menus so we got really excited when we saw it on the menu at Little Bird; a pop up from the masterful chef Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette. Barrel Proof, one of New Orleans’ great bars is the host of this new concern so we ran by to drink a cold High Life, eat some fried chicken and take a vicarious trip to Nashville.

Our Greyhound ticket never got punched.

At $15 this is one expensive Hot Chicken plate, but no matter, if it’s good, it’s good and we’ll happily pay the price. Unfortunately the good chef needs some more r&d before he can compete with Nashville’s finest.

The chicken pieces are tiny which is a good sign. Modern, corporate-farmed chicken parts have gotten so big that they’re disgusting; growth hormone will do that to any creature. This is “natural” chicken and we can practically picture the hen pecking away at some Junebugs and drinking water from a crystal clear creek.

The seasoning on the bird is mild, the color’s right; it’s a pleasingly deep red, but the heat, that signature fiery heat that all good Hot Chicken has is non-existent. There is also a profound lack of salt in the dredge. The best Hot Chicken is salty with an initial blast of capsaicin that lingers into a long, slow burn.

The chicken is also tough which leads us to think it may have been twice-cooked. Since most bar patrons don’t want to wait 20 minutes for cooked-per-order food, we reckon the cooking crew has seen this as a necessary step during the mise en place stage of the dish.

The pickles that come with the Hot Chicken are bread and butter-style, something we’ve never seen in a Nashville restaurant. Hot Chicken comes with dill pickles. This is writ into the genetic code of Hot Chicken service and should never EVER be toyed with.

There is no bread, light or other, served with this Hot Chicken basket. Since Coquette has the finest bread program in all of New Orleans this a serious omission. Of course, we’d be perfectly happy with a couple slices of factory Bunny bread in the spirit of authenticity.

New Orleans has some of the best fried chicken parlors in the Deep South. But what we don’t have just yet is a Hot Chicken source that can stack up with the kingpins of Nashville, Tennessee. If anybody can answer that challenge it’s chef Michael Stoltzfus, his output at Coquette is insanely delicious; but as a Hot Chicken chef it’s time to head up to Nashville, take the lay of the Hot Chicken landscape then come back home and hew strong and true to that honored tradition.

Little Bird Pop Up @Barrel Proof
1201 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA
70130

Hours
Sun 5pm-1am
Mon Closed
Tue Closed
Wed 5pm-Midnight
Thu 5pm-Midnight
Fri 5pm-1am
Sat 5pm-1am

  1. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I like to get 2 thighs and 2 wings. It’s a lot of food but the flavor is profound and I can not stop eating. I go for Hot which is scorching, you may want to ratchet it up or down depending on how high your tolerance is for heat. RL

  2. Hey! I just came across this article today. Me and a friend of mine are doing a hot chicken pop-up in Bao&Noodle in the Bywater this Sunday (September 27)! This should be more reminiscent of what you would find in Nashville. Thank you!

  3. Fuck! I’ll be in Luling at the Gator Fest. I gotta get an alligator po boy for my 500 Po Boys series. I wish y’all the best. Put some Prince’s level fried bird out and y’all will be just fine. rl reeves jr

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