Hot, Hot, Hot

Nashville chicken is next new food fad

By Greg Sabin
December 2020

We’ve seen more than a few food fads in the last decade. Most of them, for the betterment of the local food scene, have stuck. Food trucks appear here to stay. Poke joints, though fewer in number than before COVID shutdowns, are still plentiful and delicious. The resurgence of old-school barbecue seems like a permanent fixture on the West Coast.

The latest of these fads is, without a doubt, Nashville hot chicken. Four restaurants have opened in the last year that serve the geographically specific and orally intense chicken dish. It’s a niche, but one that is deliciously filled by the flavorful and sometimes overwhelming fried chicken first made famous in Music City.

The story goes (taken with a grain of salt) that Thornton Prince, a Nashville man and friend to single ladies everywhere, came home to his longtime girlfriend after a night of carousing. Being a less than sensitive figure, he asked his lady to make him something to eat for he had worked up quite an appetite. Well, the crafty lass cooked up Mr. Prince’s favorite dish, fried chicken. But in order to show him a thing or two, she burdened the chicken with more hot spice than any human should endure.

Instead of burning his lips off, Prince relished the spicy bird. Not long after, he started his own restaurant featuring the hot chicken originally concocted as a punishment. This was nearly 90 years ago, and the legend has only grown.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is now pretty much world famous and has spawned a whole food subculture, inspiring restaurants worldwide to serve the signature dish.

In Sacramento, the most popular and longstanding purveyor of hot chicken is Nash & Proper. Started as a food truck a few years ago, N&P has expanded to several physical locations and a flagship restaurant on K Street in Downtown.

The menu is pretty simple, but the results are far from straightforward. Featuring fried chicken, chicken sandwiches, chicken wings and tenders, and fried cauliflower for our vegetarian friends, the menu seems simple at first. But then you must choose your level of heat: naked (no spice), mild (bit of heat), medium (now you feel it), hot (it’s burning) and clucking hot, which I imagine is fit only for those most tuned into the pain/pleasure centers of their psyche.

N&P does exceptionally good work on its food. The sandwich is a delightful grease and heat bomb made with expertise. Each ingredient, from the bread to the slaw to the pickles to the sauce, is either beautifully crafted in-house or sourced with care.

The cooking skill is just as evident. The fry is lovely on the chicken. In addition, my vegetarian friend Patrick, a longtime veteran of Sacramento kitchens himself, was more than a little impressed by N&P’s handling of the cauliflower.

Some sides that will delight your palate (after being scorched into oblivion if that’s your thing) are the exceptionally delicious potato salad and solid mac and cheese.

Like many newer restaurants during the COVID age, especially those with food truck roots, the locations and hours of Nash & Proper are better absorbed through online sources, such as Facebook and Instagram. N&P’s truck, which can be found several days a week at 37th and Broadway, has also been seen regularly at Sac Yard Tap House and other locations throughout the region. A pop-up location in Jazz Alley off 24th Street in Midtown comes to life some nights of the week for hungry late-niters. Nash & Proper is at 1023 K St.; (916) 426-6712; nashandproper.com.

Opened just a few months ago (always a brave move during a pandemic), World Famous Hotboys dishes out world-class hot chicken sandwiches almost exclusively. The 21st Street location is its first restaurant outside of native Oakland, and we’re lucky to have it.

World Famous Hotboys features a highly seasoned thigh and killer sauce/pickle/slaw combo in a great sandwich. It has a few other items on the menu like slaw and fries, but the star is the chicken sandwich.

This is a no-frills outfit with a table and shade tent outside the storefront. If you walk up without having pre-ordered online, you’ll be asked to go online and order. No live ordering. World Famous Hotboys is at 1115 21st St.; worldfamoushotboys.com.

In addition to these two standouts, you’ll find a couple more hot chicken specialists in town. The Angry Bird Hot Chicken in Citrus Heights puts out some spicy eats. Also, Sacville Hot Chicken (serving food mostly by delivery) located inside Goldfield Trading Post at J and 17th streets, dishes out indulgent comfort food like a sloppy plate of fries, mac and cheese, and slaw covered with hot chicken pieces.

Whichever way you go, all roads lead to Nashville when it comes to hot chicken, but those roads reach out as far as Sacramento and we’ve got the chicken and the burning hot lips to prove it.

Greg Sabin can be reached at gregsabin@hotmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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