NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

April 3, 2013

Hot chicken takes over Nashville

Most folks know Memphis for its barbecue and Philly for its cheesesteaks, but how about Nashville and its hot chicken?

If you’re not sure, you’ve never tried this fried chicken so fiery it will leave your mouth in shock. It’s a flavor you don’t soon forget.

Born as cheap, flavorful fare for Nashville’s working class community and offered late into the night for its party-goers, hot chicken has long been a staple in town. But its reputation has grown in recent years. Taylor Swift and B.o.B. even featured one of the city’s best known hot chicken shops in a video they did together.

At heart, it’s fried chicken that gets finished with a potent — and nearly always secret — blend of dry, peppery seasonings (paprika and cayenne are common, though that’s just the start). But that oversimplifies things.

“I don’t know,” James McNew, hot chicken fan and bassist for New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo, says of the recipe. “Some kind of combination of love and hate. I’m not sure of the measurements, whether it’s half and half or not.”

McNew and husband-wife bandmates Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have been coming to Nashville for almost two decades. For the music, of course. And the chicken.

They sing its praises to anyone who will listen. They even named two songs in honor of their love for Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which has been serving up searing hot chicken since sometime during the 1940s.

“It’s something different,” said Andre Prince Jeffries, second-generation owner of Prince’s. “It’s not a boring chicken. I mean, you wake up on this chicken. You’re gonna talk about it.”

And talk about it they do. The members of Yo La Tengo heard about hot chicken from another band that already had fallen for it. They visited the humble strip-mall home of Prince’s in north Nashville, far from the trendy districts, and were immediately enchanted.

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