Linger Ficken’ Good: Heaven on Seven’s Nashville Hot Chicken

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Welcome back to Linger Ficken’ Good. Devoted to all things fried chicken, Linger Ficken’ Good, named for the most excellent album by Revolting Cocks (see/buy here), will showcase the best, the worst (heaven help the purveyors of bad fried chicken) and everything in between that the Chicagoland area has to offer with regards to fried chicken.

Today we’re turning the focus not on traditional bone-in fried chicken, but on a big slab of delicious chicken breast that is fried to golden perfection and then slathered in an alternately hot and spicy, but also a rather welcoming tinge of sweetness. It’s the sort of pleasurable heat that ties New Orleans to Szechuan cooking somehow. It’s name? Nashville Hot Fried Chicken.

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken started, naturally, in Nashville, TN…seemingly in the 1930s and purportedly to counter the cheating of one Thornton Prince III, according to his great-niece Andre Prince Jeffries, current owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Prince III woke up expecting breakfast made by one of his lady friends and instead got a big blast of hot and spicy fried chicken that she had hoped would burn him up in some way. Turns out her plan backfired and he loved it so much he stole the idea and opened up the BBQ Chicken Shack Cafe, featuring the dish on his menu. (For fun viewing, check out chef Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s) order the spicy hot at Prince’s here.)

This article on the Bitter Southerner does a helluva nice job taking things back to the Civil War to the present. The writer documents how few white people had any idea about Nashville Hot until recently, only because it came up in the black areas of town. And the south being the south, well…

The thing about Nashville Hot that makes it so well…hot…is that there’s a concentrated amount of cayenne peppers in the sauce. So it’s sort of one note and all heat. It’s more of an endurance test for some than it is pleasurable. Although some people get off on pain, so you can kind of understand the appeal.

I’ve found that I like my Nashville Hot…again…hot…but with a bit more complexity. The Roost here in Chicago does a damn fine Nashville Hot that offers a big, complex profile with a very pleasurable amount of heat. KFC, oddly enough, does a damn fine approximation of Nashville Hot, too. Go figure. I’ll end up talking about both places eventually…

But today we’re concentrating on Heaven on Seven‘s version. Chef/owner Jimmy Bannos opened Heaven on Seven back in 1980 and has been serving up the city’s best New Orleans-style cuisine ever since (though his closest competitor, Alfredo Nogueira of Analogue in Logan Square, is doing some fine things as well). Obviously Nashville is a bit outside of New Orleans, but Bannos was on a mission to make a damn good Nashville Hot.

Bannos, like myself, isn’t interested in heat for heat’s sake, here creating a rather complex flavor profile with a touch of sweetness courtesy of a bit o’ honey and some brown sugar. The heat comes from 22 chili peppers of different varieties, creating something that’s yes, hot, but a heat that reshapes, reforms and balances out as you eat it. The chicken has an incredibly strong crust that holds up under the sauce and the chicken breast itself is as moist and juicy as one could ever hope for (see chefs? chicken breast ain’t the damn devil, calm your asses down).

The chicken breast sits atop a piece of white bread with pickles and comes with a side of Cajun coleslaw and fries. The coleslaw is one of the better ones I’ve ever had (I’m not typically a fan). You can also get the Nashville Hot as a po’ boy if you want.

My guest and I also sampled a wide variety of other dishes while at Heaven On Seven, including their out of this world gumbo, corn and shrimp chowder, pimento cheese cornbread, fried green tomatoes, fried shrimp, and the below dish of shrimp and grits with New Orleans beef “debris.” This was one of those transformative, I’ll never forget eating it, sorts of dishes. Just divine…damn…now I want to eat that.

Shrimp & Parmesan Reggiano Cheese Grits with New Orleans Beef 'debris' - JED Phohtography

Shrimp & Parmesan Reggiano Cheese Grits with New Orleans Beef ‘debris’ – JED Phohtography

Come back next time to read about the place that serves up not only the absolute best fried chicken in the Chicago area, but includes the absolute best plate of food in the Chicago area as well (and it’s cheap!) That’s all you get for now…I’m just tickling your ass with a feather so to speak.

Until then, this is your friendly neighborhood Rock ‘n Roll Ghost telling you too eat more fried chicken and to always save the thighs for last.

Heaven On Seven

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