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Friday, November 7, 2014

Where to Get Nashville Hot Chicken in San Francisco

Posted By on Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 12:12 PM

click to enlarge The chicken of the week at Uncle Brother's is occasionally hot chicken. - THE DAPPER DINER
  • The Dapper Diner
  • The chicken of the week at Uncle Brother's is occasionally hot chicken.

On a recent trip to Nashville, I jokingly checked in at famous hot chicken emporium Hattie B’s with a Twitter post commenting on how the city really loves their buffalo chicken. Nashvillians were quick to let me know that their beloved fried poultry was nothing like spicy buffalo chicken wings. Luckily, it didn’t escalate to death threats, a challenge to a pistol duel, or a country song sing-off, though it probably could have.

What is hot chicken? It’s a style of fried chicken that has been slowly appearing on San Francisco menus. Unlike the equally famous fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, which pats a little spicy paste under the skin before frying to provide flavor and a little heat to the meat, the spice is solely on the outside of the skin with Nashville hot chicken. The chicken is buttermilk-brined, coated, and fried, in either a fryer or a skillet, and then slathered in a spicy paste. The recipe of the paste varies between restaurants and is often a secret, but it is predominantly made of cayenne pepper and lard or oil, which is then brushed or spooned on to the fried skin.

The family behind Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville receives credit for the current incarnation of hot chicken, serving their pan fried version since the 1930s. The newest hot chicken heavyweight in Nashville is Hattie B’s, which opened in 2012. After visits to both, I determined that the definition of hot chicken can be summarized by three things: 1) Obviously, it has to be spicy, because they don’t call it warm chicken; 2) The skin has to be crispy enough it won’t bend when you hold a piece of it, meaning it will make an audible crunch as you bite down on it; and 3) A mix of golden grease and bright red cayenne residue has to be left behind on your tray or the white bread that comes with the meal when you pick up a piece chicken. Consider it the olive oil and balsamic of Nashville chicken.

Now that you are all caught up on Nashville’s hot chicken, let’s talk about where to find it in the Bay Area.

click to enlarge Fremont Diner's hot chicken. - THE DAPPER DINER
  • The Dapper Diner
  • Fremont Diner's hot chicken.

The Fremont Diner

2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, (707) 938-7370.
Perhaps the epicenter of Bay Area hot chicken, this Sonoma-based restaurant has had Nashville-style chicken on its menu since 2009. Served with bread and mac and cheese, the chicken is moderately spicy and the skin is crunchy. A bonus is the meat is perfectly cooked and has some flavor to it, perhaps owing to the fact the restaurant uses Mary’s free-ranged chicken, and not a commodity meat supplier like most hot chicken places in Nashville.
Spice: 3/5
Crunch: 4/5

click to enlarge The hot chicken at Hard Water. - THE DAPPER DINER
  • The Dapper Diner
  • The hot chicken at Hard Water.

Hard Water

Pier 3, The Embarcadero, 392-3021.
Charles Phan’s tribute to Southern food and American whiskey serves up its version of Nashville-style chicken without using flour in the batter, which on my multiple visits led to some inconsistency. On one visit, the skin lacked any crispiness, but another time it was reminiscent of Hattie B’s crispy, glass-like skin. The heat level is similar to the medium at Prince’s, so washing the meal down with a chilled bourbon cocktail is a must. Served with a Parker House roll classes up Hard Water’s hot chicken offering.
Spice: 4/5
Crunch: 4/5

click to enlarge Trick Dog's hot chicken. - THE DAPPER DINER
  • The Dapper Diner
  • Trick Dog's hot chicken.

Trick Dog

3010 20th St., 471-2999.
The newest trucker hat tossed in the ring comes from the Mission’s Trick Dog courtesy of the bar's new chef. It checks in with the prettiest presentation of Nashville hot chicken in San Francisco: a lollipopped leg and thigh served with a colorful side of pickled slaw and skewered chicken liver and heart. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pack the spicy wallop of other hot chickens; I would imagine this is what a mild at Prince’s is like. The skin also doesn’t have the crunch of other Nashville style chickens. Luckily, the dish is bolstered by the flavorful and juicy meat as well as the hard-hitting flavor of the liver and heart.
Spice: 2/5
Crunch: 2/5

click to enlarge Uncle Brother's Chicken. - THE DAPPER DINER
  • The Dapper Diner
  • Uncle Brother's Chicken.

Uncle Brother’s Chicken at The Residence

718 14th St., 797-8866.
A once a week pop-up that specializes in different preparations of fried chicken sounds like something from Portlandia, but it’s a San Francisco reality. Every Tuesday from 6-10 p.m., Wes and Walker Rowe, of Wesburger fame, offer a limited amount of their fried chicken choice of the week at The Residence. They announce the chicken of the week on Tuesday mornings through their Facebook page, adding a bit of mystery and uncertainty as to when you can get their hot chicken variant, but I assure you it is worth the effort. When they do hot chicken, the skin crunches with the familiarity of the chicken at Prince’s, but it’s the heat that won me over as coming the closest to the proper hot chicken. While the paste used the week of my visit had a little more sugar than their previous version, the initial sweetness was quickly pushed away by the cayenne’s heat. This is hot chicken the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Spice: 5/5
Crunch: 3/5 

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