The Curmudgeon Reviews…Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish

So gentle and unassuming

Hot Chicken: the only uniquely Nashville food, if the legend is to be believed. Southern-style chicken quarters soaked in buttermilk and fried in gallons of Crisco on a cast-iron skillet, smothered in cayenne pepper and God knows what else, and served with naught but a few pickles and two slices of Wonder bread.

The Curmudgeon is a big fan of this particular indulgence. What’s not to love? It’s spicy, it’s flavorful, it’s usually still moist and almost under-cooked1; the Wonder bread soaks up all the leftover chicken juice and pure, unadulterated cayenne, and the pickles sit there in the corner as a reminder that the cook thought about putting something green and vegetable-y on the plate but then decided against it.

Prince’s is considered to be the gold standard, but The Curmudgeon has long since ceased visiting that location because (A) there is better hot chicken elsewhere (B) it’s too damn far to drive for fried chicken (C) no one particularly likes openly hostile staff and (D) he has this weird neurosis about wanting to keep all his intestines on the inside of his body.

It’s a thing.

For those reasons (and more!) The Curmudgeon has recently preferred the Melrose location of Bolton’s, found in a ramshackle building next to a sketchy discount liquor store. And across the street from the Porsche dealership.

Ah, Nashville, you never cease to amaze.

Anyway, Southern Week seems as good a time as any to write up The Curmudgeon’s most recent trip to Bolton’s. It was an eventful visit, during which their “computer was having trouble”, which typically means the whole world has gone to shit and you just paid them money in the middle of it.

Always fun.

Luckily, The Curmudgeon got his own food properly made in short order, but the rest of his entourage was not as lucky. This is not a typical thing, mind you, but it must be noted.

The hot chicken at Bolton’s is a wonderful thing. Even unseasoned2, it’s some of the finest fried chicken you will find in this city. The spice is a wonderful addition, adding both flavor and enough heat to eventually make you run for a gallon of milk. Unfortunately, on the most recent trip the cooks seemed a little lenient with the spice, perhaps mistaking The Curmudgeon for a tiny baby epicure, but in general this is not a problem.

Other than that, there’s not a lot to say. It’s fried chicken. It’s spicy3. It comes with bread. Hating it is a leading indicator that you are a kitten-eating communist. Or worse, a vegan4. So in lieu of having much food to review, The Curmudgeon presents his Rules For Eating Hot Chicken:

  1. Order the dark meat quarter. It’s the most tender and the most flavorful. White meat is always drier and never quite as delicious. Chicken tenders? You are a tool and they should spit in your food. Fish is acceptable if you must, but The Curmudgeon doesn’t see the point in pairing something so delicate with something that completely blows out the palate.
  2. Get the highest spice level you think you can handle, and then order one higher. The Curmudgeon’s theory on this is that all spice levels5 lead to the same ceiling at which nothing really gets any spicier. The spice is a steady build up to this certain level that The Curmudgeon has coined the Spice Threshold. The only real difference between Mild and Extra Spicy is that Mild may take half the meal to reach the Spice Threshold, whereas Extra Spicy will get you there merely by smelling the pickles. More spice is more fun. (Read: don’t get Mild, you pansy.)
  3. Get the sandwich — well, the sad excuse for a sandwich. Don’t bother with sides. For one, they are never all that good, but more importantly you will eventually hit the Spice Threshold and it will all taste like hot chicken, anyway.

That’s about all you need to know. Whether you’re hitting up Prince’s, Bolton’s, 400°, Hattie B’s, or whatever new place opened up in the last five minutes right next to the old place that just closed down because it became too infested with Discovery Channel writers to sell food to actual clients, enjoy your hot chicken. Assuming you actually ordered it hot.

  1. well, if you go by the old and very stupid FDA standards of 165º for chicken doneness — and if you do remind The Curmudgeon to never, ever come eat at your house when you serve chicken []
  2. don’t go to Bolton’s and order unseasoned chicken. Just…don’t. []
  3. not like that pansy-ass stuff at Chik-Fil-A or Wendy’s. Actually spicy. []
  4. An encounter with a vegan is a dangerous situation, ripe for serious harm. Luckily, The Curmudgeon keeps a vial of holy water around for just such an occasion. []
  5. save the antithetical “no seasoning”, of course []
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