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Friday, January 8, 2016

As KFC Trucks Nashville Hot Chicken Around The Nation, A Look At The Original

After eating at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack as a kid, Aqui Hines started a place called 400 Degrees. (Blake Farmer/WPLN)

After eating at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack as a kid, Aqui Hines started a place called 400 Degrees. (Blake Farmer/WPLN)

It took KFC to get Nashville hot chicken to the masses. The fast food chain is launching the new offering by taking a food truck on a cross-country tour to places like Nashville, Minnesota, and Nashville, Indiana.

The Colonel is skipping Nashville, Tennessee, where the cult-favorite dish was born.

“Maybe KFC is afraid to test their new homage to Nashville spice in its actual hometown,” writes Tennessean food columnist Jim Myers. “They should be scared. Loyalists will peck at that bird ’til there’s not a shred of authenticity left.”

Nashville hot chicken is pictured at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack – the originator of the style. (Sean Russell/Flickr)

Nashville hot chicken is pictured at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack – the originator of the style. (Sean Russell/Flickr)

All fingers point to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack as the original purveyor. It’s located in a fairly run-down strip mall with a peeling hand-painted sign on the glass front.

More than 70 years ago, Thornton Prince stayed out all night tomcatting, as the legend goes. His lady cooked him breakfast the next morning and as punishment, snuck a boatload of hot pepper into the fried chicken batter. To her great surprise, he liked it. So do a lot of people.

“If you’ve never eaten it, once you eat it, you’re addicted. You’ve got to have it,” Tammy Osborne told me while waiting in line at Prince’s, which can sometimes take hours.

I have audio of the first time I experienced Nashville hot chicken. And it is an experience. It was 2010 at Prince’s. I just had medium hotness, but the hiccups and the nose sweat came on fast.

I’ve built up a bit more tolerance since the first time. But this is not your saucy buffalo wing with a little kick. We’re talking about a deep red – might I say scary red – piece of fried chicken. Done right, there’s a breast and wing stacked on a piece of cheap white sandwich bread with a few pickles.

Owner Andre Prince says everyone responds a bit differently.

“One man said it took the hair off his chest. Another said it put hair on his chest. Of course that was a teenager,” she told me.

Before KFC’s attempt, other small-timers tapped into this feverish following. Some, like Hattie B’s, are even looking to expand outside Nashville.

Aqui Hines ate Prince’s hot chicken as a little girl and started a place called 400 Degrees in 2007.

“Prince’s chicken inspired me. The guy who started Pepper Fire would frequent 400 Degrees every week. So I inspired Pepper Fire,” she says. “So there’s enough for everybody.”

Hot chicken is now on the to-do list of any traveler or conventioneer who comes to town. Hines says her pet peeve is when newbies order the hottest level and then realize it’s not even edible.

There’s been no pushback against KFC’s entry. Hines welcomes the competition — not that she thinks a national chain will serve up anything close to authentic.

“I guess I’d be offended if I didn’t stay busy. But we get up to a two-hour wait every day, and I can’t keep up,” she says. “I would be offended if it affected my business.”

Reporter

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