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The Search for Nashville Hot Chicken in D.C.

This popular Tennessee dish is showing up on a lot of menus around town.

America Eats Tavern
America Eats Tavern
R. Lopez

Elizabeth Parker, a Nashville native, was on a mission — a mission that involved stuffing about 30 pounds of Nashville hot chicken (vacuum sealed and packed on ice) in her carry-on suitcase.

At the time, the covert operation was for the staff at Rose's Luxury. Parker promised them a sampling of Hattie B's extra hot, "Shut the cluck up!!!" chicken for a Rose's Luxury family meal, and boy did she deliver.

Like a 007 agent, Parker snuck the goods past TSA agents. Then, she loaded it into an overhead bin on a flight back to Washington.

"I went with the boneless chicken," she says. "Just so the security scanners wouldn't pick up on anything funny."

Parker's story is an example of the lengths people from Nashville will go through to satisfy a hot chicken craving. But, for the non-initiated (mainly those living outside Tennessee or the South) it's easy to ask: "What's hot chicken?"

Parker, who's now the general manager at Crane & Turtle, describes it as a fried chicken delicacy that can burn your lips off while making your stomach oh-so happy. It's a chicken dish rooted in place and history. And, traditionally it's served with white bread, layered pickles, and spicy chicken on top. The acidity of the pickles cuts through the heat, and the bread slices soak up all the juice.

For Washingtonians, the biggest challenge, at least for hot chicken fanatics, is simply finding the dish. The Nashville standard — Parker says it's Prince's Hot Chicken — may be impossible to find, but there are a few notable exceptions.

Reserve 2216 puts hot chicken on top of waffles. America Eats Tavern serves it with a side of Parker House rolls. Hot chicken comes on a sandwich with Gochujang (a Korean red chili sauce) at Due South. Seasonal Pantry has featured it in the past. UPDATE: The newly revamped The Chesapeake Room just announced it will serve the dish during both its Sunday fried chicken suppers and on its late night menu. And, coming soon, celebrity chef Carla Hall will put her spin on Nashville hot chicken.

But, give credit to Maison-Dixon for helping to popularize the dish in D.C. A year ago, Adam Cox started a hot chicken pop-up along with Granville Moore's Teddy Folkman. What first started out as a few dinners in his Capitol Hill home, quickly turned into a once monthly pop-up series. The next chance to sample their hot chicken will be at Vendetta on September 17.

"The first time I ate it, I took a really big bite and got mainly the skin," Cox says. "It immediately turned into this amazing laughing and crying experience for me."

The feeling was similar for BJ Lieberman, Chef de Cuisine at Rose's Luxury.

"Hot chicken is one of my favorite things. It's freaking awesome and genius in its own way. At Rose's we decided to pay homage to it, but also make it our own," he says.

Lieberman's version uses a chicken thigh rendered in guanciale fat and seasoned with a spicy jerk rub. It comes served with toasted bread, dill-pickled papaya, and a sweet pineapple aioli sauce.

"We added a lot of habaneros to the jerk chicken rub to make it extra hot. Then, we pivoted because the chicken wasn't breaded. It was just fried. This was our bestseller for a few months this year."

The dish is no longer on the menu, but Lieberman says he's working to reintroduce it to Rose's patrons soon.

"We're continuing to experiment with how the dish is plated, but it will be back soon," he says. "And, we'll leave it to Nashville for traditional hot chicken."

Where to Find It Now:

Reserve 2216, Alexandria
America Eats Tavern, Tysons Corner
Due South, Navy Yard
Maison-Dixon (next at Vendetta, Atlas District)
The Chesapeake Room (Barracks Row)

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