Restaurants

Nashville Hot Chicken At Roost

M. Sheppard

March 23 2016 - 11:39 PM

So, I have to credit KFC for the favor. That I’ve never been to Nashville (although not for a lack of interest) was largely responsible for my having never tried Nashville Hot chicken.  But I’d never even heard of the style.  Then KFC, during NFL games, began promoting its own version.  Although the ads piqued my interest, I never pursued my curiosity beyond reading a few articles about KFC’s offerings, which, as I anticipated, were described as being relatively fraudulent and corporate tasting.  I certainly don’t want to eat chemical chicken any more that I want to drink industrial beer.  You know me.

Meanwhile, my interest in experiencing true Nashville Hot chicken only grew.  Legend has it that the style was born from the jealousy of a scorned woman whose lover, a chef who operated a Nashville fried-chicken stand, was caught red handed, cheating.  As payback she whipped up for her loving man a rather special batch of fried chicken coated with batter containing a vengefully searing amount of hot sauce.  But instead of torching the cheating heel’s gums, it engendered feelings of love.  Love for flaming chicken, that is.  As it turned out, the man was crazy about the recipe. Others agreed and so emerged a new style.

Well, a trip to the famed chicken’s birthplace, Nashville, was unrealistic for me, even though I recall at one point researching Southwest flights to Music City for the purpose of stuffing my face with some of the flaming fowl.  Finally, one day I gave in and Googled, “Nashville Hot…” and immediately the search titan added the term “Chicago”.   Topping the results list is a local review regarding the Nashville Hot efforts by Leghorn and The Roost.  Can’t say I’ve been to Leghorn but, as a Lakeview denizen, Roost is merely blocks away and has been an occasional indulgence.   One phone call later and I was on my way to ending my life’s pre-Nashville Hot era, for better or worse.

At the store a half-chicken order awaited me, and I soon claimed the unremarkable white box which housed my meal and emanated enticing odors of hot sauce and toasty herbs.  At home the moment of truth awaited.  Not having seen any photos of it, I anticipated that Roost’s take would be very spicy, perhaps hellishly so, but would be colored an ordinary brown, with maybe a tint of red, and would not resemble the mouthwateringly tempting deep red signifying authentic Nashville.   Even KFC’s surely dye-enhanced displays in the commercials contained a noticeable red hue which at least slightly, albeit artificially, nudges your cravings.

Upon opening the box my doubts were quickly allayed.  Inside were four large pieces of deep, ruby-red bird which looked enticing and deliciously angry.  It was downright beautiful.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Roost’s Nashville Hot is real and it’s spectacular, Jerry.  I tore into it.  Crispy and supple, the warm crust nips at your fingertips which are quickly reddened by the hot sauce.  As you dive in further, healthy chunks of succulent white chicken crowd your mouth with delicious chewiness.

What’s so enjoyable about Roost’s recipe is that indeed the chicken is hot, it fulfills the promise of its fiery redness, and it satisfies your craving for hot spice.  Yet this fire is under control.  There’s plenty enough heat to keep your attention but not so much to overwhelm the herbal spices and hints of dry-rub sweetness, a note which materializes as the bird cools.  This is Roost’s genius.  They give you what you want, heat, but simultaneously deliver an entire array of flavors.  In one mouthwatering package you get the treble and the bass.  But, unlike KFC, there’s no synth. Roost is made to order and tastes every bit so.

Biscuits were my sides, and they were delightfully fluffy.  My only criticism of Roost is that they should add collared greens or perhaps baked beans to their sides roster.  At least a couple of chicken meals come with two sides but your options are pretty much biscuits, chips, and coleslaw, a slate lacking much variation.  Plus, I’m passionately anti-mayo so coleslaw’s a non-starter.  That aside, the spectacular chicken renders any complaints essentially moot.

I don’t eat much fried food but if I’m facing state-ordered execution this is on my short list.  Further, I can’t imagine that any other Chicago attempts at replicating the genre could top this.  My wanderlust for Nashville has been momentarily sated courtesy of Roost.

The Roost

1467 W. Irving Park Rd.

Chicago

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