New Orleans hot chicken cooks still have a ways to go before they can compete with the descendants of Thornton Prince, founding father of Nashville’s Barbecue Chicken Shack which eventually became known as Prince’s Hot Chicken.
But this past Sunday, Ring Of Fire, an insurgent pop up group from New Orleans waded into the Hot Chicken battle.
And their fried chicken was good.
It just wasn’t Nashville Hot Chicken.
When the deluge came Sunday morning my big plans of driving out to Luling to eat Fried Alligator Po Boys were dashed. The festival was called off. Time to regroup.
I had gotten word that a group of young cooks were planning a Nashville Hot Chicken pop up at Bao and Noodle so I took the 5 minute drive to the Marigny through sheets of rain to see if these cats were worth my hard-earned dollars.
Walking in to the restaurant I note the typical pop up set up. Two girls are working the front of the house, girlfriends or wives I suspect; a small cash register has a sign tacked to it ‘order here’ and a crew of cooks are hustling around in the tiny kitchen.
The spot feels really good. I spent countless hours here when the same room held Sound Cafe, my primary New Orleans source of hot coffee and new issues of Cometbus.
I order $11 worth of food: a chicken thigh, a chicken breast, a side of cheese grits and what turns out to be the highlight of the meal: red beans and rice.
Spying into the kitchen I note a big Le Creuset Dutch oven bubbling away on the cook-stove. I fantasize that it’s filled with leaf lard and that this is how our bird will be cooked.
Turns out Ring of Fire is using canola oil which is also a common cooking medium in Nashville.
The Hot Chicken come to table just that: hot. There is smoke billowing off the plate and the chicken is flat-gorgeous, burnished to a mahogany of glistening crust and shiny with good fat.
I immediately tear into the thigh to ventilate it a little then turn my attention to the red beans and rice. Ring of Fire substitutes pulled pork for sausage but it’s still one of the finest versions I’ve eaten in town.
The grits offer zero nub, that much treasured resistance in the grain that the best grits feature. They taste good and are rich with plenty dairy but in the end are little more than a vehicle for just that: dairy.
Two pickle slices gain my attention next but are quickly dismissed. They are bread and butter style. Sugar is the mortal enemy of cucumbers.
I’ve never had this style with my Nashville Hot Chicken despite the fact that the city is so far north as to basically be a Yankee town. Sweetened pickles and Hot Chicken are not boon companions.
The chicken is delicious. The cook on the bird is perfect, the breading crunches with each bite but there is a decided sweetness to this dish that disqualifies it from the Nashville Hot Chicken canon.
As I’m leaving I inquire as to what the cook is using to sweeten up his work. He replies that there is sugar in the dredge and he also douses the bird post-cook with Poirier’s cane syrup.
The Ring of Fire cooking crew are putting out some plainly delicious fried chicken but they have a ways to go before they could step into the kitchen at Prince’s or Bolton’s up in Nashville.
I previously wrote about Nashville Hot Chicken in New Orleans here