Chicken1

Hattie B’s was our introduction to Nashville Hot Chicken and remains our favorite. That isn’t to say that we like it purely for sentimental reasons — it just has the best chicken we’ve yet had the pleasure of eating.

We find ourselves returning and recommending the restaurant to friends (and strangers) interested in sampling the local faire because it is located in the highly accessible Midtown, has commendable service, and consistently tastes great.

So, How Good Is It?

whole meal closer

Our “usual” is that Josh orders the dark meat and Vanessa orders the white (and usually steals a leg from Josh’s plate). Light or dark, Hattie B’s turns out chicken that is moist and tender on the interior and — of utmost importance — crispy on the exterior. (I cannot emphasize enough how important crispy skin is. I am typically the type to set the skin aside unless it is completely rendered. —Vanessa)

As is traditional for hot chicken, after coming out of the fryer, the crispy skin is coated with a chili- and spice-infused oil. This is what gives hot chicken its heat and added succulence. There is a fine line here, where the chicken could turn out greasy. But, we’ve never known Hattie B’s to cross that line. The meat has great texture, the skin good crunch, and the whole thing leaves you happily licking your fingers.

The Heat

Hattie B’s offers six heat levels: Southern (no heat), Mild, Medium, Hot, Damn Hot, and Shut the Cluck Up.

A good rule-of-thumb (that you will later lick) is to start with the Medium, unless you know you have a good tolerance for heat. Still, you might try the Medium anyway because it gives you a chance to really taste the other spices in the infused oil without setting your palate on fire. It’s in this careful balance of heat and spices that the best hot chicken places distinguish themselves.

The first time we tried Hattie B’s, we were brave souls who ordered the Hot. That was a tearful experience! (Perhaps the crying is why we feel so sentimental.) Through the tears, though, we knew we were on to a good thing. We now regularly order the Hot and, occasionally the Damn Hot, but agree the Hot has the best flavor-to-heat ratio.

Comparing Hattie B’s to other chicken places we’ve tried, B’s runs a little more mild than most.

Sides

We’ll admit that we haven’t tried all the sides at Hattie B’s — we’re here for the chicken, after all — but the ones we have are generally quite good. Our usuals are the pimento mac-and-cheese and southern greens for Vanessa and french fries and southern greens for Josh.

IMG_20140315_174730

The greens are delicious and remarkably savory. Tender and smoky with pieces of bbq pork, the greens can really cool down your mouth and make you feel less gluttonous for all that fried chicken you’re eating.

The macaroni-and-cheese is good, but hit-or-miss for quality. The best days are when you get a serving that has the browned cheese from the edges of the baking pan. Otherwise, they can be a little bland. Why keep ordering it? One, cheese and carbs together are awesome; two, if you’re going to be bad, be bad; and three, those lucky edge-piece days are worth the gamble.

fries

Hattie B’s fries are more consistent in quality, but they aren’t something to write home about even on their best day. They are exactly what you would expect from a higher-end casual restaurant, but there isn’t anything to distinguish them from their competition. If you order double fries with your meal, they generally deliver a portion much larger than two of the standard portions and it is easily enough to share with the table. The fries certainly aren’t bad and are actually pretty good, but they are more of a default option than something truly special, like the chicken itself.

We’d like to promise that we’ll try some of the other sides and update this review, but we would be lying. We enjoy our trips here too much to change it just for your sake.

Menu & Pricing

Like most hot chicken places, Hattie B’s menu consists of white and dark meat chicken. Chicken tenders are also available and we have one friend who speaks highly of them, but he also orders the “Mild” heat level so we don’t really trust his opinion. They also boast the longest list of sides we’ve found and offer a few desserts (Pro tip: We’ve seen the Hattie B’s staff dole out vanilla ice cream to those who’ve rushed to the counter looking to extinguish the four-alarm fire going on their mouths). Hattie B’s also serves quality local and domestic beer on tap, craft brews in cans, and the usual assortment of fountain drinks — the free refills are certainly a luxury in the hot chicken world where many places simply offer bottled beverages.

b- menu

Until a few weeks ago, they had a charming hand-written chalkboard for a menu but that his since been replaced by a more corporate-looking pre-printed board. Aside from being less charming and renaming a couple of items, the old and new menu seem identical.

For around $8, you can get a regular (er, its called small on the new menu) dark meal which consists of a leg and thigh quarter and two sides. For $2 more you can make it a large and get two leg and thigh quarters. Similarly, you can choose a small or large white with wings and breasts. All told, a meal for two (one large plate, one small plate) plus soft drinks totals about $25 before tip.

Service & Atmosphere

When you arrive at Hattie B’s, you will most likely be greeted by the line waiting out the door. Count on a wait at all hot chicken places, but Hattie B’s manages their popularity better than most. The line moves mostly smoothly to a counter where you place your order, pay your bill, and receive an order number to place at your seat.

Next comes your first entry into hot chicken shack jealousy: Finding a table. Though Hattie B’s restaurant and seating space are larger than all of the other places we’ve been, there is still a regular wait for a table. You stand anxiously with your number, hoping you don’t finish off your drink before your chicken arrives (Don’t panic: There’s free refills), and you give people the eye for daring to enjoy the company of their friends after they’ve finished their meal.

Remember, patience is a virtue. Though seating is hard to come by, there is a magical formula by which you always seem to find a spot at a table — hopefully one of the charming picnic tables on the enclosed and heated patio — before your meal arrives. The key is to not be bashful about politely asking to join a table that is not fully occupied.

Now you enter the second stage of chicken shack jealousy: waiting for your meal. Hattie B’s fries to order, which means that it takes longer for your meal to arrive than at a typical restaurant or your preferred fast food chicken place. But, it is worth the wait to receive freshly prepared hot chicken, delivered by one of the courteous staffers.

When you are done, you can bus your own basket of remains — or not. The staff makes regular rounds, picking up baskets when people are done. The intended norm — to bus or not to bus — is unclear, but we usually bus our own to help clear the way for other patrons (earning our good hot chicken karma).

Hattie B’s is located in Nashville’s Midtown, which is easily reached from the city center. Accordingly, parking is at a premium. Hattie B’s has maybe half a dozen parking spaces of their own and has leased a few spaces from their neighbors. If these are full, there might be street parking, but you are more likely to find a space in one of the (obscenely over-priced) paid parking lots nearby. Plan on adding $10 to your evening tab for parking, but that covers the entire night. So, pay for parking and enjoy any of the good nearby bars after your meal. Maybe you’ll earn even more good karma by covering your designated driver’s meal, too.