400 degrees thigh

Let us start this way: We heart hot chicken.

And we genuinely want to love every hot chicken place we go. Each new place offers titillating promise. But, unfortunately, we feel we have to put 400 Degrees in the friend zone. 400 Degrees has a convenient lunch location, tucked away with a few other restaurants in a small food court near downtown Nashville. The friendly, joking staff — especially the charming owner — serves up decent chicken with a smile. But we didn’t feel the spark. In sum, we’ll hang out if we happen to be in the area, but we’re not changing our plans to come if they call.

The Chicken

At 400 Degrees, the chicken is fried well and has a decent crisp, but it comes with a little more grease than we might prefer. It isn’t exactly greasy, but it isn’t quite not either. You can order the typical breast quarter or leg quarter, and they have a nice option to order 4 wings. The wings are great because you can get a different heat level on each, so you can find out which is right for your next visit — or test your mettle against the restaurant’s higher levels of heat.

As far as spice, they offer four thematically named options: 0 Degrees, 100 Degrees, 200 Degrees, and 400 Degrees. As the numbering would imply, there is a substantial jump in heat from 200 Degrees to 400 Degrees, so we recommend you start with 100 or 200 depending on your level of hot chicken experience. The 200 is a bit weaker than most “Hot” blends at competing joints. The 400 degrees is tongue-blisteringly hot, but we enjoyed the 200 better for another reason. To achieve 400 Degrees of heat, they apply the spice as a particularly thick paste that has a rather gritty, unpleasant texture in the mouth. Having said that, the heat was more than we would care for even if the paste wasn’t strangely thick and we would probably welcome a hotter but less gritty 300 Degree option.

400 and 0 Degree Wings. Notice the small, granular pools of chili paste.

400 and 0 Degree Wings. Notice the small, granular pools of chili paste.

As a counter to the heat, the flavor of 400 Degrees’ spice isn’t particularly remarkable. There is little distinct flavor of chilies or smoke; instead, the profile is a bit salty. This was especially noticeable in the 0 Degree chicken, so the spice mix itself probably just adds heat.

Overall, the flavor of 400 Degrees chicken is best described as a mimicry of Prince’s, but it lacks the finesse of the older establishment.

The Sides

Like most of its competitors, 400 Degrees has a very limited selection of sides consisting of baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, and crinkle cut fries. As is becoming a trend in this review, the sides can best be described as adequate but unremarkable. The fries themselves are mass-produced and are just dumped from a brown paper bag into the fryer when ordered. They’re fine, but only just. The coleslaw is as-expected, but that’s not a bad thing. It is neither overly sweet nor under-dressed and a good foil against the heat.

Overall, the sides at 400 Degrees may be adequately defined as generic.

The Restaurant

As mentioned above, 400 Degrees is actually a store front in a food court as opposed to a restaurant all its own. As far as we so far know, it is unique among hot chicken places in that respect. It may be a good option if you are visiting our fair city  as part of a group and not everyone is up to the challenge of trying hot chicken. The other establishments include Quiznos, Nuvo Burrito, and a cajun place. Only Quiznos and 400 Degrees were actually serving food on our weeknight visit.

Misc

We did want to point out that 400 Degrees got a 100 on their latest health inspection, which is impressive considering how messy fried food can be to produce. It also may be indicative of their overall existence. They produce a fine, acceptable but ultimately sterile product.

400 degrees breast

The 200 Degree Chicken Breast: Okay tasting, super clean.