princes-window Those who are unfortunate to live outside easy access to Nashville, but savvy enough to be aware of our local, fiery flavor, are likely to be acquainted with Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The original, cash-only, hot chicken restaurant has been widely featured by food bloggers, press, and travel television. Despite its high profile, Prince’s is not the easiest hot chicken place to reach. Nonetheless, their chicken is delicious and lives up to their moniker: Prince’s is genuinely a prince (but not a king) among hot chicken places. Their crunchy crust and unique, spicy flavor makes it easy to see how they started a hot chicken wildfire in Nashville.

Location

Prince’s isn’t hard to find and is merely minutes from the downtown hotels, but simply spotting it on a map doesn’t tell the whole story. Located in a relatively run-down part of East Nashville (or East Nasty, as some local residents quip), Prince’s is squarely between several high crime neighborhoods and among several less than five star hotels. Still, we have yet to encounter a problem while visiting and Prince’s has always had an armed security guard on site (much to the shock of one European couple we met there) to help keep the crime outside. We wouldn’t leave a wallet or GPS in plain sight in our car, but visiting is probably worth the risk to enjoy some of the best food Nashville has to offer.

Speaking of vehicles, Prince’s is located in a small strip mall and has limited spaces immediately in front of the store, but an auxiliary dirt lot just to the west never seems to fill up. Overall, parking at Prince’s is easier than most chicken joints, despite its considerable popularity.

The Chicken

There are likely those who hold Prince’s in high esteem because it was the first, both popularizing the concept and hanging the first shack shingle. But, devotion alone doesn’t make Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack good. One bite of Prince’s salty-spicy chicken is enough to understand why the first shack is still among the best. Prince’s survives because it offers a moist, well-cooked, uniquely flavored fried chicken with charming, if edgy, local flare.

princes-dark Prince’s chicken stands out in two ways. First, their chicken has an especially good crust. Neither too breaded nor too greasy, the crispy skin delightfully crackles with each bite. At first, we suspected that this might be the result of pan-frying — the method described in Prince’s origin story — but, some video evidence suggests that Prince’s, like most other Nashville hot chicken, is deep-fried.

How Prince’s produces such a different crust texture than other hot chicken places remains a mystery, but it provides the perfect canvas to their second, noteworthy feature: the spice mix. We’ve commented before on how critical the spice blend is to a hot chicken shack’s identity. Having tried several of Prince’s protégés before tasting the original, it is easy to see where others have attempted to replicate their landmark flavor. Most have a combination of paprika, garlic, and cayenne (or some other hot chile).

princes-white At the same time, it is also evident where others simply do not match up. Prince’s medium has a very good balance of spice and heat — it sparks, but does not singe, your palate. Prince’s hot chicken seasoning is, perhaps, less innovative than what they are doing at Pepperfire and less balanced or sophisticated than Hattie B’s, but one immediately understands why the original deserves its devotion and inspires so many others.

The finishing touch is an added dash of their dry spice mix, on top of the flavorful chile paste. Much like when you add salt to fries fresh out of the fryer, this extra pass gives a saltiness that makes nearly all fried food better and enhances the skin’s crackle. This added spice dash may send the salt level over-the-top for some, but for those who are less salt averse, the second, dry spice application adds to the experience.

Prince’s offers four levels of heat: Mild, Medium, Hot, and Extra Hot. Even as Hot Chicken lovers, we found the Medium to be a more pleasurable experience than its warmer counterparts. Prince’s heat levels are erratic in comparison to their competitors. The Medium at Prince’s is less hot than Hattie B’s Hot, but the Prince’s Hot burns hotter than the Hot at B’s or Hot Stuff (it is comparable to the 400 degrees at 400 Degrees). We haven’t tried the Mild or Extra Hot varieties, but our friend who prefers hot chicken on the milder side did not appear to be sweating the Mild at Prince’s.

The Menu

As mirrored in the competitors it spawned, Prince’s features very few side items to accompany your meal. Specifically, fries, baked beans, potato salad, and cole slaw are on offer. Like another of our favorite shacks, the fries at Prince’s are seasoned with a hot-chicken-esque mix and are fried to a perfect, crispy crunch. Sadly, the cole slaw had a bit of an odd favor that we couldn’t place. We haven’t yet tried the other two options, but hope to rectify that soon.

princes-fries

Another enticing option at Prince’s is to stop short of the hot chicken counter and grab some cake from the “cake lady,” Irene’s, table. Irene’s Old Fashioned cakes is an entirely separate, and also cash-only, enterprise. She presents a spread of several different cakes, including chocolate, yellow, chess pie, and hummingbird, though the varieties appear to rotate. The cakes range from middling to fairly good. The chocolate cake we tried was dry, but the hummingbird cake was moist and had good flavor. Waiting for your hot chicken to pass through the window, Irene’s cakes can become quite irresistible.

Whether from the salt or from the heat, you’ll probably want a drink to go with your meal. Prince’s offers bottled soft drinks at the counter and has a Coke machine in the corner to meet the need.

All of the items on Prince’s menu are a-la-carte, with no packaged meal options like are common elsewhere. Still, prices are reasonable and fairly consistent with other hot chicken joints at this cash-only restaurant.

princes-interior - Edited

Last Tips

To wrap up, we leave you with a few, last notes.

First, expect to find a long line when you enter Prince’s. Most people are there to order their meal carry-out, but because Prince’s fires your meal when you order it, the wait can be as long as the line. This is not untypical for other, popular places, like Hattie B’s, but if you are looking for a quick meal in Nashville, this is not the place unless you can call ahead.

Also, like most hot chicken places, Prince’s is a rather small restaurant, holding maybe seven tables. This means that finding a table requires a second instance of patience, especially since several patrons will freely take a table to wait for their carry-out orders. Yet, tables do eventually clear before your number is called and the staff does a fairly good job keeping them clean.

What you don’t have to worry about, though, is that the restaurant will close before you’ve got your hot chicken fix. Prince’s boasts great hours. They are open noon to 10:00 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 4:00 AM on Fridays, and 2:00 PM to 4:00 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. They sometimes run out of menu items — especially leg quarters — before the end of the day but, unless you are very familiar with the East Nashville area, you probably shouldn’t be there that late anyway.

Last, a tip from the experienced. There are two counters at Prince’s, the counter/window that serves you hot chicken and Irene’s Old Fashioned cakes. On our first trip to Prince’s, we made the mistake of attempting to order our chicken at Irene’s table. So, learn from our mistake and go a few steps to the right and back to order at the window in the blue-green wall.