-3 Snaps! Try it. You might like it.
Nashville has several legends. The music scene, The Grand Ole Opry, Vanderbilt University, and Nashville (Hot) Chicken are some of what make Nashville Nashville. There is a new eatery in Seminole Heights bringing its version of that spicy chicken dish, serving it deep fried with a cayenne influenced hot sauce on plain white bread and accompanied by pickle chips. Yep, that's the way they do it in Nashville.
King of the Coop opened on Florida Avenue in May and there was a line out the door on my visit. I suppose that is to be expected when new digs open in a foodie haven like Seminole Heights. It took about 20 minutes to get food which is pretty good all things considered.
The open kitchen takes up most of the main room with the rest of the space filled with anxious eaters. A harried staff takes orders, preps food, and yells out customers names when their meal is ready. It is fairly orderly chaos.
Once I get to the register I jump right in with what they do best, a fried chicken quarter ($9.00). Next, choosing a hot sauce is next and where decisions get tricky. I like hot food but not so spiked that I can’t taste anything else. Customers pick from a heat hierarchy menu- Naked-no sauce, The Biddy- no heat all flavor, Nashville -the house signature medium heat, Coop’s Fury- the house signature cayenne sauce kicked up with habanero pepper, and Take the Throne -their hottest concoction. Think you are tough and want to be king? Go ahead bigshot, try it! I bet the heat from Take the Throne will leave you crying like a grumpy three-year-old. I stick with the cashiers’ recommendation and order the signature Nashville. Let’s eat!
My meal is served in a paper lined plastic basket with two chicken quarters resting on a slice of potato bread. French fries, a cup of Kings sauce, and house made pickles complete the offering.
Ask any real southerner what the best part of fried chicken is and they will tell you it’s that skin! The Kings thighs are uber crispy. (Can I say that in a family food blog?) It's a result of the kitchens double-fry method. The skin is different from typical the Southern style of thick bready/crispy outside I’m used to (hello Publix). The coating has a redish brown color from the cayenne sauce and my first bite into that thigh lands with a satisfying crackle. The pepper in the Nashville sauce kind of creeps up on ya but when it arrives it’s hot, leaving me really glad I didn't go to the next level! The flavor of the meat is robust but disappointingly the meat is tough to chew and it doesn’t pull away from the bone easily. I tussle with it for a while then give up.
The French fries are crispy with a reddish spice dusted coating as well. The accompanying King sauce is the house version of comeback sauce, a mayo based chili mix with ketchup, lemon juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and other goodies. It’s creamy and rich, but not really needed given all of the other dominant flavors in this food. House made pickles are cucumbery with the sweetness of a rice wine vinegar and no pickle-y punch, which makes ‘em that much better.
Canned and bottled drinks (mostly Coke products) are available in a refrigerated case in the back of the building. Dispenser drinks ($2.00) are indicated by a sign on the wall that reads sweet tea and lemonade but there are three unlabeled dispensers. I suspect the third one is Kool Aid because I spy a tub of the stuff, but don't know. Ice is self-serve out of a cooler on the floor that has clearly been sitting awhile with big chunks of previously bagged ice frozen together. I use the metal scoop like an ice pick to break off chunks that fall into the water at the bottom of the cooler and fish it out wondering if this is supposed to relate hometown charm or is the place just not ready for prime time? They do not yet serve beer and wine but allow BYOB.
Seating at the small tables inside is somewhat limited but I was able to find a space behind the building on the provided picnic tables. It allowed for a lovely conversation with another food blogger, but left us fighting houseflies as we ate.
I leave wondering what all the hubbub is about? The chicken is tough and perhaps overcooked, fountain drink options are scarce, and they serve ice off of the floor. Granted it could be opening month jitters, but these guys reportedly have restaurant experience. Confused I plan a second chance weeks later. Maybe I missed something.
On my second visit I arrive at 11 AM to avoid the crowd and am second in line. This time I try the fried catfish platter-$12.50- a 1/2 pound filet with Lil Biddy sauce (no heat this time) to get the flavor of the delicate fish. It comes with same fries, pickles, and Kings sauce. The catfish is also available as a sandwich.
It is delicious. The reddish (presumably from the sauce) cornmeal coating is salty, well seasoned, crispy, and thin enough to give way to the firm and delicate filet. The sauce kicks in a hint of vinegar which blends superbly with the fish and the whole bite is outstanding. Nicely done.
I'm glad I went back for a second shot. This time the person taking my order offers up a cup of ice at the counter and there is no evidence of a cooler on the floor. The food is ready in 10 minutes.
I don't know if I'm a wuss or a purist, but I'm glad I got the fish with no appreciable hot sauce. I prefer the taste if a dish over testing how much heat I can tolerate.
The place has potential as a great addition to Seminole Heights if it can keep it's act together and work on the tough chicken. Still, no Take the Throne sauce for me.
The King lives.
Chip Weiner is a Tampa food blogger and an award winning freelance photographer specializing in portraiture, food photography and photojournalism . He has been a photography instructor for over 10 years and teaches Tampa photography classes throughout the year. Have a suggestion for a food event or restaurant? Contact him here
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