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Hot Chicken in the City

Carla Hall is bringing Nashville's signature fried chicken to Brooklyn
Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen in Brooklyn
Video & Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table

New York City has been in the grips of a fried chicken fever.

Lines stretched around the block when David Chang dropped his monster of a fried chicken sandwich at Fuku this summer, the gathering outside Shake Shack grew by several folds when the team debuted its limited-edition ChickenShack sandwiches and there were rumors of people sleeping outside the city's first standalone Chick-fil-A the night before it opened.

Come winter, there will be one more chicken destination to add to that list: Carla Hall (of Top Chef and The Chew fame) is set to open a Nashville-inspired hot fried chicken spot called Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen in the Columbia Waterfront District of Brooklyn.

"I never wanted a restaurant, and I was actually very proud of that fact," Hall explains. But "through a series of incidents and accidents," she found herself planning to open a spot "and really what I wanted is something that reminded me of home."

Hot chicken (see the recipe) is the stuff of legend in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee: "The story is that there's this guy, Prince, who was tipping out on his wife or girlfriend," Hall says. "Every Sunday before he would go to church, Prince's girlfriend would make him breakfast. So this particular morning, because he was tipping out, she was like, OK, I got you'... so she made this really, really spicy chicken."

The heat was meant to burn Prince, but as the lore goes, he liked the chicken so much, he and his brothers opened the now-iconic Prince's Hot Chicken. "He really got the last laugh," Hall says.

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For decades, the chicken was known primarily to the city's African American community. That changed when former Nashville mayor and hot chicken fanatic Bill Purcell launched the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in 2007. Since then, a number of new hot chicken operations, like the popular Hattie B's, have opened, but the dish is still largely limited to the South. Hall wants it to be more far-reaching: If things go well, her Brooklyn restaurant will be the first of many outposts.

To get things right the first time around, Hall "spent about a year working on" her recipe, frying countless batches to find the right mix of spices and the right method to achieve a maximum crunch factor. Hall is a bit more forgiving when it comes to heat than Prince's girlfriend: "For me, hot chicken should only be to the point that it's flavorful and it's enjoyable, but it's not painful," she says.

When it comes time to make the chicken spicy by giving it a dunk in a hot oil (the final step before it's served), Hall proclaims excitedly in a Southern drawl: "It's dunking time. It's on."

To quell the low burn, the chicken is served over thick slices of pillowy white bread. "That bread is your savior," Hall says. "And then the one thing that's going to take it to the top for me are pickles . . . it's party time."

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