While I’ve been sitting here the past couple years trying to figure out which are my favorite tacos, the rest of the world has apparently become obsessed with Nashville hot chicken. The cayenne-spiced fried chicken has been the subject of food articles, web videos, and radio stories, tasty enough, it would seem, to inspire a cultish media following.
3805 Fifth Ave, Hillcrest
As far as I’m concerned, the list of things that are awesome in this world includes fried chicken and spicy food, so I’ve been standing by, ready to jump on the bandwagon. When I spotted it on the menu of newish Hillcrest restaurant Common Stock, I abandoned my previous lunch plans and decided, today will be the day I try it.
Common Stock opened in the fall, taking over the space that used to be called Salt and Cleaver. I’m always sorry to see a good sausage maker go away, but judging by the high rate of restaurant turnover on this stretch of Fifth Avenue, this is one of the toughest blocks in town to do business, so I can’t claim surprise.
Brick walls and a large wraparound bar in the center of the room remain, but Common Stock has touched them up with a new color scheme to create a brighter atmosphere. While intentionally casual, there’s an inherent effort to be a little upscale, and I could say the same about the food.
On the left side of the menu, a burger, a few salads, and a fried chicken sandwich hover in the 10-dollar range. Items in the Supper section on the right cost around $20, including a Charleston-style pork filet and prime grade flat iron steak. My hot chicken went for $18: a couple of boneless chicken breasts with crispy fried batter tacky with hot sauce.
Here’s where the cult of Nashville hot chicken fiends could step in to compare it to the real Tennessee thing. I won’t argue the chicken people line up for at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, in Nashville, or even Howlin’ Ray's up in L.A., isn’t better, spicier, or more authentic.
However, Common Stock’s thing seems to be doing its own take on classic dishes. Its Caesar salad features Brussels sprouts, for example, and its coleslaw is dressed with buttermilk ranch. So, while topped by pickle slices, this hot chicken wasn’t served on the traditional slice of white bread. In terms of actual poultry, the naturally raised chicken used by Common Stock might have been a tad better quality.
It was far less spicy than I expected, meaning not super hot. However, in terms of seasoning, this chicken was absolutely loaded. Paprika, allspice, and sage added the huge flavor of the nicely fried filets. I was detecting a trend. Turns out buttermilk ranch brings a whole added wallop of flavor to coleslaw. The so-called umami fries offered a lot of seasoning. Rather than truffle oil, Common Stock uses porcini mushroom powder to impart a similar flavor without the accompanying greasiness.
Altogether, the meal gave my taste buds a serious workout, and dumb’s on me for not ordering a local craft beer to wash it down. Fortunately, all the flavor-forward combinations tasted good, and as the enthusiasm at work in this new restaurant’s kitchen develops a defter touch, I look forward to seeing how things go here.