Nashville Hot Chicken is Coming to The Drive

The chefs/owners of Merchant’s Workshop took over the old Deserts restaurant at 905 Commercial Drive yesterday. Doug Stephen and Lindsey Mann are aiming to transform the 1,000 sqft space into a new counter-service eatery called DL Chicken Shack before the end of May.

A few Sundays ago I took my eldest son out for a special fried chicken dinner at Merchant’s Workshop on The Drive, where they do a special Nashville Hot Chicken. If you’ve never heard of that style before, it’s a Tennessee variant invented in the 1930s as means of revenge. According to its origins story, a girlfriend made it for her cheating fella as punishment for his infidelity, but he ended up loving it so much that he and his brothers replicated the method/recipe and opened their own restaurant during the Great Depression. As to whether or not any of that is true is immaterial because it taste so damn good.

The marinated is meat is well seasoned, floured, buttermilked and deep fried before being sauced with a signature spice paste. The heat typically comes from cayenne, but its Scoville levels can be upped with any number of peppers (eg. Ghosts, even Carolina Reapers) depending on the lunacy of the person preparing it. Speaking personally, I’ll stick with medium. Again, it’s damn good stuff.

Doug and Lindsey have perfected the recipe, and they’re aiming to serve half birds, wings and breast sandwiches. A preview version of the sandwich is pictured at top. It’s plenty of chicken with a bright, wet outer crunch that packs a sweet and spicy kick. A sweet and sour coleslaw cap complicates the flavour further and provides textural contrast, as do sweet waffled pickle coins and a smear of special Mississippi-style “Comeback Sauce”, which is sort of like a remoulade with a light lick of heat to it (so-called, I presume, because it’ll make you want to come back to the restaurant). The bread is supposed to be soft and light, ideally a fluffy milk bun.

DL Chicken Shack owners/chefs Lindsey Mann and Doug Stephen.

Doug tells me they’ll do mild, medium, hot, and extra hot versions, plus an over-the-top iteration called “A Side of Milk” for the heat-crazies. The small restaurant (15-20 seats) will also serve cornbread, coleslaw and fries — either curly or waffle-cut (they haven’t committed yet, though waffle-cut is the way in Tennessee). They also plan on serving a Hot Fish special once a week.

Deserts didn’t have a liquor license so DL will be putting in an application straight away. They likely won’t be able to serve beer in time for opening, but they expect it to be sorted before summer is in full swing. Hopefully that will also be true of the little patio, which is in dire need of repair.

Again, they just got the keys yesterday. I met up with them in the space as they were getting to know it better, pointing out what’s staying and what’s going, showing me where the new deep fryers were going to line up under the existing hood vent, and christening their new endeavour with a little American whisky.

What’s with the name? About three and a half years ago they snuck their fried chicken on to the late night menu at Merchant’s Workshop. Word quickly spread and the consequences were real: long wait times (they only had a single deep fryer), queues, and a joyless neighbour calling the fire inspector on them. All agreed that their fried chicken nights should have been kept on the DL, or the “down-low”.

Take a look at the space in the gallery below. They had yet to do a single thing to it when I snapped these photos, so they are destined for Scout’s “before” archive. I also snuck in some various shots of the hot chicken (provided by Doug), so prepare to get hungry and watch this space…

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There are 5 comments

  1. Merchants is the best spot on the drive very excited for the chicken not just being a Sunday thing

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