Catching Up with the Queen of Hot Chicken

Good Eats

Catching Up with the Queen of Hot Chicken

By Jed PortmanMarch 7, 2013

“He had taken four buses to get here,” says Andre Prince Jeffries, proprietor of Nashville’s Prince’s Hot Chicken, about a customer who came in to her restaurant not long ago. “He said that he was in a hurry. But, you know, we don’t serve fast food. I told him that he was going to have to wait. So he left.”

“A couple of hours later,” she says, “he shows up again. I was happy to see him back, and I asked, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘My wife sent me back. She just woke up, and she needs her chicken.’”

She’s not the only one. Jeffries has watched customers try to fight their way into her kitchen, and others wait for upwards of two and a half hours, just to fill their mouths with Prince's cayenne-spiced hot chicken. People tell Jeffries that on Sundays and Mondays, when her restaurant is closed, they stop outside and stare through the windows, wondering how easily they might be able to break in.


Photo courtesy of the SFA

The stuff inspires religious devotion, fueled in part by the tender chicken but in greater part by the endorphin rush of the throat-searing, tear-inducing cayenne crust. And this year, the James Beard Foundation is honoring Prince’s Hot Chicken’s six decades in Nashville by bestowing upon it the America’s Classics Award, an honor issued to a small number of iconic restaurants around the country. We sat down with Jeffries for a few minutes to talk hot chicken and her restaurant's growing fame.

Did you ever think that Prince’s would be receiving an award like this one?

Never! Never! Not for a minute.

How has your clientele changed in the past few decades, since word began to spread about your hot chicken?

Well, the old heads still come. But of course, they’re dying out. And there are so many more young people eating it now. Lots of college students. School-age children, elementary-school children. A 2-year-old, that’s the youngest I’ve seen, eating mild chicken. I couldn’t believe it. I always tell parents, “Take them around the corner to McDonald’s,” but they told me that he had to have it.

And you’re a ways from downtown Nashville.

We’re on the back streets. But they find us. We have young people calling all the time, asking, “How do you get out there?”

I understand that you decided to switch from cast-iron skillets to deep-fryers to accommodate crowds a few years back. Do you think that the chicken has changed at all?

Well, you know, we’ve grown. We don’t have time to wait for that chicken to be fried when we are putting it out in mass like we are now. We only have five deep-fryers, though, so people still end up waiting for hours.

The flavor has changed a little bit, because it’s not slow-fried. We are frying it faster. When it’s slow-fried, the flavors get down in there. When it’s quick-fried, you know, that’s going to make a difference. There’s nothing like a cast-iron skillet. I use that at home. But people still love our chicken.

What do you think makes your hot chicken so special?

Well, of course it’s the flavor. It’s not a boring chicken. You go to some restaurants and it’s just boring, everything is bland. Our chicken, it spikes you up.

And it affects the body in different ways. You know, some people consider it an aphrodisiac. Customers come in on the weekends, when we’re open until 4 a.m., and say, “Hey, you’ve got some cars rocking out there.” There’s a lady of the evening who brings all of her different suitors here. She’s got to have the chicken before they go home. One man came in and told one of my workers what he does with the drippings. He said that they magnify him, if you know what I mean.

Like I say, it’s a personal chicken—it affects you in different ways. It’s kind of puzzling to me the effect it has on people, though, because I don’t eat it hot.

Never?

Not whatsoever. No way! I don’t go any further than mild. When I came in, it used to be only one way, hot. Now it’s plain, mild, medium, hot, and extra hot.

Extra hot!

Yes, can you imagine? And more women eat it extra hot than men! Hey, it’s that fire in them, the chicken brings it out. It really is the women who eat it hot consistently, though. Not just the drama queens, either—those little quiet women, too. All ages, all types. It’s just so peculiar. Somebody ought to do a study on that.


Photo by Caroline Allison

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