BOLTON'S SPICY CHICKEN AND FISH
624 Main St., 254-8015
The late Bolton Polk was one of the original masters of Nashville hot chicken, and this East Nashville bunker owned by his nephew Bolton Matthews continues the tradition of Polk's fondly remembered chicken joint Columbo's. A loyal clientele considers this the equal of Prince's, where Polk once served as a cook, and some prefer it. It's just as well known for its hot fish — the distantly related Nashville specialty consisting of fried fish doused in mustard and hot sauce.
THE CHICKEN SHACK
2441 Old Fort Pkwy., Murfreesboro, 890-0494
You know you're in a serious hot chicken joint when the spice mix called "Iron Mike" is the second hottest. The topper — "Death Row" — doesn't even appear on proprietor Kenyatta Pumphrey's menu, but visitors to East Park's annual Hot Chicken Festival are well acquainted with his "Smack Ya Mama," which is no longer Plan C when the line's too long at the other stands. The original, packing some serious dusty heat, can be found at Pumphrey's new location off the I-24 Franklin exit in Murfreesboro.
CORNER PUB MIDTOWN
2000 Broadway, 327-9250
Yes, folks, there is a place in Nashville where you can purchase hot chicken on a Monday, as chunks of boneless breast meat. But here's the real news for cast-iron colons: the Ph.D. Chunks ($12), the fearsome summit meeting of Nashville hot chicken, habanero pepper, and the dreaded Indian naga jolokia ... that's right, the ghost chili. The breading is disconcertingly moist, but after a couple of bites the sneaky heat will lay a mule-kick on you. Scarier still: It's not their hottest menu offering. That requires a signed waiver.
2012 Clarksville Pike, 244-4467
In our book, Aqui Simpson's glorious deep-fried bird rivals the mighty Prince's for its crackling crust and its proportion of flavor to pain. Don't fool with the zero (no heat) or the 100 degrees (mild): skip straight to 200 degrees (medium), which leaves your lips tingling and your fingers the color of rust. Its modest Clarksville Highway location beside a hair salon is initially hard to find (get ready when you see the cemetery), but you'll never miss it again. Great sweet tea (and welcome), but be warned: There's no bathroom except at the station across the street.
PEPPERFIRE SPICED CHICKEN
2821 Gallatin Pike, 582-4824
"Spiced chicken," eh? As one of our great modern-day philosophers would say, it's still rock 'n' roll to me. Nashville's newest hot chicken joint has only been open since last Thursday, and already hotheads are beating a path to Isaac Beard's door in Inglewood. So far, his hot rates about a medium on the Prince's scale, but no matter: he still serves up one juicy, peppy breast ($5), and his jumbo wings are outta sight. And our tasters lit like piranhas into his deep-fried grilled "peppercheese" sandwich.
THE PIE WAGON
1302 Division St., 256-5893
Our vote for the most underrated fowl on the list goes to this venerable Division Street cafeteria, whose origins date back to a 1920s trolley stand near Union Station. They readily admit it's not the hottest ("We're more about flavor than heat," said the burly dude manning the register), but its juiciness and peppery comfort-hug warmth won over our crew, especially the heat wimps. The catch: It's only available on Tuesdays.
PRINCE'S HOT CHICKEN SHACK
123 Ewing Drive, 226-9442
What more needs to be said? If hot chicken were a character actor, this would be R. Lee Ermey. (And not in Saving Silverman, either.) Note to people who complain about the wait and the service: Shut up. Note to people who harp on the health score: Go gargle some Pine-Sol. Note to people who gripe about the neighborhood: Do both. Hot chicken isn't for whiners. Cash only.
SCOREBOARD RESTAURANT & SPORTS BAR
2408 Music Valley Drive, 883-3866
At this friendly dive of a sports bar across from the Opryland Hotel, the biggest feat of athletic endeavor is downing a heap of Bitchin' Butch Chicken Bites ($9.99). You can either order the lowest heat zone — "Sissy" — and slink away like the wuss you are, or man up for a lick of the infernal Satan's Tongue, which tastes like a gritty paste of pure cayenne.
Subjects for future study:
15301 Lebanon Rd., Old Hickory, 758-5578
Reports indicate the heat is in the batter.
55 SOUTH 403 Main St., Franklin, 538-6001
Chef Jason McConnell's outpost for all things Southern includes a hot chicken breast sandwich.