It's probably unfair to talk too much about the food on their first day, but in fact it was pretty darned respectable. The menu has the expected offerings of breast quarter and leg quarter sandwiches served on two slices of Colonial white bread and some pickles. You can also get jumbo wings or chicken tenders with the same hot chicken preparation, with prices ranging between $4 to $7.50 per plate. The side dishes didn't look like they were made in-house in the tiny kitchen, but the creamy slaw did help take the edge off the heat. Baked beans, fries and potato salad are also available for $2 each.
The hot chicken dishes are available in five heat levels, Mild, Medium, Hot, Extra Hot and the redundantly hyperbolic Extra Extra Hot. All items are made to order in a deep fryer, so expect 7 to 10 minutes from order to the window. The breading for each heat level is identical, with the spice coming from a proprietary sauce and seasoning added by tossing the pieces in a bowl after cooking.
I asked owner Isaac Beard to compare his 1-5 heat scale with other hot chickens in town and he said that 400 Degrees' hottest level was probably the best match to his Extra Hot. The competitor's 100° version equated to Pepperfire's Medium and their 200° would be Isaac's Hot. Level 5 is supposed to be over-the-top spicy.
In the interest of science, I ordered a half-dozen wings split between levels 2,3 and 4. The breading was quite good and the fry job was perfect. Cooked all the way to the middle without a hint of purple at the bone, the wings maintained a moistness inside their spicy crust. Maybe it was the fact that I ordered wings instead of a breast quarter, but I would say that Isaac overestimated his spice level on each step of the scale. Perhaps the lack of extra surface area prevented me from experiencing the additive effect of a large sandwich. I'd put his Extra Hot at somewhere between Prince's Medium and Hot. Next time I may make the jump to Extra Extra, providing I don't have any plane travel scheduled for the next 24 hours.
To Pepperfire's credit, the flavors of the chicken and the sauce were not completely buried under the heat of the peppers, but I still got a little taste of that delightful face-numbing capsaicin buzz. Hot chicken aficionados know that personal preference is everything when comparing your volcanic poultry options around town. I'm glad that there is yet another choice, and will definitely be back soon for another visit to Pepperfire.
Pepperfire Spiced Chicken
Open 11 .am. to 7 p.m. every day except Wednesdays
2821 Gallatin Pike