On the Road: Gourmet Nachos and Hot Chicken in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As mentioned in the previous installments of this series, the Nashville Sounds (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s) proudly serve the local specialty that is “Hot Chicken.”

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They also serve a host of unique high-quality concessions at the “Band Box” in right field.

027028My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — for this evening at First Tennessee Park was Tyler Glaser.

085Tyler grew up in Cincinnati, a city that non-natives, including myself, can never spell correctly on the first try. He’s a die-hard Reds fan whose first memory is of attending a game during the 1990 World Series against the A’s.

“I remember just being there and being overwhelmed by noise,” he said. “I was scared by the amount of people.”

Tyler moved to Nashville to attend college, and in Nashville he has remained. His first memory involved “being overwhelmed by noise,” and he remains in that state voluntarily by working as a clerk at renowned record retailer Grimey’s (which I visited on my previous trip to Nashville). He also works at the Belcourt Theatre, a 90-year-old institution now operated as a non-profit which consistently boasts a diverse line-up of well-curated cinematic offerings.

Music, movies and baseball. Tyler and I have very similar tastes, a fact that became immediately apparent when I stopped in Grimey’s the day prior and he was wearing A Poem is a Naked Person t-shirt (A Poem is a Naked Person is a great Les Blank documentary revolving around the world of Leon Russell circa 1972-74).

Tyler’s t-shirt game remained strong the next day at First Tennessee Park; the yellow shirt seen above celebrates the collegiate no-hitter pitched by Guided By Voices frontman and Ohio rock and roll hero Robert Pollard. This gives me a gratuitous opportunity to mention that the recent Guided By Voices album Motivational Jumpsuit begins with my all-time professional anthem, “Littlest League Possible.”

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on too much. Tyler was at a Nashville Sounds game to eat, and I was there to facilitate the experience. A distinct wrench was thrown in the works in that the skies opened up nearly as soon as the ballgame began. Open skies equal wet surroundings, a circumstance which generally makes for an uncomfortable consumption experience.

At least the concourse provided cover, as concourses are wont to do.

082But the trek to the Band Box provided no cover, so we had to make the ultimate sacrifice. We had to make like Andrew W.K. and get wet. (“We” at this point also included Tyler’s friend Josh. He’ll appear later in the post).

Displaying a sodden determination not seen since Noah set sail on his eponymous ark, we procured nachos and jalapeno corn fritters and then retreated to an empty room in the press box that the Sounds had made available for our food-eating needs. The tarp had already been laid upon the field — and the game was rained out a short time later — but that was of no concern to us now.

We had nachos, and the nachos needed to be eaten.

084These weren’t typical ballpark nachos, instead more akin to a menu item at an urban cocktail and craft beer spot prone to naming itself “The” something. (Like, “The Gilmore” or “The Bedford” or “The Smithson” or some other vague European heritage-derived appellation connoting the intersection of pretentious and casual.)

“The Nachos” ($8),  featuring fresh ingredients out of Springer Mountain Farms in Georgia, consisted of smoked chicken, jalapeno queso, sweet corn pico de gallo and cilantro crema. In fact, Esquire published the recipe for these nachos should you be inspired to make them at home. They looked amazing.

Have at it, Tyler.

“I think they’re very good,” said Tyler. “I’m not a huge sour cream fan, but it’s very light. I could eat this whole thing and not feel [crappy]. You’re not going to get nachos like this at most ballparks.”

“Is that cumin on this?” pondered Josh, who I unfortunately only have one photo of. That photo will not be relevant for another 400 words or so.

Next up was Jalapeno Corn Fritters with Derby Sauce. Have a bite.

083Okay…So what’s Derby Sauce? The internet, which usually carries me during the times of my life when there is only one set of footprints in the sand, has not provided a clear answer to this query. Using my above-average powers of deduction, I posit that it’s “Derby” as in “Kentucky Derby” and therefore similar to the cheese sauce that accompanies the Louisville specialty that is the Hot Brown Sandwich.

If that’s the case, then the Derby Sauce would follow this recipe and consist of something along the lines of butter, flour, milk, white cheddar, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg and black pepper. Or, I don’t know, maybe the Band Box proprietors were simply dipping into their stockpile of WWII-era condiments. Better that than mustard gas.

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At any rate, Tyler was ready to drop a fritter into his gullet.

089The elusive Josh, still not pictured, took the lead in describing this item.

“It’s great. Like a hush puppy with a baked cheddar taste. I think my grandma used to make ’em.”

“I like the sharpness of the cheddar,” added Tyler. “If there’s no cheddar in there, I’m really surprised.”

We then proceeded to the headlining act: Hot Chicken placed atop a bed of waffle fries.

087Hot chicken, native to Nashville, is simply fried chicken with a strong application of cayenne pepper paste seasoning. The Sounds’ iteration is the result of a partnership with local restaurant Pepperfire.

And now, finally, the time has come to showcase one Josh Smith, who says that his unassuming name should be regarded as “the John Doe of the future.” He’s originally from Kernersville, North Carolina (located outside of Winston-Salem), and currently works as a sound engineer at Third Man (Jack White’s Nashville-based studio, record label and store). Josh has also been accompanied White on tour on several occasions. At any rate, I would have preferred Dead Weather to the water-logged meteorological mess that had befallen us on this evening.

Here, Josh and Tyler lock arms in anticipation of their first-ever dose of ballpark hot chicken.

090The following exchange may not be completely accurate, but I did my best to transcribe it as it occurred.

Tyler: It’s not as hot as you’d get at an actual hot chicken shack. Those are gonna knock you over. This is toned down for the masses.

Josh: But it’s really tasty. I think there’s some sweetness.

Tyler: It’s also dryer. This is a good starter [hot chicken].

Josh: If people ate this, then went to Prince’s and got the same thing, they’d end up in the hospital. Prince’s is the O.G. of Nashville hot chicken.

Tyler: I’ve had so many friends who think they can do the extra-hot, and then it ruins their whole day.

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Josh: The story behind Nashville hot chicken is that a lady tried to kill her husband by making him the hottest fried chicken she could.

Tyler: He loved it.

Josh: That’s the folklore I’ve heard. [Prince’s is] open late, til four or five [a.m.], and it is the most interesting crowd. One time I got it, and my lips started turning a purplish hue. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, got up, and thought I would throw up. But then I thought “I can’t. That’ll make it so much worse.” So I just dozed off, stripped down to my boxers and laying on the tile floor. And nothing came of it. But ever since then, I’m tapped out. It put the fear of God into me, and I think ever since I can’t eat hot stuff. Or, at least not as hot as I used to.

Josh then turned his attention back to the Sounds’ Hot Chicken. 

Josh: I think 70 percent of the population would say “Holy crap, that’s hot!”

Tyler: So this is a good introduction.

Josh: And these are pretty decent waffle fries.

Tyler: I like how the spices of the chicken leak into the fries.

Josh: The traditional thing, they put a piece of bread under the hot chicken and the bread soaks up the spices and juices.

Fin

088And that’ll do it for this, the latest dispatch from the Littlest League Possible. Thanks to Tyler and Josh for sharing their culinary expertise. And when in Nashville, make sure to check out Grimey’s records (and the adjacent Grimey’s Too), the Belcourt Theatre and Third Man Records. At some point this offseason, I’ll dedicate a post to my non-baseball-related Nashville wanderings.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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