Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Howlin Ray's: Nashville Hot Chicken

Ever since I read an article about the opening of Howlin Ray's in Eater LA, I knew, I wanted to brave the lines and try the hot and spicy chicken for myself.  Hot chicken is unique in the spiciness and heat that is sometimes overwhelming depending on the spice blend.  The restaurant opened in April of 2016, and ever since it's inception, there have been lines that stretch out across the shopping plaza in which its located in.  In a previous, unsuccessful attempt, I sauntered by the store, only to discover a line that seemed to last 1-2 hours.  Finally, I decided one day to drive out and enjoy a nice lunch at the restaurant. I learned that the store opened at 11:00 and I figured if I got there by 11:05, I wouldn't have to wait that long.  Unfortunately, I was wrong; almost 10 months since it opened, the line was still 50-80 people deep and it took almost 1.5 hours to get through.  The line snaked around the plaza, and the line doesn't seem to get shorter.  As I step forward, more people get in line, all waiting for some Hot Chicken.  At 12:21, after waiting about an hour and 15 minutes, I finally placed my order and sat down.  There is some seating inside the joint, but most of the customers sits outside at large picnic tables.  The customers are quite diverse, members of the rat race, young college-looking people, etc.  I ordered a half chicken: leg and thigh at the medium spice level and breast and wing at hot.  I was informed that the "hot" spice blend included habaneros, ghost peppers, and the South Carolina Reaper.  As someone who grew up eating spicy food, I was confident in my ability to withstand the heat.  Served on sliced white bread and with pickles, the anticipation began to build as I saw chicken after chicken get tossed into the spice blend,  The fact that they don't separate the parts (breast + wing and leg + thigh), made a daunting beast to conquer,

Hot (Breast + Wing), Medium (Leg + Thigh), Fries

When it was first served to me, I recoiled a bit because the smell of the heat was intoxicating.  My eyes started to water and I was cringing just by breathing it in.  I take a bite of the hot chicken and the first thing you notice is the crunch.  It's a very thick and meaty crunch that sort of attacks you back with the texture and the heat.  It's really spicy, which is compounded by the juiciness and the temperature of the chicken.  Everything is prepared fresh so the heat and the pain comes from the spice as well as the temperature.  Everything is scalding.  My lips and mouth slowly become numb as I continue to bite into the juicy white meat inside.  I immediately begin pulling off the skin as I examine the chicken inside.  It's pristine inside, with no trace marinade. Unlike other spicy chicken, where the meat itself is coated in a spicy marinade leading to an orange tinge on the meat, the Hot Chicken at Ray's is immaculately white, being a direct contrast to the heat that coats the skin.  The dark meat is just the same, juicy, flavorful and just as hard to finish.  There's a deceiving sweetness to the spice.  As I battled through the chicken, it came to the point where I had to give up. I had pulled off all of the skin and had just ate through the meat.  The spice and the heat was overwhelming, to the point where I gave up and couldn't finish.  I left the store extremely pleased and satisfied while also beaten: brow is wet, nose is running, and I can't feel my face.  I know I want to go back, it just tastes amazing and I want to finish an order at some point.  Hopefully I can bring my friends along to explore this wonderful addition to fried chicken culture in Los Angeles.