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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Nashville Hot Chicken and beer this week) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 31 Notes: Malice Made Magic

What makes Nashville hot chicken real? What does a drunken womanizer and a pissed off woman have to do with Nashville’s most famous cuisine? Join us now to find out for yourself.

Transcript of Podcast:

*Note – This is the full episode and containers spoilers. You can always listen to the podcast above.

There were too many women and not enough time. That was Thornton’s problem. Thornton was working his way toward his next wife and struggling to choose the right woman. It was the early 1930’s and he was in Nashville finding every opportunity he could to sow his oats. And… oh… there was no shortage of opportunity. 

Thornton had his pick of women. He was tall, dark, and muscular. His smile melted hearts and there was a rich, timber quality about his voice that drove women crayzee. He’d always had a way with the ladies. That’s part of the reason he’d gone through several marriages already. There were just too many options and Thornton…loved the ladies. 

Take last night, for instance. He’d gotten home late. It was Sunday, not Saturday, when he stumbled in. He was drunk and smelling like the woman he’d spent the night with. He had her scent, but the walk home in the hot night had left him sweaty. Between his sweat and the smell of booze coming out of every pore of his being, he knew there was no way she knew.

The she, of course, was his live in girlfriend. And she was different from the woman he’d spent last night with. While he debated what to do, he also felt sure that he’d gotten away with it. Of course, all the ladies listening now know that’s not the case. I haven’t met a woman that can’t sniff out a lie a mile away.

But, Thornton was mostly, kinda, pretty much sure that she didn’t have a clue. He sat at the breakfast table sipping on his coffee and nursing a pounding headache from the night before. She was cooking him breakfast in the kitchen, like she always did. So, that was a good sign. Surely, if she was angry, she’d just say so. She’d use her words. Surely, any woman would do that. They wouldn’t play guessing games… or see if you can read minds…or test you in any way whatsoever just to see if you care. Right? Right?

So, Thornton, knowing this, felt pretty good about his chances of not getting caught. He watched her work, picking the food out of the bowl and then transferring it to the hot skillet. It sizzled and let up a bit of steam with it hit. He smelled it instantly. 

“Smell good in there.” He sipped his coffee.

“Thanks, honey.” She poked at the fry pan. “I’m making you something real special today.”

Thornton liked special. He took another sip of coffee. His head pounded from his hangover but the coffee was helping and he was feeling pretty darn good indeed. His mind wandered to the woman from last night. He’d met her out at the bar. Someone new. And that was always exciting. She was new and fun. 

The drinking and the womanizing and the lying was just a regular Saturday night for Thornton. He liked to have a good time. He looked up from his coffee when he heard her enter the room. She smiled and set a plate of food down in front of him.

“Eat up, Princey, baby.”

Prince. That was what everyone called him. He was Thornton Prince, but went by Prince. He flashed his smile, the smile he knew made all the ladies melt. “Thanks, sweet baby.”

Only she didn’t melt. But, Prince didn’t notice. He already had eyes for nothing but his plate of food. 

The food was steaming and looked amazing. It smelled different. Just a bit. Not much and he couldn’t place it. But, it could have also been his senses, beat into submission by the alcohol and lack of sleep.

His girl turned away and headed back to the kitchen to clean up. He heard the banging of pans and dishes. How lucky he was to have a woman like her? Someone that cooked and cleaned? Tended to his needs? Plus, he could still go out and live it up with the boys on a Saturday night like usual.  

Thornton cut off his first piece of meat and stuffed it into his mouth. It was hot but he chewed it. Then…he coughed. He felt the heat next. Not, the temperature heat, but the spice heat. It burned his lips and the inside of his mouth. His tongue was on fire. 

Next came the classic meat sweats and he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He coughed again. “Baby, this is something special.”

She was in the room again, smiling sweetly. Batting her eyes at him, her hands folded in front of her stomach and on top of her apron. “Oh, do you like it? Please, eat up.”

Ol’ Prince could pick up on a trick and he knew he was being played. He knew something was up, but didn’t know what.  

She clearly was not happy with him. But, he wasn’t about to let her know he knew. The first rule of dating women is never asking them if they are okay. They’ll share when they’re ready. 

Besides, he was Prince, and Prince does what he wants. So, as casually as he could, he cut into his breakfast and plopped another piece in his mouth. Another explosion of flavor hit him and brought on a new wave of heat and sweat. He gulped it down. He looked at her. She was still smiling. She was urging him to keep eating. 

So, he took another bite. And another. By bite six he was getting used to the heat. The shock had worn off. He was starting to enjoy it now. In fact, he was enjoying it so much that an idea came to him. He’d never actually had something like this before. 

Sure, the style of cooking was nothing new, a relic of the older African American days, and a style of cuisine that stuck around still today. But, the spice was different. The heat. Whatever she’d done, she’d somehow blended a traditional take on the meal with a new kick. And it did kick, but you got used to it.  

Perhaps… there was something here. 

“Say, what you put on this? It’s pretty good.”

She huffed. She put her hands on her hips and stomped. “I know you was out last night with another woman. I smell it on ya. You can’t hide it.”

Oh, he thought. So, she does know. Since there was no denying it, he said nothing. She was a good woman and he could have done a bit better with her, maybe. Instead, he went back to eating breakfast.  

Of course, offering no explanation was probably one of the worst things. But, the worst thing he could have done, he did. That was ignore her comment AND go back to eating the breakfast she’d made in a failed attempt to punish him.  

She exploded in a chorus of cursing and shouting that ended with her packing up her shit and walking herself out of the house. 

So, Prince, found himself without a girlfriend because she did indeed know what he had done last night and he was not as smooth or as suave as he though, even if he was a Casanova with the ladies. And, worse still for Prince, he didn’t get the recipe for what she’d cooked.

He had some experimenting to do, and he went to work. When he finally perfected the blend, he tested it out with family and friends. Their appreciation of his breakfast inspired him to take the next leap, which was to open his own restaurant, serving this uniquely Nashville food. 

Four generations later that six booth restaurant and the recipe he came up with, which was meant to be a punishment from his girlfriend, was still around. In fact, it became so famous that a festival was started in its honor. Competitors popped up all over Nashville too and now there are almost two dozen of them in the area. They popped up around the world too. 

But, the thing is, there is nothing like the original. There is no place anywhere that makes this breakfast, like it’s made in Nashville. 

Nashville Hot Chicken

First, this breakfast has been served in Nashville’s African American communities for decades, which is where its roots come from.

Meat is marinated in a water-based spice blend that also contains buttermilk.

Buttermilk helps lock in the meat juices and adds to the food’s flavor.

Then the meat is floured.

Then fried. While using a deep fryer is more common today, an authentic place will still pan fry their meal. 

Finally, a special spicy paste is applied. This was the secret and a secret. A blend of hot sauce, cayenne, garlic, and lard. 

When it’s made traditionally, Nashville style, the paste is brushed on right after the food is fried. 

In common variations today, the paste is added as part of the breading and then fried.

The variations, though, aren’t what we’re here for. And there is an art to making this dish, an art which is closely guarded by the most authentic, original restaurants in Nashville. It’s why there is literally nowhere in the world that makes this food like they do in Nashville. 

It’s why people arrive at the airport and get a ride straight to these restaurants before doing anything else. 

It’s why some of these restaurants ship their food all over the world. 

And it’s how Thornton Prince, a notorious womanizer, who was married five times over his lifetime, ended up the creator of all this magic. 

Magic from malice.

A scorned, angry girlfriend trying to enact punishment on her man for cheating by over-spicing his morning breakfast in an attempt to make him suffer one last time before she left. Because hurting people hurt people, and she was definitely hurt by Prince.

Instead her plan backfired, which I’m sure made her even angrier. After the initial shock of how spicy the food was wore off, Prince actually found the dish quite tasty. 

It was probably great for his hangover. And it definitely goes great with a light beer to help soothe that burning mouth feel. It was so tasty and so perfect for what he wanted that he turned this food – Nashville Hot Chicken – into a thing far beyond breakfast. And start a restaurant that would be passed through his family for four generations, where it’s still a staple of Nashville and bears his name today. 

It’s called Prince’s Hot Chicken. 

And it was also the inspiration behind the Music City Nashville Hot Chicken Festival which was been kickin’ since 2006 and, in 2024, is in its 18th year. 

Finally, it’s proof that the good lord Jesus, right here in the bible belt of America, turned sin into beauty, by turning adultery into Nashville’s most famous fried food. Malice made magic.

Anyway…I’ll drink to that. And also have a bit of Nashville hot chicken as a side piece.