On the road as a professional drummer, Rocky Lindsley picked up an addiction. Tame as far as rock and roll obsessions go, but nevertheless as tenacious as they come, Rocky’s vice is hot chicken.
Back in ’94 right outside of Nashville, a country musician who Rocky played with, Lorrie Morgan, proffered a greasy box of chicken parts as though offering a deep-fried holy grail. In that box was Prince’s chicken, a treat that assaulted Rocky’s senses and left him begging for more — and ultimately changed his life. “I took one bite, my nose started sweating, my hair stood up on end and I was hooked,” says Rocky.
Prince is a man of legend — the artist known as the dealer of deep-fried uber-spicy goodness that brings grown men to their knees. Though Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a bit of a hole-in-the-wall, it’s lauded in Nashville and beyond for its addictive, crispy fried bird. So hooked was Rocky that he set about trying to emulate the style, eventually opening up his very own Hot Chicken Shack — Rocky’s.
“This is the Biltmore house compared to that place,” says Rocky, gesturing toward his own very modest dining room. “[Prince’s is] the one place where you can see thugs, politicians, businessmen, Vince Gill… it’s where I would go if a riot broke out because no one’s gonna mess with that place. It’s a sanctuary.”
Rumors of a restaurant serving mercilessly hot, delicious fried chicken have been floating around. Now Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack may be on its way to becoming a legend. Local culinary cognoscenti swap Simpsons-esque tales about the ominously named ghost chili. Should diners be brave (or foolhardy) enough to ask Rocky for the sauce that comes with the extra hot chicken — dubbed Mt. St. Hell No on the menu — they are reportedly in for a ride.
The ghost chili sauce, in the words of one Rocky’s devotee, “has a fantastically smoky flavor. Five seconds into eating it, the flavor disappears and you get light-headed and lucid. It’s pretty much psychedelic.” As almost delightful as that sounds coming from a man with an iron will and stomach, another taster at the table with a less stout constitution reportedly had to excuse himself to work some things out in the parking lot for a while.
Indeed, Rocky’s Chicken is, in my professional opinion, “not playing around.” This is clear from the get-go, even from the outside of the restaurant — a blue brick box that is, quite frankly, not much to look at. The menu offers only fried chicken in heat levels from plain to extra hot, slaw and potato salad and states in no uncertain terms that Rocky’s serves some “serious fried chicken.” Rocky himself holds court behind the bar while spicing, dredging and frying his chicken to southern-fried rock. He then serves it directly on two fat slices of white bread that absorb the chicken fat that runs red as it mingles with the spicy dry rub. He runs a constant commentary as he does so, greeting newcomers and the faithful alike as they straggle in for lunch.
“I have to warn you since you haven’t been in here before,” he almost apologetically tells a man who walks into the door to order lunch with his buddy — both of whom look as though they can likely hold their own. “The mild here is hotter than most places — it’s pretty stout.” The newcomer looks at the bar, where I am seated, very messily eating some deliciously crispy, seriously hot legs. To my right, my dining companion has rivulets of sweat running from behind his ears while he nibbles on his medium wings. To my left, I could swear my not sweating friend who ordered her chicken breast mild has a smug glow about her — but I can’t be sure.
“The medium’s kind of burning my face off right now to be completely honest,” I offer. “But in a good way,” I add, perhaps unconvincingly, as I pull out my lip balm to sooth my burning mouth.
“Next time I’m coming out with a headband so I don’t have to go for my forehead with my spice-soaked napkin,” says the friend to my right, mopping her brow. Unsurprisingly, I notice that the newcomers order their own food mild.
According to the devout diners that can take the heat of Rocky’s kitchen, he has a highly addictive product — and they swear by it. “If I had a dollar for every time a customer asks what I put in this chicken to make it so addictive,” Rocky laughs, “I’d have an extra $40 in my tip jar every day.”