Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken

I’m not the most versed in regional American cuisine, so until recently I hadn’t realized that Tennessee, specifically Nashville, had a variation on fried chicken known as Hot Chicken.  Neither embedded in the meat, marinade, or batter, nor sloshed with sauce until dripping, the fried chicken is rendered “hot” by the manual application of cayenne chili paste to its crispy exterior, enough to give it a dusty brick complexion but not so much as to make it soggy.

While The Hart and the Hunter had served a toned-down rendition of Hot Chicken in the past, no establishment in Los Angeles has specialized in this dish, until now.  Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken, a food truck that debuted just last month, is a labor of love for the husband-wife team of Johnny Ray Zone and Amanda Chapman, both formerly of La Poubelle.

Howlin’ Ray’s menu is simple:  Choose between white or dark meat (quarter chicken), how spicy you want it (6 levels), and what side you want (4 choices).  The chicken is served on top of white bread, and comes with thick slices of kosher pickles.  Each plate is $12, but sides can be ordered a la carte for $6, and $1 for extra pickles.

On my first visit, I ordered a 1/4 Dark plate, Hot, with Black Eyed Peas (heirloom beans, apple cider vinegar, salted tomato, red onion & lemon juice).  My younger daughter also had a 1/4 Dark plate, Country Fried (no sauce), with Pimento Mac Salad (homemade pimento cheese, macaroni, red bell, celery, pickle juice & ramps).

'Hot' & 'Country Fried' Chicken Plates w/Black Eyed Peas & Pimento Mac Salad at Howlin' Ray's

'Hot' & 'Country Fried' Chicken Plates w/Black Eyed Peas & Pimento Mac Salad at Howlin' Ray's

 

The chicken was fresh out of the fryer, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside.  Mine was plenty spicy, and my daughter’s was great too, able to stand on its own without any sauce.  Both the sides and the pickles were very good but the highlight of our meal was definitely the fried chicken.

(My order was free courtesy of my friend Chris Hei, who scored himself and a friend a free meal for being Howlin’ Ray’s thousandth follower on Instagram.  Thanks, Chris!)

On my second visit, I brought my wife, who isn’t actually a big fried chicken fan, but she really enjoyed her 1/4 Dark plate, Country Fried, with Mustardy Potato Salad (new crop potatoes, mustard emulsion, red onion, black pepper, dill & scallions).  I stole a few bites of her potato salad, and it immediately jumped to being my favorite side at Howlin’ Ray’s.  It’s a fairly classic recipe, nothing fancy, but it just really worked!

1/4 Dark Plate, Country Fried, Mustardy Potato Salad at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

1/4 Dark Plate, Country Fried, Mustardy Potato Salad at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

 

My younger daughter ordered a new item on Howlin’ Ray’s menu, the Little One’s Meal:  two pieces of fried chicken (leg and thigh), a mini-side, pickles, and a choice of organic juice or milk box.  She had hers with the Charred Cabbage Slaw (white cabbage roasted over embers, local honey, pink lady apple, mustard seeds & red onion) and a Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk.  She didn’t care that much for the slaw, but the chicken and milk were all gone by the end of the meal!

Little One's Meal at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

Little One's Meal at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

(The pieces of chicken were not tiny in the kids meal; it’s just the perspective of the picture.)

I ordered a 1/4 White (for a change), XHot, with the Charred Cabbage Slaw, which I loved–great smokiness, and the coolness did help a little with the heat.  Speaking of which, I don’t think of myself as a lightweight when it comes to spiciness.  I ordered the XHot because the Hot on my first visit was well within my enjoyment threshold (and a good deal below my pain threshold).  But this blew right past my pain threshold and rendered my face numb and me almost drooling on myself!!!

1/4 White Plate, XHot, Charred Cabbage Slaw at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

1/4 White Plate, XHot, Charred Cabbage Slaw at Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

 

I was told the Howlin’ Hot level actually has ghost peppers in it.  I can’t even imagine how that’s enjoyable, but apparently people order it all the time, and they say it’s addicting.  Amanda did tell me afterwards that Johnny was fine tuning the spiciness for each level, so the gap between the Hot I had on my first visit and the XHot I had on this visit was extra wide.  There may be something to this addiction thing, though, because, as spicy as it was, I still wanted to finish my chicken—and I did!

As mentioned, the meals at Howlin’ Ray’s are $12 for a quarter chicken plate, served on a slice of bread, a side, and pickles.  That may seem a little pricey on paper, but they source free range, air-chilled chickens, which are higher quality and costs more.  The quarters are not huge, but not skimpy either.  They’re essentially fried to order, or in larger-but-still-small batches during meal rushes.  Both the level of execution and the quality of the ingredients mean it’s well worth $12.  I did ask if they’d do a half chicken order, or a combo with multiple sides, and they do plan on having more flexible ordering options soon.  They’re also introducing new menu items, like the kids meal above, and chicken nuggets, which they’ve already debuted in limited quantities on occasion, and chicken wings eventually.

If Howlin’ Ray’s had a brick-and-mortar near me, I’d be there all the time.  Good for my happiness, but probably not the best thing for my health.  They already makes regular appearances on the Westside, generally twice a week: on Wednesday evenings at The Brig on Abbot Kinney in Venice, and at Alibi Room in Culver City on Sunday evenings.  After trying all four sides, and two of the heat levels—not counting the non-spicy Country Fried, which is definitely worth trying even if you love spicy food—I think my perfect meal at Howlin’ Ray’s is the 1/4 Dark plate, Hot, with Mustardy Potato Salad for the side.  But I’m looking forward to their wings!

FYI, Howlin Ray’s is having their first official Ladies Night on Wednesday, July 8th.  $8 plates all night, $6 quarter white or dark, any heat level, with bread and pickles.

Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken
Check their Weekly Calendar for location
323-823-7565
http://howlinrays.com/

07. July 2015 by The Offalo
Categories: American, Food Truck, Fried Chicken, Nashville, Southern | Tags: , , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. I tried this truck a couple weeks ago at the Arts District Farmers Market and liked the chicken as well.

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