The way the story goes, in the 1930s, a jilted wife in Nashville, Tennessee, took revenge upon her philandering husband by dousing his favorite fried chicken dish in a swath of stingingly spicy cayenne pepper.
The surprisingly mouthwatering result—Nashville-style hot chicken—has exploded in popularity across the United States, but longtime friends Victor Ghaben and Wallace Berkley Gibbs first encountered it in Music City, where Gibbs was attending college in the mid-2010s. After spending a few years perfecting their recipe, first at backyard barbecues and then at a popular pop-up out of Oakland’s Forage Kitchen culinary incubator, the pair launched World Famous Hotboys in Uptown at the end of December, offering peppery poultry in spice levels ranging from "Southern" to "Hot Hot."
The restaurant uses halal chicken that’s brined overnight, fried, and dusted with fire-red seasoning from the local-favorite Oaktown Spice Shop, before adding coleslaw, pickles, and a creamy sauce between two buttery buns. Another key ingredient: Southern hospitality.
"There’s a level of friendliness [in the South] that comes with the service when you’re eating out," says Ghaben, whose family owns and operates Batch and Brine restaurant in Lafayette.
At the fast-casual Hotboys, located in the petite space formerly occupied by IB’s Hoagies and Cheesesteaks, Ghaben and Gibbs also offer bone-in and chicken-tender options, plus sides that include pimento mac and cheese, crinkle-cut fries, and "bonuts" (a biscuit-doughnut hybrid). The key to their success, however, is simple.
"We’re not doing anything crazy," Ghaben says. "It’s just good Southern fried chicken." worldfamoushotboys.com.