Fried chicken at "hot" spice level at Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack in West Asheville.

Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack: some like it hot in West Asheville

Ever since Nashville hot chicken institutions like Prince’s Hot Chicken started garnering national press coverage, I’ve been curious about the spicy food and its allure. Is it the delirious, euphoric capsaicin effect that makes the fried chicken dish so captivating? Is it the challenge of conquering the highest spice level?

Still hours away from hot chicken’s birthplace, we walk into Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in Asheville to get a quick primer.  The fried chicken at Rocky’s is offered at varying degrees of spiciness: plain traditional, honey style, honey mild, mild, medium, hot, Rocky’s Hot, and Extra Hot. Pieces of fried chicken can be served with an assortment of Southern sides like collards, pimento cheese grits, mashed potatoes, fried okra and corn pudding.

Hot fried chicken plate with macaroni and cheese and coleslaw from West Asheville’s Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack.

The fare at Rocky’s Hot Chicken is certainly for the soul, and not the benefit of a trim waistline, but “When in Rome”, you order the fried chicken. I “chicken out” and order the honey mild, not because I don’t want to try my hand at the spicier levels, but because I want to avoid the unpleasant indigestion afterwards (full disclosure: I’m currently “eating for two”). My husband has no such hesitations, but he plays it smart on his first go-round and opts for the “hot” spice level not being familiar with the full Scoville scale yet.

The two-piece leg and thigh combination plate comes with two sides and rings in at $9.50, which is not too pricey for a place that bills itself as a shack. Though, the shack is more akin to a fast-casual, laid-back spot with plenty of indoor and covered outdoor seating where you can down a local craft brew and gnaw on your fried chicken in relative comfort.

The honey mild chicken is pleasurable to eat—drizzled in plenty of honey; sweet and crunchy. The crust on the fried chicken is crispy and coated evenly throughout. Truthfully, I prefer a much more mottled fried chicken, with plenty of discernible nooks and crannies in each bite, more like the type you get at Raleigh’s Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, but Rocky’s Hot Chicken is certainly not disappointing. The chicken is moist, tender and piping hot, and the mollifying honey seeps over the meat and onto the sopping pieces of white bread and pickle that cradle it underneath. The sides are what you might expect at any halfway decent soul food restaurant: the mac and cheese is creamy and gooey and the green beans seem like they’ve been stewed in the potlikker for a lengthy amount of time on the stove.

Fried chicken at the “hot” spice level at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in West Asheville.

My husband’s hot chicken displays more of a crimson, Beelzebub-red hue and has clearly been dredged in a combination of hot spices before arriving to the table. He takes several bites and I fully expect tiny beads of sweat to form on his forehead, but it never does. He shrugs and declares that the fried chicken is not really that hot with alarming apathy and he polishes off the leg and thigh with relative ease and steely confidence.  His “spicy” resume includes taking pleasure in eating mouth-numbing foods laced with Sichuan peppercorns, so I don’t know whether to trust his judgment or not, but it’s clear that he could have level-upped to the next degree of spiciness to at least “Rocky’s Hot” made with ghost peppers. In this particular competition between Man v. Food, the man is the clear victor in this battle….temporarily.  I’ll spare the gruesome details, but according to my husband, the hot chicken does enact a bit of revenge the next day.

From what I’ve seen, Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack doesn’t often make the “best-of” lists like some of the other places in downtown Asheville often do, but it’s a sleeper, and it’s not one to overlook when in the West Asheville vicinity. Dare to choose the Extra Hot spice level and it probably won’t let you forget its name either.

 

ROCKY’S HOT CHICKEN SHACK | 1455 Patton Avenue Asheville NC 28806 | 828.575.2260

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