If I had to choose one image to represent the spirit of life in modern Music City, it just might be the placard at the corner of Eighth and Division, announcing valet parking for the hot chicken restaurant. It’s not only the endearing incongruity of high-touch hospitality and lowbrow fare that captures the flavor of the New Nashville — it’s the fact that people are flocking to the corner of Eighth and Division to dine.
Eighth and Division? Seriously? Remember when we called the Flyte guys nuts for thinking that location would support a restaurant?
Yes, Flyte guys, we called you nuts, until critical mass started to appear at your intersection. Now we call you pioneers, because the neighborhood of Flyte, Pour House, Yazoo, Jackalope, ZolliKoffee, Peg Leg Porker and Party Fowl, among others, is becoming a still point of the dining world — not to mention a parking quagmire. Which leads me back to the valet stand at the hot chicken restaurant.
The first time I visited Party Fowl, which opened in September, I left my car with the valet, then stepped inside to discover an hourlong wait for Sunday brunch.
“Do you have reservations?” the hostess asked.
“For hot chicken at the corner of Eighth and Division?” I thought, before returning to the valet stand to tip the attendant for circling the block.
On subsequent visits at weekday lunch and dinner, we were seated immediately, sans reservation.
Party Fowl is not strictly a hot chicken restaurant, though the fiery red logo implies a high degree of picante sizzle. It’s actually more of a whole-chicken situation, as if owners Austin Smith and Nick Jacobson looked at the tip-to-tail ethos of the whole-hog movement and thought, “Why not go beak-to-butt with birds, too?” The resulting roster of lacquered livers, sizzled skin and roasted beer-butt bird is a playful and hearty — though slightly uneven — repertoire of old favorites with a few twists.
From Smith’s first description of the chicken designated as “Nashville Hot,” it’s clear Party Fowl is no gritty chicken joint. When we asked “just how hot” to expect the bronzed deep-fried half-bird to be, Smith narrated the subtleties of cayenne- and habanero-induced heat with such adjectival precision you’d think he was a sommelier in a former life.
That’s probably because Smith and Jacobson do, in fact, bring an oenophile’s perspective to the party. The pair has earned a reputation for an encyclopedic wine list at Jacobson’s tony 360 Bistro in Belle Meade, where Smith worked for almost a decade. But their white-tablecloth hospitality and professionalism translate well to Party Fowl, where local Jackalope and Yazoo beers and Tennessee whiskey cocktails flow alongside $114 bottles of French red, and sports unfolds on countless televisions in neon-lit dining rooms.
Opening bites of the House Krispies — chicken skins and potato chips — show that executive chef Bart Pickens and the kitchen team know what they’re doing. Skins emerged from the deep fryer crisp and glistening but not greasy, and balanced by a creamy mustard-tinged Alabama white sauce. When it came to onion loaf, our table fought for every last glassy ring of sweet molten Vidalia cloaked in blond batter and served with chipotle ranch.