Not that long ago, it was the habanero. Then the ghost pepper became the greatest weapon of mouth destruction. More recently, various varieties of the Trinidad scorpion pepper have pushed the limits of the Scoville Heat Units scale (SHU), which rates the power of the burning chemical compound, capsaicin, found in hot peppers.
Now there’s the Carolina Reaper. Bred by researchers in South Carolina, it’s deceptively sweet and fruity at first, but will blow your mind with the rapid onset of high heat that tops out at 2,200,000 Scovilles. By comparison, a really hot habanero is about 350,000 SHU.
If your taste buds swing towards the spicy, there are a few dishes in Atlanta that you have to try.
This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Living Intown magazine.
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Il Diavolo at Avellino’s Pizzeria
Hidden in plain sight on the menu with the mild fresh basil and mozzarella Margherita, the IL Diavolo is described as “The hottest pizza known to man. Notify next of kin.” Order it, and you literally will be required to sign a waiver.
Owners Nick and his cousin, Luigi DiRenzo, who are partners in Avellino’s, came up with their version of the Devil’s own pizza by human experimentation.
“Luigi really likes hot food,” Nick says. “So we went online and looked up the world’s hottest peppers. We got some ghost peppers and tried them out on the pizza. Hot stuff. Then we got some scorpions. Really, really hot stuff.”
Ultimately, the dehydrated pepper blend they now make in-house contains ghost, scorpion, habanero, jalapeño and Thai chilies. They add the mixture, known as “Evil Dust,” to their red sauce, spread it around on a pizza crust, and top it with cheese and more peppers.
“We put the Evil Dust on the base,” Nick gleefully reveals. “That way, you just can’t just pick off a pepper or two here and there. It’s gonna be heat all the way through. There’s no escaping.”
He adds: “It’s good we have the waiver to sign. I’ve seen a lot of people try it. But only a handful ever finish it. I’ve seen some people eating it, and suddenly they don’t look so good. They’re sweating bullets. And then they’re sitting up and spinning.”
If that weren’t enough to scare you, Nick has another bit of news. “I just ordered some Carolina Reapers,” he says. “So we’ll be trying those out soon.”
Avellinos Pizzeria, 902 W. College Ave. 404-228-3285. avellinospizzeria.com
Peri-peri biltong at 10 Degrees South
You’ll find a slightly gentler but no less exotic take on hot peppers in the South African cuisine at 10 Degrees South, Yebo and soon-to-open Biltong Bar. The three concepts from restaurateur Justin Anthony feature peri-peri sauce, house-made with a combo of bird’s eye peppers, spices and olive oil.
Chef Diane Anthony uses the sauce with lobster and chicken spring rolls, chicken livers and classic peri-peri chicken, as well as peri-peri biltong (South African-style jerky). Many guests request a side of peri-peri sauce to add some spice to other dishes, too.
“In South Africa, peri-peri is kind of like your average American hot sauce,” Anthony says. “Everyone has their own way of making it, and there all kinds of different recipes. But the one thing in common is that every single peri-peri sauce has to come from African bird’s eye chilies.
“We’ve had a family recipe that we’ve been selling at 10 Degrees South for 17 years, and a few years back, we decided to bottle it. We mainly sell [the sauce] at our restaurants. But we will sell it retail at Ponce City Market when Biltong Bar opens.”
As for the effects of the bird’s eye pepper, Anthony claims it can be subtle but deceiving, depending on your palate.
“The pepper itself is very versatile, so we also make a peri-peri salt and use it as a seasoning on popcorn, and we make a peri-peri aioli that we serve on sandwiches,” she says.
“I call our peri-peri a creeper, because it is spicy but it starts out very mellow and tangy, and then kind of creeps up on you. But you get different variations of peri-peri, from mild, medium and hot. And if someone comes into one our restaurants and wants it really hot, we’re capable of doing that.”
10 Degrees South, 4183 Roswell Road. 404-705-8870. 10degreessouth.com
Additional spicy dishes to try
These three restaurants also turn up the temperature with hot peppers.
Alma Cocina. The upscale downtown Mexican restaurant makes three different ghost pepper salsas: Agave Ghost with agave nectar; Ghost Rider mixed with adobo sauce; and El Demonio with 100 ghost and 100 habanero peppers. 191 Peachtree St. 404-968-9662. alma-atlanta.com
Grain. The Midtown cocktail bar features fun bites, including crispy fried Hot Oysters dipped in devilish-red Cayenne pepper and served on toasted brioche with Duke’s mayo and house-made bread and butter pickles. 856 W. Peachtree St. 404-881-5377. grain-bar.com
The Highlander. The long-running Monroe Drive bar, featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” does a memorable take on Nashville Hot Chicken with a spicy fried quarter-bird served with mac ’n’ cheese and pickles. 931 Monroe Drive. 404-872-0060. thehighlanderatlanta.com