Atlanta Orders In: Scoville Hot Chicken owner masters one dish at a time

Scoville Hot Chicken specializes in Nashville-style hot-chicken sandwiches. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Scoville Hot Chicken specializes in Nashville-style hot-chicken sandwiches. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

First, it was dipping ramen, now it’s Nashville’s famous hot chicken

When Justin Lim discovers a dish that packs a certain wow factor, he goes all in.

Not long ago, it was tsukemen, the Japanese dipping ramen he first tried in his hometown of Los Angeles, then traveled to Japan to perfect.

Now, it’s Nashville hot chicken. With his new restaurant — Scoville Hot Chicken — the entrepreneurial, self-taught chef hopes to set the world on fire. And, if his flaming bird catches on like the painstakingly crafted ramen served at his Okiboru noodle shops in Los Angeles and Sandy Springs, he just might.

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At Scoville Hot Chicken, you can down a glass of the house-made strawberry lemonade with one of the signature Nashville-style chicken sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At Scoville Hot Chicken, you can down a glass of the house-made strawberry lemonade with one of the signature Nashville-style chicken sandwiches. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“I want to make the best chicken sandwich I have ever had,” said Lim, 50, who was born in Korea, grew up in L.A. and built an e-commerce business selling cellphone batteries in the late ’90s. Since attacking his first Nashville chicken sandwich at the wildly popular Howlin’ Ray’s in Los Angeles three years ago, he’s been obsessed.

“As soon as I took a bite, there was that wow factor,” he recalled. “Wow, this is truly amazing! How can a chicken sandwich taste so good?”

Lim knew he wanted a hot-chicken spot in his future, but first he tackled ramen. In 2018, he and his partners debuted Okiboru in L.A.’s Chinatown. In 2019, Okiboru made Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list, the category reserved for affordable “hidden gems” that are not awarded stars. Last January, Okiboru arrived on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.

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Scoville Hot Chicken meals come with a sandwich and crinkle-cut fries, dusted with a bit of spicy seasoning. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Scoville Hot Chicken meals come with a sandwich and crinkle-cut fries, dusted with a bit of spicy seasoning. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

It took the pandemic for Lim to realize his hot-chicken dream — in large part because ramen doesn’t adapt well to takeout.

Before COVID-19, Okiboru did not sell ramen to go. “They thought we were snobs,” Lim said. In reality, he just wanted patrons to experience noodles that hadn’t been tossed around in to-go boxes, and broth that was piping hot. While Okiboru was figuring out how to adapt to the pandemic (first with delivery only; now with takeout and dine-in, too), he put Scoville on the front burner. (The Sandy Springs store launched Dec. 4. A second location, in downtown Athens, opened Jan. 8.)

Justin Lim is the chef and a partner at Scoville Hot Chicken, which has locations in Sandy Springs and downtown Athens. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Justin Lim is the chef and a partner at Scoville Hot Chicken, which has locations in Sandy Springs and downtown Athens. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

Lim started cooking in the second-grade — not so much out of passion as out of necessity. His immigrant parents worked such long hours that he and his siblings had to make their own breakfast, lunch and dinner. After graduating from UCLA with a psychology degree, he attended law school, but didn’t finish. He worked in the tech industry, but it wasn’t fulfilling. “The only place that felt like home was in the kitchen or in different restaurants.”

Scoville Hot Chicken basically serves one thing — the Nashville hot-chicken sandwich. The two-fisters are topped with creamy coleslaw, comeback sauce and pickles — and come at six different spice levels. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Scoville Hot Chicken basically serves one thing — the Nashville hot-chicken sandwich. The two-fisters are topped with creamy coleslaw, comeback sauce and pickles — and come at six different spice levels. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Lim has tweaked his hot chicken for two and a half years. As with ramen, he is obsessed with every detail — the cayenne seasoning, the breast, the bun, the cooking temperature and time. Frying a chicken breast might sound easy, but it can be a beast. Overcooking toughens the chicken. Lim’s solution is to stick a quick-read thermometer in every breast. If it’s not perfect, they don’t sell it.

The restaurant’s so-called Scoville scale ranges from 1 (”not spicy”) to 6 (”reaper”). The latter is a reference to the Carolina reaper, developed in South Carolina and hailed by Guinness World Records as the hottest chile pepper on the planet. Lim tames the reaper with a mixture of ghost pepper and habanero.

Lim’s perfectionism reminds me of NFA Burger’s Billy Kramer, whom I believe makes the best hamburger in town. Like Kramer, he offers a minimal menu — hot-chicken sandwiches, fries, slaw, a dipping sauce for the fries. Also like Kramer, he wants you to eat his sandwich on the spot, at peak flavor.

Scoville Hot Chicken’s ordering system minimizes staff contact. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Scoville Hot Chicken’s ordering system minimizes staff contact. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

For my first Scoville experience, I honored his request, hovering in the parking lot over my car hood with a “hot” level sandwich, fries and glass of freshly squeezed strawberry lemonade. It didn’t take me long to demolish the hot chicken — a wonderfully balanced affair of squishy bun, creamy slaw, sweet-tart pickle, impeccably fried, crispy-coated bird, and just enough heat to quicken my palate without blowing my head off. Big wow.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Scoville Hot Chicken's Sandy Springs location launched Dec. 4. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Scoville Hot Chicken's Sandy Springs location launched Dec. 4. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

SCOVILLE HOT CHICKEN

Menu: Nashville-style hot-chicken sandwiches

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: hot sandwich; medium sandwich with fries; “not spicy” sandwich with fries; order of slaw; strawberry lemonade. I really liked the sandwiches, the slaw, and the lemonade; the fries were unremarkable

Service options: dine-in (though quite limited); takeout and delivery via Uber Eats and Grubhub

Outdoor dining: very limited sidewalk seating

Mask policy: yes, for staff and guests

Address, phone: 4969 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs; no phone

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily

Website: scovillechicken.com

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