Spice is right: Taking the temp on metro Atlanta’s hot-chicken sandwich scene

Chicken sandwiches from Scoville Hot Chicken / Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Chicken sandwiches from Scoville Hot Chicken / Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

When Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy invented Atlanta’s most iconic sandwich in 1964, fried chicken on a bun was a novelty. Nearly 70 years later, the bird has diversified.

Today, fried chicken sandwiches come many ways: Buffalo-style, Korean fried, dressed up like fancy burgers. Just lately, Atlanta has become obsessed with the Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich.

When I first wrote about Scoville Hot Chicken in early January, I was impressed by owner Justin Lim’s obsession with mastering the Nashville genre. Around that time, I began to hear rumblings that Scoville makes the best hot chicken sammie in town. Fact or rumor? I decided to try a bunch of hot chicken sandwiches to determine the clucking order. My report:

Shown here are two Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and fries from Farm Birds, a virtual chicken sandwich shop that is an offshoot of Farm Burger. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Shown here are two Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and fries from Farm Birds, a virtual chicken sandwich shop that is an offshoot of Farm Burger. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Farm Birds Atl. It took a pandemic to nudge Farm Burger to expand from beef to bird. Open just over a month and quietly tucked under the wing of the organic burger chain’s Buckhead store, Farm Birds operates as a ghost kitchen, offering fried chicken sandwiches, and little else (fries, sweet potato fries, a salad). After placing my order the night before, I stopped by during a recent Friday lunch peak time to try the Nashville hot (and a lemon pepper wet, just for fun). Tucked into foil bags, a la Chick-fil-A, the sweet-tea-brined chicken is solid and serviceable, packaged with care and attention to detail. (Cole slaw and dry lemon-pepper spice come in their own little plastic containers, to be added as desired.) I dropped off a Nashville hot for a neighbor celebrating a birthday. “Omg so good!!” said the text that arrived a few minutes later. I wouldn’t go that far, but, if I lived nearby, the hefty medium-hot chicken (available at only one spice level) — coddled in a Masada Bakery butter brioche bun and moistened with slaw — would be my go-to. 3365 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta. 404-816-0603, farmbirdsatl.com

Joella’s Hot Chicken. This Louisville-based chain has four Atlanta-area locations and an irresistible website. There are six different heat levels, a hot chicken sandwich with pimento cheese, even a vegan option. These so-called Big Sammies are a good value, and live up to their name. Each is made with two chunky breasts and is so loaded with garnishes that you may have to use a fork. The “hot” version was noticeably spicy, but not explosive; the “tweener,” a little more gentle; “Ella’s Fave,” a good choice for the meek and mild. Though I couldn’t detect a lick of the pimento cheese I requested on one sandwich, and the parmesan-garlic fries were more oily than crispy, I was not unhappy with the food. What soured the experience, for me, was the service. Arriving at the counter at the appointed time, I was told by a server that my ticket was ready. Then, she disappeared, leaving a frazzled co-worker to bag up my food a good 8 to 10 minutes later. As a brand, Joella’s is slick and corporate. Too bad, my first experience read more like a hot mess. 2955 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta. 770-956-0919. joellas.com

Argosy in East Atlanta Village does hot chicken right. This sandwich is made with a chicken thigh, fried to perfection, then doused with ghost honey. 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Argosy in East Atlanta Village does hot chicken right. This sandwich is made with a chicken thigh, fried to perfection, then doused with ghost honey. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Argosy. Fried chicken sandwiches often are made with boneless, skinless breast meat, which is fine, dandy — and sometimes risky. Left too long in the fryer, breasts turn tough and chewy. Argosy, a lively East Atlanta Village gastropub, gets around this by using a thigh, which has more fat and, thus, more flavor. When I ordered online, I opted for a hot chicken sandwich with ghost honey, thinking it would add a little sweet to the heat. My bad! The honeyed sandwich came sans Nashville treatment, but, after several days of bingeing on hot chicken, the plainer version was something of a relief to my chile-ravaged innards. Argosy, my stomach thanks you for an excellent sandwich and hand-cut fries. Save the hot stuff; I’ll be back soon. 470 Flat Shoals Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-577-0407. argosy-east.com

Helen’s Hot Chicken in downtown Atlanta makes a very good Nashville-style sandwich; this one is dressed with onions, slaw, cheese and pickle. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Helen’s Hot Chicken in downtown Atlanta makes a very good Nashville-style sandwich; this one is dressed with onions, slaw, cheese and pickle. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Helen’s Hot Chicken. This downtown Atlanta spot is part of a chain with Nashville credentials. It took just a bite for me to tell that it’s a bona fried contender. Though I had to wait about 20 minutes for the kitchen to produce my order, I now also can vouch for the fried shrimp and the fried okra. (For $2.50, you get a meal-size box of crispy, chile-dusted okra. I dare you not to scarf it like popcorn.) And, man, that chicken! Helen gives you the option of adding pickles, cheese, slaw and onions. (Yes, yes, yes and yes!) Ordered “hot,” it was a magnificent sandwich, at once crispy, luscious and impossible to put down. Take a bow, Helen’s: You’re No. 2 in my unofficial chicken-sandwich taste test. 200 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-731-3369. helenshotchicken.com

Scoville Hot Chicken makes killer Nashville-style chicken sandwiches. It has stores in Sandy Springs, Athens and, coming March 11, Buckhead. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken
Scoville Hot Chicken makes killer Nashville-style chicken sandwiches. It has stores in Sandy Springs, Athens and, coming March 11, Buckhead. Courtesy of Scoville Hot Chicken

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Scoville Hot Chicken. The first time, I got the hot. The second time, I tried the extra-hot. Maybe next time, I’ll go for the Reaper. Meanwhile, I can say that Scoville’s chicken sandwich, slathered with slaw, comeback sauce and pickles, is the undeniable king of the city’s Nashville hot chicken sandwich scene. There are locations in Sandy Springs and Athens, and Lim unveils his third store on March 11, in the old Lovies BBQ on Piedmont Road in Buckhead. If you decide to get a sandwich to go, don’t wait until you’re home to try it. Twice now, I’ve devoured mine over my car hood. Every time the messy sandwich leaked, I was less concerned about the paint job than losing my Scoville mojo. If the car were cleaner, I might have licked it. 4969 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. No phone. scovillechicken.com

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