I probably look like I am straight-up not having a good time, bro. To paraphrase Eminem, my palms are greasy; knees are weak; arms are heavy. My mouth is on fire, and there are rivulets of sweat streaming down my face. Considering the context, it’s no surprise—I’m eating a leg quarter of Prince’s Hot Chicken.
You know about Prince’s Hot Chicken, right? According to André Prince Jeffries, who owned Prince’s for 40 years before retiring, her great uncle Thornton Prince was a womanizer who ran afoul of his partner. After a particularly late night, she decided to express her extreme displeasure by making a breakfast of fried chicken seasoned with the spiciest things on hand.
Suffice it to say that hot chicken didn’t get the intended response. “He kind of liked his punishment,” laughs Semone Jeffries, Andre’s daughter and owner of Prince’s. “It was a feel-good hurt, you know?” Prince’s kicked off what’s become a worldwide cultural phenomenon known as Nashville hot chicken, and it landed in Greenville because of some old-fashioned neighborliness.
When the original location of Prince’s Hot Chicken shut down (a car crashed through the storefront and caught fire), Joe Baker, the owner of Yee-Haw Brewing Co., offered the use of his Nashville brewery. “We never served beer, so Yee-Haw brings a component we needed,” Semone says. As a result of that complementary partnership, Greenville is now home to the only Prince’s location outside of Music City.
To be clear, Prince’s is far more complex than simply “spicy chicken.” There are a few generally accepted hallmarks of hot chicken, but the pièce de résistance is the finish. Each piece of fried chicken is doused in what’s essentially a chile oil: an obscene amount of spicy things blended into the frying oil. (I say “generally accepted” because Prince’s exact process is a mystery. The Jeffries family is notoriously tight-lipped. Even at Yee-Haw, the spices are pre-mixed and transported from Nashville. The only spice Semone confirms—and warily, at that—is cayenne.)
Each finished piece of hot chicken is presented atop a slice of plain white bread, topped with dill pickle chips, and served with sides. “There is a sense of adventure to it,” says Baker. “It’s an experience you want to talk about.”
Speaking of the experience, the heat in this chicken doesn’t nuke your taste buds into oblivion; it’s far more nuanced. It’s a lingering buildup that starts with a tingling in my scalp. At some point, it transitions into a pulsing climax, and I realize I’m riding a wave of capsaicin-induced euphoria.
Half-blind with sweat, I tear off a piece of white bread, hoping its blandness will temper the spice, not realizing it has soaked up all the drippings from the chicken. It’s not until I dig into a side—any side—that I feel some relief: crunchy coleslaw and creamy-tangy potato salad to cool things down; soothing cheesy macaroni; sweet baked beans; the mild bitterness of collards. It’s just enough to make another bite seem like a good idea.
Am I being a little melodramatic about chicken? Probably. But then again, what else should you expect from a delicacy born of revenge, cloaked in mystery, and served up as adventure?
Prince’s Hot Chicken at Yee-Haw Brewing Co, 307 E McBee Ave, Ste C, Greenville. (864) 605-7770, yeehawbrewing.com