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Restaurant review: Can you handle the heat? King of the Coop brings Nashville-style hot chicken to Seminole Heights

Fiery chicken and Southern sides highlight the new Florida Avenue restaurant.
A chicken tender platter at King of the Coop. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
A chicken tender platter at King of the Coop. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Sep. 9
Updated Sep. 9

TAMPA — Move over, Popeyes. There’s a new bird in town, and it’s packing some serious heat.

Nashville-style hot chicken can creep up on you slowly: It starts with a sly lip tingling and explodes into a full-on burn. It’s a little painful, but also wildly addictive – a fever you can’t get enough of.

The tradition has deep roots in Nashville’s African-American community. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack – the restaurant believed to have created the dish in the 1930s – has garnered a cult-like following among foodie tourists from around the world.

Chicken tenders come in a variety of heat levels at King of the Coop. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The fire is spreading quickly: A few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find the dish outside Tennessee, but lately the style has been popping up on menus across the board, with kitchens taking a spicy stab at everything from fried quail to frog’s legs. It’s a trend that’s not without controversy. Critics have decried the cultural appropriation of the dish amid a lack of credit given to the black community that birthed it.

Joe Dodd owns King of the Coop, a restaurant specializing in Nashville-style hot chicken in Seminole Heights. [Courtesy of Joe Dodd]

Joe Dodd first came across the trend at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in Raleigh, N.C., where he dined on a fried chicken sandwich flavored with scorching Carolina Reaper peppers. Inspired, Dodd returned home to Tampa and began experimenting with the recipe at Armature Works’ Heights Public Market, where he was running the Soul Food Street Kitchen stall. Nashville-style hot wings quickly became one of his best-sellers.

At King of the Coop, Dodd’s new restaurant in Seminole Heights, the focus is entirely on hot fried chicken. After more than a year of tinkering with various recipes, the bird game he debuted at King of the Coop is strong.

King of the Coop in Seminole Heights specializes in Nashville-style hot chicken. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Before hitting the fryer, pieces of chicken are brined for 24 hours in buttermilk, which renders them extra juicy and helps keep the leaner pieces from drying out. The bird is then treated to a two-step frying process; the second fry happens when a customer orders the chicken, meaning each piece carries a heavy and craggy-edged crust. The real magic happens at the end, when the finished chicken is dipped into an oil flavored with the restaurant’s powerful spice blend.

This signature Nashville-style seasoning includes brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. But it’s cayenne pepper that really provides the final kick – the more cayenne, the deeper the burn. Guests can take their pick of four different styles. Besides the signature blend, there’s the Naked, which is regular fried chicken without any of the spices or heat; the Biddy, which carries the same flavoring as the original blend without any of the cayenne; and the Coop’s Fury, the hottest of the bunch, which incorporates the Nashville seasoning and habanero peppers.

While the truly capsicum-averse may want to stick to the milder versions, I found that the Nashville seasoning carried a lovely amount of heat and that, when craving something with a little extra ignition, the Coop’s Fury was even better.

A fresh batch of chicken tenders ready for dipping at King of the Coop. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The chicken - which is served in baskets with tenders or leg quarters sidling crispy seasoned French fries ($9) - is also served on sandwiches, all of which feature two fat chicken tenders. The Nashville Hot sandwich ($10) comes with a generous heaping of creamy, crunchy carrot and cabbage slaw, apple cider vinegar-soaked bread-and-butter pickles that carry a whisper of clove, and a buttery bun. For a decadent add-on, the Dirty Bird ($10) is slathered with pimento cheese and King sauce, which is like a rich and creamy Mississippi comeback sauce without the ketchup.

The sandwiches are served open-faced and are all enormous enough to be considered knife-and-fork affairs. Especially the King Mac ($12), an exercise in indulgence toppling with so much mac and cheese it’s impossible to tell where the chicken ends and the macaroni begins. Try to eat this with your hands, I dare you.

The King Mac sandwich, like all of the sandwiches at King of the Coop, are large, knife-and-fork affairs. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

A strong Southern thread connects the rest of the short menu: Soft and vinegary collards ($5) are cooked with ham hocks; Mississippi catfish ($12.50) is tossed in a cornmeal batter and fried until crispy; and dense jalapeno hushpuppies ($6), a hand-me-down from Dodd’s great grandparents, are fried to a deep caramel brown and served with thick pimento cheese.

Dieters, beware: It’s all very heavy, and all very good. But that much should already be clear, especially given the restaurant’s large sign reading “It Ain’t Food If It Ain’t Fried."

Fried catfish is on the short menu at King of the Coop. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The restaurant is in the process of expanding to the adjacent building, formerly home to the short-lived Florida Eats, which will add roughly 20 additional seats. The expansion will hopefully include a better ventilation system, because as it exists now, the dining room can get quite stuffy and warm. On days when the weather is cool enough, al fresco dining at one of the outside picnic tables is absolutely the way to go.

Beyond a few extra sides and some additional dishes featuring catfish, Dodd has said the menu will likely stay the same. It’s a short list, but sometimes picking one thing and doing it right is what works best, and that’s the case here. The only question you really need to ask yourself when dining here is: Can you handle the heat?



Food: 8

Atmosphere: 5

Service: 7


What the ratings mean

1-2: Don’t waste your time

3-5: Fair, but could be better

6-8: Pretty darn good

9-10: What are you waiting for?


If you go

6607 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 232-2667; king-of-the-coop.business.site

Hours: Lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Prices: Baskets $9; sandwiches $10 to $12

Recommended dishes: Nashville hot chicken sandwich; catfish; hushpuppies

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