I've been hearing rumors for a while of a Wednesday-only lunch special at Amerigo on West End: Hot Chicken Pasta. Tales of creamy fettucine alfredo topped with flash-fried inferno chicken were enough to encourage me to make an appointment with myself to clear my calendar for a date with some piquant poultry.
As a long-time hot chicken fan, I set the bar pretty high. On a good day, I can handle Prince's "hot" level, but I'm generally more of a "medium" kinda guy. I wondered whether a white tablecloth (well, white butcher paper) restaurant would risk creating authentically hot chicken. The dish sure looked hot enough.
Constrained by the time limits of a business lunch, Amerigo could not afford to skillet fry each order in 10W-40 the same way Prince's does. The tenders are double-dredged in seasoned flour and buttermilk and quickly fried to order. I appreciated how the batter stuck to the chicken even after I cut it into bite-size pieces.
Chef Paul Schramkowski has fashioned a spicy sauce that is applied after cooking to attempt to replicate the hot chicken experience, not unlike a past winner of the Music City Hot Chicken Festival.
The initial heat level was enough to draw a few beads of sweat on my forehead and cause my nose to run just a little bit. I'd put it a wee bit below Prince's medium. The sauce and the spices mixed pleasingly with the alfredo sauce, which was rather plain on its own. The result reminded me of a Fra Diavolo, but without the red pepper flakes. If red pepper had been on the table, I might have torqued my plate up a little bit.
I talked to Amerigo co-owner Doug Hogrefe about the dish. He has also been a Prince's fan for years and challenged Chef Paul on a lark to create a dish that would be reverential to the original.
They feared the result would be too intense for your average lunchtime customer and expected to have to buy some lunches for disappointed diners. They trained the servers to explain the legacy of hot chicken to lunch patrons, and to their surprise have had almost no returns or complaints. You gotta respect their moxie.
I asked if they would offer this at any of the other Amerigo locations, specifically in Cool Springs. Hogrefe replied that they weren't sure Brentwood/Franklin was ready for hot chicken yet and that there would likely be more kitchen do-overs to replace meals for disenchanted guests shocked by fiery chicken.
Sounds like you're being called out, Williamson County! Sound off, suburbanites. Are your stomachs cast-iron enough for Amerigo's hot chicken pasta? Drop by the West End location on Wednesdays and try it out. Leave your comments and impressions here and maybe we can get Doug to pop the top on the pepper shaker in Cool Springs.