Richie’s Hot “N” Spicy Kastle
235 Old Hickory Blvd. W. 860-2604
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
“For a man’s home is his castle.” Who are we to argue with Sir Edward Coke, who wrote those words 350 years ago, when castles were a tad more in vogue than they are these days? More to the point, who are we to judge what makes a man’s castle?
Bopo Richards, locally known as Richie Richards, found his own castle in a small drive-though, take-out only kiosk in Madison, on Old Hickory Boulevard. That was where, in 1995, Richards, an African immigrant, first realized his American dream and opened his own business, Richie’s Hot “N” Spicy Kastle. He arrived in town 15 years ago from Nigeria, joining the brother who had preceded him by a few years. The time that he spent working for others, saving his money, served him well. “I worked in many, many restaurants all over Nashville,” he says. “I watched what they did and learned from them. I had an idea and thought it would work for me if I worked hard for it.”
Richards’ idea was to offer items that were popular in fast food restaurants, but Richie-style. “McDonald’s had hamburgers and french fries, but they didn’t have corn dogs or hot dogs. Burger King had chicken sandwiches, but they didn’t have catfish or rice. I thought I could do all of that in one place, and make it fresh and good.”
Richards pretty much sums it up on the sign out front of his new store: “Good Food, Good Taste, A Unique Kind of Fast Food/Dine In Restaurant.” The new Richie’s Kastle, a few doors down from the old location, doesn’t much resemble a castle, though there is a photograph of the original, which sort of does in a Mini-Me kind of way. But it is a unique kind of fast food, and it is a dine-in restaurant, and our very pleasant visit there on a Friday night confirmed the rest of the sign: good food, good taste. And if we were still at all unsure, I also had unsolicited testimonials from readers like Jan Liff and Matt Hanley, who wrote in to say, “This diamond in the rough may seem like a hole in the wall to the stranger, but is a popular eatery for locals.... Each order is made from scratch. Customers are loyal and appreciate the hard work and success of Mr. Richards.”
When we arrived, only a few unadorned Formica tables in the notably clean dining room were taken for eat-in diners, all of whom had small children in tow, as we did. (Richie’s thoughtfully maintains a stable of wooden high chairs that seem to get plenty of use, but are evidently scrubbed down between food fights.) The palace was not wanting for customers, who composed a steady stream, frequently greeted Richards by name and waited patiently for their to-go orders. The African gospel-reggae musica tape made by some of his friends in Nigeriaplaying faintly over the speakers performed the duties of a calming melody.
Patience is key here, as Richards is for the most part a one-man show, though when things began to back up bit, he placed a call to his wife, who arrived forthwith and took over the register and counter, filling drinks and bagging orders.
The menu is displayed on two large boards and consists of several specialties. There is chicken, which comes several ways: a plain chicken sandwich cooked on the flat grill, then delivered on a bun with lettuce, tomato and pickle; a Cajun chicken sandwich, jazzed up with peppery spices; a chicken sandwich marinated in Richie’s special sauce and topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms, ham and American cheese on an onion bun; the Ultimate chicken sandwich, cooked Cajun-style and served with onions, mushrooms, bacon and Swiss cheese; and the Super Ultimate, which adds a slice of ham and American cheese in addition to the Swiss. A Cajun chicken dinner is the same boneless breast served on dirty rice, which has onion, pepper, spices and a bit of ham. Sandwiches and dinners range from $2.99 to $5.99.
Catfishwith a light, crisp exterior and flaky meatcomes plain or Cajuned, served either on a bun with tartar sauce or as a dinner.
The beef from which Richards makes his burgers is marinated first in his special sauce, then gets a generous shake of white pepper. After being hand-pounded and cooked on the flat grill, it’s served with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. There is a jumbo, which laps over the bun by a good inch on every side, for $2.99, and the quarter-pounder is just 99 cents.
His jumbo dog lives up to the billing, and at $1.99 is priced less than the pathetic wiener that stadiums, arenas and ballparks charge an arm and a leg for. Crispy fries get a modest shake of cayenne before serving.
Richie’s wings are a standout. He makes his own, and they are hot and sweet at the same timea trade secret he will not reveal. “I turn up the heat, then add a little sweet to cool it down,” is all he will say with a smile. They come 10 to an order, with bleu cheese dressing, carrots and celery sticks for $4.99.
Unfortunately, customers in the know had already absconded with all of the red beans and rice and the key lime pie, both of which Richards also makes on-site. Beveragesmostly of the soft drink varietycome with free refills.
Eight of us ate our fill for less than $50, and the children cleaned their plates, a fine recommendation for family dining if ever there was one. And a nicer man than Richie Richards you are unlikely to meet. He is a prince among men, ruling cheerfully and benevolently in his modest castle.