Signage for this business, whose original location opened in Nashville in 1997 and has been on my to-do list for at least five years, went up on a building near the Missionary Ridge Tunnel last fall. I paced the floor like a caged tiger waiting for them to open.
The store’s name comes from two different men with the same name. Bolton Matthews got the recipe from his uncle, Bolton Polk, who had owned a restaurant called Chicken Shack. This was way back before foodies or loudmouths or tourists had heard about “hot chicken.” In the early 2000s, though, people started writing about this stuff. It would be a little while before Prince’s would get on TV and before white guys with beards would make their own versions of the dish (both hipsters and “Colonel Sanders”), but the curious did start hearing the buzz.
Bolton’s has been on my to-do list since about 2011, but I have never made it over there. I guess I’d been saving it for a rainy day – or perhaps a day-long event – but when I saw the signage at their new location in Chattanooga, the problem was solved. I could just wait for them to open here. And wait, as the narrator says in the opening scene of Casablanca. And wait.
Finally, opening day came in January. No restaurant ever has all the kinks worked out on their first day. I gave them three. There’s a parking lot behind the building. It was paved in 1778. I was disappointed to see that they sell beer, but not sweet tea, but that was the only disappointment on that first visit. I had the medium-spiced chicken and loved it. This is a very pleasant, lingering burn, and the meat is very tender and juicy, with a mildly salty and crisp skin. Yes, I was very pleased with that. Then I came back a week later and pleasure turned into pain and made me a believer for good.
They have a few different fish to choose from: catfish, whiting, tilapia, and grouper. I fell in love with the hot catfish. It was painful and wonderful, dressed with mustard and sauce, onions and pickles. My lips and tongue hurt so badly and so happily.
Yes, this place was absolutely worth the wait. I’ll definitely be coming back every few weeks.
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish
3202 Brainerd Road
Chattanooga TN 37411
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!