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Lea Jane’s hot chicken. Photo courtesy of Bound Agency

The Secrets Behind Lea Jane’s Nashville-Style Hot Chicken

The juicy Nashville fried bird served at the new Avanti stall takes three days to make.

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“It’s not just about pouring hot sauce on chicken. The whole process is more like an art.” That’s how chef Nick Graves explains his obsession with and love for Nashville-style hot chicken, which he is now serving at his weeks-old Avanti Food and Beverage stall, Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken.

Graves, a native of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, did a deep dive into Nashville hot chicken at restaurants across the Music City, including the OG for the style, Prince’s Hot Chicken. The chef also worked at acclaimed eateries there (Husk Nashville), and in South Carolina and New Orleans (Commander’s Palace), before moving to Denver a few weeks ago to open Lea Jane’s, which is named after the wife of his business partner, John Hoang. “I’ve always wanted to come to Denver,” he says. “Colorado is a great place to start a fast-casual concept.”

Back to the bird: The three-day process Graves deploys to produce Lea Jane’s hot chicken includes brining bone-in poultry in a blend of water, secret spices, salt, and sugar for 24 hours, then breading the chicken in a mixture of 11 herbs and spices The bird sits for another 24 hours before it receives a second round of breading, and is then fried to order in a fat blend that includes clarified butter, lard, and rendered country ham fat. A final seasoning infused with habanero and smoked chiles brings even more flavor and heat.

You can choose from four heat levels: Southern (no spice), medium, hot, and Clucking Hot. First tastes reveal that the hot version sports a subtle heat that won’t leave you reaching for a glass of milk, but the way Graves’ flavorful, wonderfully crisp breading adheres to the juicy pieces of white and dark meat—not falling apart even after several bites—confirms that Graves’ techniques are legit, even without the punch of intense heat that Nashville-style hot chicken is known for.

The pickled chicken salad sandwich at Lea Jane’s. Photo courtesy of Bound Agency

Another crunchy wonder on Graves’ menu are Lea Jane’s wedge-style fries, which are cut into a V-shape so there’s more surface area to crisp up in the fryer. They’re available as a side and served with all of Lea Jane’s sandwiches, including the pickled fried chicken salad, a masterpiece of dilly beans, pickled okra and red onions, fried chicken, and Duke’s mayo on a toasted croissant. The chicken and smoked-cheddar waffles platter is also a standout, complemented by the accompanying local honey seasoned with garlic and onion powders, cayenne, and paprika. 

For the ultimate Lea Jane’s experience, order the $44 Zero Clucks Baller Basket, a feast of 10 pieces of fried chicken and your choice of four sauces, two sides (try the creamy coleslaw), two biscuits, and two sweet teas. Don’t stop there: Finish off your meal with a Mississippi mud whoopie pie. Because why the cluck not?

3200 N. Pecos St.

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