Cincinnati’s newest source for Nashville hot chicken, Fiery Hen, opened Jan. 11, neighboring its sister restaurant Court Street Lobster Bar—both owned and operated by Dan Swormstedt. So the story goes, Swormstedt was in a hot chicken restaurant in Nashville with his dad (and business partner) when he drummed up the idea to bring the Southern classic to Cincinnati. “Do you think we can do this?” he asked, to which his father replied, “I think we can do this better.”
Swormstedt drew inspiration from his nomadic childhood starting both restaurants. “I lived in Connecticut and D.C., which is where the lobster bar came from,” he says. “I’ve also lived in the Carolinas and Alabama”—which is where Fiery Hen came from. “We want it to taste like you’re at your grandparents’ backyard barbecue,” he says.
And indeed it does. The kitchen is stocked with a charbroiler to torch burgers and a smoker to slowly break down briskets. The dining room is a charming slice of Americana, decked out with tables made from salvaged palettes and original, decades-old hardwood floors. “There’s nothing too intricate about what we do,” says Swormstedt. “We wanted the place to be as homey as possible.”
Fiery Hen presents a simple, uncrowded menu, with its crown jewel—Nashville hot chicken—right in the center, followed by a friendly reminder not to touch your eyes after getting your fingers spicy. You can order a whole, half, or quarter bird, depending on how ravenous you are, and they are gracious enough to let you choose your spiciness level on a 1–5 scale (1 being “Yella Belly” and 5 being “Bless Your Heart”). Swormstedt says they designed the flavor scale to be true and predictable. “Mild will be mild; medium will be medium; hot and ‘Bless Your Heart’ will, well…” he trails off, laughing. Let’s just say that level-four spice will leave you beaded with sweat.
The simplicity of their dishes allows for focus on bold, home-style flavors crafted like they are in Nashville. Sweet, salty, crispy fried green tomatoes, bacon-laden black-eyed peas, and rich and brothy greens provide a welcome contrast to the heavier, messier entrées. Luckily their napkins are sturdy enough to combat saucy faces and fingers, and they’re happy to provide extras should yours become decimated, which is likely. A piece of toast under every order of hot chicken to soak up the drippings ensures you’ll enjoy every last bit. And what’s all this hot chicken without the unofficial beverage of Tennessee? Give your scorched taste buds a break and order a flight of moonshine as a “palate cleanser.”
Though this isn’t Swormstedt’s first rodeo, opening a restaurant always comes with hard work and unforeseen challenges, he says, and they’re still working out the last couple kinks. “We didn’t even have a liquor license until [opening day],” he laughs. “But honestly, it came together better than I could have ever imagined.”
Fiery Hen, 26 W. Court St., downtown, (513) 324-0556, fieryhencincy.com
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