My love affair with Nashville fried chicken started last year at Belle's Hot Chicken in Sydney. After reading about the place, I dragged assorted family members down to their Barangaroo restaurant and watched in in kind of amused horror when my Dad and brother-in-law took on the 'hot' wings (they go up another two notches to 'really fucking hot' if you're a real masochistic), and lost.
In the end I stepped in and swapped some of my medium wings with them to spare their tears; I know, not all heroes wear capes. My Dad did shout me a RivaReno gelato afterwards, while complaining bitterly that I had nearly tried to kill him...
Anyway, stories of my heroics aside, I was inordinately happy to discover that Nashville hot chicken - cisp-coated fried chicken, given a bath in a blistering paste of oil and cayenne chilli powder that turns it a menacing brick red colour - had made it a little closer to home. To Birmingham, in fact, and not Alabama, but the heart of the West Midlands.
Found tucked away on Lower Severn street, in the shadow of the new sparkly New Street Station, Bonehead sells itself as 'craft beer and chicken'. Yes, it's a tried and tested combination that's not going to break any new ground, but with a decent beer list - that on my visit included a Northern Monk berry sour, the perfect aperitif, followed by a pint of Beavertown Gamma Ray as a chaser - things were off to a solid start.
Wings were offered in a variety of flavours that included buffalo with blue cheese and celery, original with garlic mayo, and honey soy, but it was only ever about the Hothead (their nashville tribute) with comeback sauce, a kind of spiky thousand island that I recently got acquainted with at Dave's Hot Chicken in L.A.
Looking at the picture now, days later, and I'm still not sure how I felt when I was eating them. I guess a kind of love/hate feeling of searing pain from the chilli, both dried and fresh, coupled with a salty, oily, is-it-too-much moreishness that kept me going back. Eyes bulging and panting like Pavlov's dog, (an attractive thought, I know) until I was sweating and sobbing and filled with self-loathing. Or something close to that, anyway.
As if I wasn't enough of a sucker for punishment, I also had the Hothead thigh burger, with comeback sauce and pickles and a slice of good old plasticky American cheese. While the sweet, buttery bread took a bit of the sting out, it was still a two napkin job. One to (unsuccessfully) stop the grease going on my light grey trousers, and one to mop up my leaking eyes.
While they are centred around variations of deep fried bird, my highlight was the loaded waffle fries, a cool and creamy respite from the salty assault with slaw almost as good as my Mum's, a practically impossible feat. I actually think I enjoyed these even better cold out of a takeout the next morning; the delicious taste of slight soggy regret and raw red onion.
If there was one unintended plus point of too much salt and too much ale (not helped by a trip to Brewdog Birmingham, opposite Bonehead, to try some of the Dugges sour beers they have got in for the summer) it was drinking too much water, followed by the inevitable early morning loo visit. Which also bought the opportunity to see the sun breaking over the top of the Bullring car park. Strangely ordinary yet strangely beautiful, a bit like the night before.