The Howlin’ Ray’s medium hot chicken and a side of collard greens.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
The Howlin’ Ray’s howlin’ hot chicken and a side of pimento mac salad.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
The Howlin’ Ray’s hot chicken food truck, parked on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
The Howlin’ Ray’s hot chicken (medium spice) with a side of collard greens.(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
The back of your throat starts to burn and you’re convinced you can feel the heat of cayenne pepper in ever corner of your mouth, and on every inch of your tongue. Your eyes water, your nose starts to run and the image of Yosemite Sam with steam coming out of his ears is all too clear in your mind.
This is the feeling you get after taking a bite of the howlin’ hot, hot chicken at Howlin’ Ray’s, a new food truck serving Nashville-style hot chicken.
At first you think you’re fine. In fact, just eight seconds before your mouth turned into a battlefield, you were praising yourself for being a spice master — someone who scoffs at a heat challenge, and a little cayenne pepper. But eight seconds pass, the time it takes for the spice to kick in, and you realize the entire piece of chicken was covered in that deep red hue.
A minute later, your whole heads starts to tingle, and you want to do it all over again.
At its core, the Howlin’ Ray’s hot chicken is good fried chicken. The skin is so crisp it shatters and the meat is moist and tender. You could eat it plain, if you wish. But then you’d miss out on all the fun.
The menu consists of hot chicken plates and a chicken sandwich. For the plates, choose white or dark meat, then decide how much heat you think you can take. There’s mild, medium, hot, extra hot and “howlin’ hot."
Johnny Zone, who owns and runs the truck with his wife Amanda Chapman, likens the howlin’ hot level to hot sauce-competition heat. “Have you ever done the dynamite spicy challenge at Jitlada?” he asks as a warning.
The howlin’ hot has a nice, slow, deep burn that quickly morphs into a Level 27 heat wave. The only way to get through a piece is to alternate bites with the braised collard greens, the pimento mac salad (homemade pimento cheese, macaroni, red bell pepper, celery, pickle juice and ramps) and the white bread. You may find yourself shoving pieces of bread into your mouth in a feeble attempt to blot your tongue.
If this heat sounds a little too intense, medium may be the way to go for a hot chicken novice. It’s hot, a little sweet, and you can manage at least five bites before attempting your tongue-blotting technique again.
Then there’s the chicken sandwich, served hot or not, on a buttered bun, with cabbage, slaw and pickles.
Whichever level of heat you decide to try, just know you’ll walk away from the truck on a hot chicken high, with a faint red ring around your mouth and each of your fingers.
To find the truck, check online.
I consider hot wings an old, dear friend. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_