Dave’s Scorching Rooster can have you begging for extra, and perhaps for mercy

If you ask for the reaper-level warmth at Dave’s Scorching Rooster, you might be rapidly confronted with two contradictory feelings: concern and embarrassment.

The concern is nearly totally generated by the waiver that the counter employee can have you evaluation and signal. In case you weren’t nervous earlier than you ordered the chicken sprinkled liberally with a seasoning combine that features Carolina Reaper peppers, you’ll be after you learn the language printed on a receipt.

“You acknowledge that consuming the REAPER” — the shift to ALL CAPS is pure evil genius, like turning the nook and bumping into Michael Myers with a 16-inch blade — “may cause you hurt, together with, however not restricted to, bodily damage, property injury, emotional misery, and even dying.”

Now, perhaps the warning about “property injury” ought to have been a clue that that is P.T. Barnum-level hooey, with no extra relation to actuality than the mermaids of Fiji. However as I took my copy of the waiver, the younger lady behind the counter wished me good luck and advised if I wanted any emergency assist, she might help. She didn’t appear to be joking. Or if she was, she was a deadpan artist.

At this level, although, I have to admit I used to be solely partially conscious of my environment due to the opposite factor the girl mentioned proper after I positioned my order: In a voice loud sufficient to boost the useless, she bellowed, “REEEEEEEEEEE-PEEEEEER!” To which each different worker within the joint repeated the phrase on the identical quantity.

If I had, even for a second, thought of wimping out on the reaper-level hen, I used to be now dedicated to it. Any cowardice can be performed out in public, in all probability with a highlight shining on my desk in a nook of the Dave’s Scorching Rooster outlet inserted artfully, playfully, into the previous Z-Burger house contained in the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights. So I ready as finest as I might: I ordered a chocolate shake, fries slathered in cheese and a creamy kale slaw, all with the hope that they’d douse no matter wildfire was about to erupt inside my mouth.

As I listened for my quantity to be referred to as, I kind of felt like I used to be ready my flip on the gallows, hoping some high-ranking official would swoop in and commute my sentence. The wait gave me time to consider my earlier experiences at Dave’s, the Los Angeles-based Nashville scorching hen chain that opened this, its first D.C. location, in March.

In case you observe the fast-casual trade with even medium-casual curiosity, you’ve in all probability heard about Dave’s. About six years in the past, its founders pulled collectively sufficient scratch to host a pop-up in an East Hollywood, Calif., car parking zone, frying up tenders to order beneath transportable canopies. The dish that hid in plain sight for many years in Nashville’s Black neighborhoods had already gone mainstream in 2015 when KFC obtained into the recent hen enterprise. However Dave’s takes it to a complete different stage, proving {that a} once-hyper-local sandwich has turn into fashionable sufficient to assist a sequence with grand ambitions. Dave’s opened its one centesimal location in January, with 700 extra reportedly within the pipeline. Its traders embody Drake and Samuel L. Jackson, who ought to in all probability learn Ezekiel 25:17 to anybody who orders the reaper hen.

I had been pacing myself at Dave’s, build up sufficient tolerance (and braveness) to strive the reaper-level tender. On my first go to — the dude on the entrance opened the door for me and shouted, “I obtained one visitor strolling in!” like I used to be Sinatra strolling into the Sands — I ordered two hen sliders with fries. I requested for the “scorching” seasoning. Ordering something much less from a scorching hen idea, I assumed, was a cop-out, even when Dave’s supplies choices for the heat-averse, together with “no spice,” presumably for many who obtained misplaced on their strategy to KFC. I’m undecided anybody in Nashville would have acknowledged my sliders as “scorching.” The burn was reasonable at finest, although I have to say that the chile-pepper pinch made for a pleasant distinction to the juicy halal-certified breast meat, which had been brined inside an inch of its life. At one level, my nostril did begin to run, however I by no means felt like I used to be exterior my consolation zone.

For my second go to, I ordered a pair of “further scorching” tenders, which arrived on plain white bread. After two bites, I used to be feeling cocky, like I might deal with this warmth with out incident. After just a few extra bites, I noticed I used to be a idiot. The burn builds with every mouthful, till your head begins to swim and your tongue begs for reduction. I attempted to make use of myself as a guinea pig — to see how lengthy I might let the spice irritate my palate earlier than I reached for my vanilla shake, so easy and creamy and comforting. I discovered my hand reaching for the drink by itself, as if my unconscious have been screaming: In case you’re too silly to do one thing about this, I’m taking up. What I admired about this sandwich is that it wasn’t all concerning the detonation: The seasoning mix — created by Dave Kopushyan, a chef with fine-dining chops — was spicy however counterbalanced with what, to me, smacked of sweeter and extra fragrant spices.

Ordering the reaper-level chicken at Dave’s has turn into one thing of a spectator sport. Many have taken on the “reaper problem,” together with Usher, who knowledgeable his Instagram followers that “my head is itchy.” He then began to bounce “for no motive.” Kelly Jackson has additionally accepted the reaper problem. She’s the Dave’s Scorching Rooster franchisee who opened the D.C. location. She owns the rights to franchise Dave’s in Northern Virginia. Her subsequent location can be in Tysons Nook, set to debut in June or July. As a part of her due diligence, Jackson mentioned she tasted every little thing on the Dave’s menu, together with the reaper hen.

“I did take one chew of the reaper,” Jackson instructed me, “and I’ll let you know, it burnt my face off.”

After I lastly grabbed my order of reaper hen, I might really feel the warmth earlier than I tasted it. Its mixture of chile peppers, together with the Carolina Reaper with its 2.2 million Scoville items, vaporized and entered my system by way of the nostril, like a virus. If you wish to know what concern smells like, that is it. I tore off a bit of tender and popped it in my mouth. The response was rapid. I began to cough. My mouth turned blisteringly scorching, as if I had simply mistaken a curling iron for a sweet stick. Water was pooling round my tongue. I started to breathe closely, with an open mouth, like a canine on the seashore. I sucked down a 3rd of my shake, which supplied solely temporary consolation. I had two bites and stop.

The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Jane” was enjoying on the sound system. In any case these years, I nonetheless don’t know what the music is about. All I knew was I wished it to cease, together with this burn. So, would I do it once more? I feel the higher query is: Would I cease once more at Dave’s, given all of the competitors for spicy hen? In a heartbeat — simply not for a sandwich that threatens to cease my coronary heart from beating.

3301 14th St. NW, 771-200-3080; daveshotchicken.com.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

Nearest Metro: Columbia Heights, with a brief stroll to the restaurant.

Costs: $1.99 to $13.99 for all gadgets on the menu.

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