Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack:

Homecooked, Homemade Southern Soul Food, Served Hot

by Pasckie Pascua

CHICKEN is a no-brainer. Why is that? Well, for one—I am a Filipino. Back home in the islands, we could prepare a chicken dish 101 ways, and that is an understatement. We also consume almost all of the fowl's endowments: Meat, feet, head, blood, bones, entrails. The feathers and claws also serve other purposes other than as food.

       But I am not in the Philippines at this juncture. I am wombed in Asheville, in the mountains of North Carolina. Yet, chicken remains “easy” to me. Why is that? Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, that is why. This is “homecooked, home-made Southern soul food” marvel the way granny cooked them, with some modifications. “Our hot chicken experience is a pleasure you keep on coming back to,” owner Rich Cundiff told The Indie recently. “It is addictive and face melting!” “Face-melting” means spicy cayenne face melting, that is—that could definitely rival Indian cuisine's tikka masala or the Filipino chili peppers on coconut milk plate, “Bicol Express.”
        Rocky's “Tennessee Style” hot chicken, says its menu folder, “... is brined and cooked in small batches, to maintain freshness and flavor, then prepared to order with the spice level as you like it—from plain to xx hot.” Hotness is categorized as (not so hot to hottest): Plain, Honey, X-mild, Mild, Mildium, Medium, Hot, Foothills, Xxhot. The fried chicken, spicy or not, exudes an intimate kick that—yes, reminds us of what exactly grandma used to prepare. The dry rub, thin flour dredge, and flimsy oil wash makes for an exquisite crust and body. Juicy but never greasy—and with a choice of 4 sides out of 13, an order is already a full meal at below $12.
        Meantime, chicken “hotness” and its standout choice of side dishes aren't really the very reason why one ventures at Rocky's. Cundiff, who was Earth Fare's chief operating officer, took over Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack more than two years ago, from a friend when it was still located in Arden. “I bought the recipe, and expanded it,” he says. “From then on, we have enjoyed steady growth.”
        Said unprecedented surge in patronage in a relatively far-flung locale – away from Asheville's restaurant row in downtown, somewhere down Patton Avenue beside a tiny car auto dealership and honky tonk motel – isn't just credited to Cundiff's finger-lickin' good fowl on a plate. Rocky's “casual family dining concept,” ably shared by its staff of 20 on 7-days rotation, makes the restaurant more of destination for locals, not for tourists. That's hardly a marketing hook, it's an honest invite. Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack is one of Asheville’s locally owned and operated restaurants, and Rich is an active board member of Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR) association.

       “You get that feeling of being taken cared of,” prides Lauren Cundiff, Rich's wife and co-owner. “And we also share these blessings with the community by way of donations to local churches, food banks, and school system.” Adds Rich, “We also help local musicians, individually,” which makes Rocky's stand out among other businesses in town, being the only local establishment that treats local performers with special love.
       Localness that almost instantaneously comes with healthy eating certainly add sublime fervor to Rocky's “mercilessly hot” and “psychedelic” chicken allure. “We source quality and local ingredients for the recipes that we make from scratch,” says Rich. “Our natural birds are raised without antibiotics or other additives.” The Cundiffs' menu doesn't end with the obligatory slew of enflaming birds. “We have a crowd-pleasing menu and daily specials based upon seasonality and freshness,” offers Lauren. These favorites include waffles, desserts like their own “banana pudding in a jar,” and what Rocky's prides as “our daily soul bowl”--all chased down by freshly squeezed lemonade, sweet southern tea and other soft drinks. Not to be missed, of course, is the bar's choice of locally crafted beers.
       There you go. My islands-chicken fix is pretty well served and pleased right here in Asheville. I may boast that Filipinos like me could prepare a fowl 101 ways... But, I bet Rich and Lauren Cundiff and their staff could whip out 102 “hot” ways to cook and savor a chicken, the Appalachian way. So get hot like a true Southern spirit at Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack. It's all good.

<>Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack is located at 1455 Patton Avenue, West Asheville, North Carolina. Tel # 828 575 2260. Open Everyday. 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM: Sunday-Thursday; 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM: Friday and Saturday.