It did not take long for the fried chicken sandwich to go from a quiet ubiquity to something louder and more ethereal, an idea that simmers, waiting to get picked up by just about anybody. Students of these types of sandwiches, once they have made their way through the fast food wars, will eventually find their way to something called “Hot Chicken,” an idea that historicizes itself by tracing its origins back to an 80-year-old restaurant in Nashville that now invites contemplation from bloggers for major magazines. More locally, the idea had been pitched by restaurant consultants to a developer who had leased the spot of a small, shuttered pharmacy on Wyckoff Avenue, where he dreamed of selling food there instead. 

“He’s a foodie and was looking for the right person to develop projects here,” Benjamin Metzger told me, declining to identify his silent partner as anything more than “Dave,” who works privately out of a corporate outfit called “2 Guys From Tribeca.”

Metzger had been working at a French restaurant on Long Island called Mirabelle Restaurant & Tavern when he got the call from Dave. Metzger’s long line of restaurant jobs began when he was a biology student at SUNY Cortland and took a gig washing dishes at a college sports bar to pay the bills. After graduating to “cooking steaks,” Metzger said discovered that he “loved it” and dropped out of school to do that. 

The sandwiches that he’s making now bear some resemblance to the world of grubby bar food: burger-sized patties that come delivered in a bed of waffle fries. He accomplishes some surprising flavors – the “original hot chicken” comes with chunks of pineapple and, of course, pickles. While true to the promised heat, Metzger’s style is ultimately crowd-pleasing. The sandwiches are pleasingly sweet, no matter how many times they’ve been “dipped.”   

Trapped inside the glowing mystique of late 2010s capitalism, the deliberateness of Metzger’s “Flo’s Hot Chicken” is stirring; the chicken is of better quality than most corner restaurants, with no discernible gristle or fat. Bright stripes of KFC-red decorate the small counter where sandwiches are delivered, and uncanny Lichtenstein-style portraits of live chickens stare down on waiting customers.

The “Flo” in the name no longer works for Dave or has any connection to the restaurant named after her – a Brooklyn chef with 26,000 followers on Instagram. She had been hired to helm an earlier idea called the Triangle Grill that had involved Caribbean food and that Metzger said the bosses shuttered after failing to secure a liquor license. (Community Board proceedings indicate that the application was held “due to applicant not attending the required meeting.”) 

“Her name sounds great with hot chicken,” he said. “It’s got that southern feel to it, it works.”

It’s worth noting that Metzger takes very little responsibility for these decisions. Most were paid for by a restaurant consulting company that goes by the droll title The Restaurant Company that came about from “the merger with many boutique consulting firms.” Metzger had wanted to call the place “Southern Hottie,” but the consultants disagreed and the name was recycled to name the sauce they had him put together.

In a charming, alienated way, it seems like Metzger could not have cared less. Hot chicken had been their idea too – Metzger said he “knew absolutely nothing” about the fried chicken subculture when the idea was brought to him. But betraying his early, nascent interest in the sciences, he had applied himself diligently and “discovered what it was.” Any complaints about the prices – nothing on the menu can be had for under $9, except for sides (the mac and cheese-filled sticks are a highlight) – can also be directed to the consultants, who used “market research” to set that up.  

If you ask Metzger about his favorite item on the menu, which he didn’t create, he will nonetheless tell you quickly. It’s the “Hot Po’ Boy,” a popular fish sandwich that hails from New Orleans and that are somewhat harder to find in Bushwick than chicken sandwiches. He said the use of a purple cabbage slaw adds some nice color to the menu, whereas everything else has the same rubber-colored tint of fried bar food. 

“Is hot chicken being stripped of its cultural meaning as it’s moved out of the neighborhood?,” the Nashville writer Rachel Louise Martin asked in a 2015 essay, and later a book on the subject called “Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story,” published by a university press this year. Like most chicken sandwiches, the question is curiously satisfying to pull apart, but it’s also one that Metzger can’t possibly answer because he can’t possibly ask it, which is kind of smart, in its own way. 

Flo’s Hot Chicken is open seven days a week at 126 Wyckoff Ave. from 11:00am–9:30pm. Place an order by calling (718) 483-9216. 


All photos courtesy of Andrew Karpan.

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