Opening a restaurant in New York City almost always comes with delays. In the case of Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, the “Top Chef” favorite’s first ever full-service spot that was set to open before Thanksgiving, the months in between have been a boon.

“Hot chicken has sort of caught up with us,” says Hall, who’s been working to bring the Nashville dish to the Columbia Street Waterfront District for two and a half years. “Which is great, because Kentucky Fried chicken has millions of dollars in marketing to tell people what it is!”

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For the uninitiated, hot chicken involves tossing fried chicken in spicy oil. Hall offers six levels of heat from various peppers, beginning at Hoot & Honey and topping out at the Carolina reaper-ghost pepper punch of Boomshakalaka, guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye — but not numb your tastebuds. “Using too much heat masks the spices,” she points out. 

Everything else on the menu serves the chicken, which can be had by the piece or plate. The sides are all vegetarian with hot (mac ‘n’ cheese) and cold (potato salad) options, as well as seasonal specials.

At the soda fountain-style bar, get a Brooklyn Brewery Thelma’s Brew, created specially for the restaurant, as well as Nashville craft beers. Even the cocktails are regional, made with Bittermilk mixes from Charleston.

The dessert menu will be changing frequently, with layer cakes of the day, soft serve and, of course, pies, while others will come and go as daily specials. The 30-seat restaurant also makes room for a small market of Hall’s favorite Nashville products.

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KFC aside, hot chicken is not a trend for the hometown girl — it’s personal. “As a black Southerner, the one thing I didn’t want is to have an accent and to be pigeonholed with this food,” she says. “For so many years, I ran away from this food.”

Hall came to open the restaurant somewhat reluctantly. The restaurant world had been trending toward fine dining, which clashed with her approach to food and specifically the simplicity of soul food, which stands out through quality ingredients, not fuss.

But when she walked into the space at 115 Columbia St. that would become Southern Kitchen in 2013, the similarity to the South’s traditional meat-and-three restaurants struck her. As she learned about how the neighborhood pulled together to help each other and local businesses recover after Hurricane Sandy, she decided this was the community she wanted to be a part of.

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AvroKO sent a designer to Nashville to get the aesthetic just right, landing on what feels like a Southern hipster’s dining room, with Hall’s own family photos on the walls along with catchphrases (“Bless your heart”) and, as promised, the backers who helped fund the restaurant though Kickstarter. Mario Batali’s good luck offering of a signed orange Croc serves as a hanging flower pot.

“I didn’t want it to be cheesy Nashville,” Hall says. “I wanted something that looked like my grandmother’s house.”