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Hot Chicken Mama opens in Blue Point

Nashville style white meat chicken sandwiches come in

Nashville style white meat chicken sandwiches come in five levels of heat at Hot Chicken Mama in Blue Point. Credit: Doug Young

Well, that escalated quickly. During opening weekend for Hot Chicken Mama in Blue Point, the run on their Nashville hot-chicken sandwiches was so feverish that waits grew to an hour or more and the kitchen had to temporarily close for a reboot. "You guys are nuts," read an Instagram post from the staff. By 5 p.m., an hour after reopening, the kitchen had sold out.

It was the conundrum of a place that had generated early buzz and possibly tapped our deepest desires, in this case for fried chicken so spicy it could almost singe your eyelashes. "It was five times busier than we thought it would be," said co-owner Nick Petro, who said a delayed chicken shipment added to the mayhem. "We got taken by storm."

I had been lucky enough to visit on last day of Hot Chicken Mama's soft opening, when there were not yet tailgaters in the parking lot and the blistering heat of XL chicken tenders was mostly unknown. After one bite, the heat started slowly, a slight smolder, but quickly began to crest. After about 10 seconds, my mouth was on fire. "OK … that's really damn hot," I said to no one in particular, for I was alone in the driver's seat of my car, surrounded by boxes of fried chicken and sides. I took a desperate bite from some mac-and-cheese to cool my palate, to no avail. The intensity went on and on … but was that a hint of cocoa, too?

Such is the complex onslaught of the Carolina reaper, purportedly the world's hottest pepper, bred by a South Carolinan named Ed Currie and one that’s been measured at a mind-boggling 2 million units on the Scoville scale. It's also the dried pepper that Hot Chicken Mama uses for the top-tier XL heat level on their Nashville hot sandwiches, tenders and bone-in fried chicken.

To order XL, you have to sign a waiver, which at the time I thought was a bit of a gimmick. As I waited out the heat generated by a single bite, it dawned on me: If I had torn through two or three tenders in a row, I might be in real trouble. The waiver suddenly made sense.

"We didn't think anyone in the area was doing Nashville hot chicken the right way," said Nick Petro, who partnered with Bobby Gulinello and Joe Esposito for Hot Chicken Mama. The three knew each other from the other two businesses they operate between them — Petro manages South Shore Dive in West Sayville, which Gulinello owns; Gulinello also owns The Cortland in Bay Shore, where Esposito is the general manager.

Petro had taken several trips to Nashville to try the region's signature spicy fried chicken before his partners joined him on one jaunt, as did Steve Esposito, the former chef at Swallow East in Montauk and the guy charged with developing Hot Chicken Mama's recipes. "We realized there was an entire culture around this," added Petro. A few months ago, they leased and gutted the former Beyond Philly on Montauk Highway, adding a very pandemic-friendly drive-through window around which is painted a giant chicken.

The cheerful interior of Hot Chicken Mama is accented with fiery reds, more paintings of chickens and a Guardians of the Galaxy pinball machine. The chicken-frying operation is visible behind Plexiglass, and guests order from the takeout counter or can call in their orders and pick them up from a takeout window. A handful of two-tops and a few lawn chairs out front constitute seating.

Esposito took months to hone the spiciness of Hot Chicken Mama's oeuvre, achieved via dusting the fried pieces in spices at one of six levels, from "easy" (dusted with cayenne) to the assaultive XL ("extra loud"), a tier that seems destined to inspire dares and road trips by lockdown-weary people. Hot-chicken sandwiches start at $12.99, plates of fried chicken (a bone-in drum and thigh, wings, tenders or nuggets) start at $11.99. The $3.99 sides run the comfort-food gamut — crinkle cut fries, blackened Brussels sprouts, mac-and-cheese, crispy onion strings — and lemonade (strawberry or lavender) is blended with housemade simple syrups. "It was a way for us to bring in our bartending experience," said Petro, with a bit of poignancy, as bars such as South Shore Dive and The Cortland have been pummeled by the pandemic.

But both places are open and surviving, said Gulinello, as he stood Hot Chicken Mama during the calm before the grand-openign storm. Despite having eaten fried chicken for weeks and possibly months, he said he hadn't yet tired of it. "It's addicting," he said.

Because of the early crush, Hot Chicken Mama has limited its hours to 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Monday, and will expand those to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. once systems even out. Also for the foreseeable future, phone orders will be on hold — instead, customers need to order in person at the counter, and then will be sent a text message when their order is ready to be picked up.

Hot Chicken Mama, 168 Montauk Hwy. in Blue Point, 631-621-8200. hotchickenmama.com

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