Columbus chain spices up family meals

The Mom Says:

I consider myself an adventurous cook. In an average month, I probably try six to eight new recipes. My spice drawer contains everything from anise seed to turmeric. Still, I have never made fried chicken. Truth is, I'm afraid. I don't like the idea of cooking with hot oil and dealing with it once the meal is prepared.

But just because I don't make the dish doesn't mean I don't crave it. Enter Hot Chicken Takeover—Columbus' community-minded restaurant that specializes in fried chicken. We decided to try the Clintonville location, the company's first stand-alone eatery outside the North Market. (There's also one at Easton.)

A few bites in, I realized Hot Chicken Takeover has a clear case for not reinventing the wheel. There's no point in me learning to make fried chicken as long as HCT is in town.

I ordered the bone-in breast meal ($12). HCT allows diners to choose from four different spice levels: cold, warm, hot and holy. I opted for cold, which is seasoned with just a pinch of cayenne. It was the right choice for me—flavorful but not spicy. The breading was light and crisp.

The sides (most meals come with a vinegar-based coleslaw and mac ‘n' cheese), free house-made ranch dressing and free homemade sweet tea also were stand-outs. Ma's Slaw has a light, tangy dressing that offsets the meat nicely and was a huge hit with my coleslaw-hating husband.

Before taking the kids to the restaurant, I showed them a video about the company's policy of hiring employees who have been impacted by homelessness, served time in prison or face other barriers to work. They were impressed by the idea and even more curious to check the place out.

The Kid (Age 13) Says:

I ordered the wings as a meal ($10.50). I often eat wings in restaurants, but these were quite different. First of all, they were breaded. I had never had breaded wings before. I enjoyed them, but I would have liked them to be a little crunchier. For the spice level, based on HCT's description of warm—hotter than most mediums—I decided to order that. I like spicy food, and I think I could have gone up to hot—the real deal as advertised. The meal came with pickles that were wonderful, sort of a sweet dill that I really liked.

I also enjoyed Ma's Mac. I got a double order instead of slaw. The mac ‘n' cheese was thick and creamy—and tasty. My favorite item on the menu was Miss B's Banana Pudding. It was very smooth and had whipped cream and crushed graham crackers. I think it may have been the best banana pudding I have ever had.

Before going there, we watched a video about how the owner of the restaurant wants to help people who have been in prison or homeless. I think that is a really good thing to do. In the video, they talked about how this policy builds employee loyalty, which I could see. When we were there, all of the people working at the restaurant were really friendly.

If you're not in the mood for chicken, don't go here. It's the only thing on the menu. They serve chicken breast, wings and drumsticks. As for sides, there's only slaw, macaroni and waffles.

However, if you are in the mood for fried chicken, you should check out this place. It's fried chicken like no other.

—Nick Dutton

The Kid (Age 11) Says:

When we arrived, I thought the restaurant looked like it was set up for a picnic. There were coolers with drinks in them. The tables had red-checkered tops, and most of the seats were benches. Also, the food is served in containers rather than on dishes.

I ordered the chicken sandwich as a meal ($13). It comes with double mac, which was fine by me. For the spice level, I picked cold because it was the least spicy. I tried my brother's warm, and I agree with HCT that it's hotter than most mediums.

The bottom piece of white bread on the sandwich got a little mushy, but other than that the sandwich was great. The house-made ranch is delicious. It was dilly and creamy. The mac ‘n' cheese was good, too. It definitely didn't come out of a box.

I think it's a cool idea that this restaurant tries to give people a second chance. Everyone working there seemed very friendly.

HCT is not fancy. Its menu is small. But the chicken is really good, and the atmosphere is fun. Kids will definitely feel comfortable going there to eat.

—Alex Dutton