Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with the hot chicken from Tennessee, which joined the union on June 1, 1796.

The state: Tennessee, home to Graceland, Dollywood and the atomic bomb. It has three distinct areas, the Appalachian east, the country music lovin’ middle and the rougher, bluesy west. It’s south of Kentucky, the buckle of America’s Fried Chicken Belt.

The food: Nashville’s Hot chicken, which, in its purest form, is fried chicken rendered borderline inedible through the liberal application of Mace-strength pepper paste. The pepper paste is applied when it's fresh out of the fryer, imbuing the chicken with a deep red hue. It’s then served with pickles and white bread. I like hot food—hooooooottt food—but had no idea what I was getting myself into when I had a plate from Hattie B’s last weekend.
“You want it medium,” said the guy in front of me.
“Oh, I like hot stuff,” I said, figuring he was a sissy.
“Me too,” he said. “But it’s perfect medium—you can taste everything, and it’s still very hot. Get hot if you want it, but you can’t even taste the extra hot.”
I ordered the hot chicken hot, but by the time I’d finished my plate I was dripping with sweat, begging for water and had an endorphin rush. Get medium.

Other foods considered and rejected: Memphis style ribs, a handle of Jack.

Get it from:
, a cart at Southeast Belmont and 43rd. After my Nashville adventure, I was excited to re-sample the dish. Unfortunately, there are a few problems. The first is that Cackalack’s Hot Chicken ain’t nearly hot enough. I again ordered a three out of four, but this tasted more like someone spilled chili powder on a regular old chicken breast. The breast itself was big and juicy, but there were almost no red drippings on the bread below, which was thick and yellowish. As an expert of four days, I’m scandalized. Still, if you like regular ol’ fried chicken with a little spice, Cackalack's does a decent job.

Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.

Pennsylvania Maine Louisiana Texas West Virgina Nevada NC Colorado Alaska Mississippi Washington Minnesota Tennessee Nebraska Missouri Massachusetts Michigan Wisconsin Ohio Arizona south carolina newyork Connecticut rhode island Wyoming New Mexico Kentucky Idaho alabama new jersey georgia kansas california iowa montana oklahoma indiana vermont hawaii utah arkansas maryland Virginia oregon Illinois Florida New Hampshire South Dakota Delaware North Dakota