Hot Chicken Takeover at North Market in Columbus, OH

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I recently paid a visit to Columbus’ North Market where shopkeepers prepare and peddle their goodies to hoards of visitors annually. This place is high on my list of favorite public markets and I make a point to swing by whenever I’m in town. There was an unexpected break in the line at Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT) and I seized the opportunity to give this much-discussed chicken place a try.

Story:

A few months after sampling Nashville’s famous hot chicken culture for the first time, owner Joe DeLoss set out to bring the spicy chicken recipe to Columbus. The business began as a pop-up chicken window in Olde Towne East, consistently selling out as the crowds grew. DeLoss eventually opened the current location in North Market – closing Olde Towne East – and launching a food truck through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Since opening in 2013, Hot Chicken Takeover has garnered write-ups in several major publications including Food & Wine and The Huffington Post. DeLoss and his wife were even featured on the Rachel Ray show for their efforts in hiring “hard-to-employ” workers.

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Space:

Occupying North Market’s upper level, the space is equal parts urban loft and outdoor family picnic. Expansive windows along the main wall flood light onto the cafeteria-style communal tables that are draped with vinyl red checked tablecloths. Four black and red menu boards drew me to the order station where a bearded man greeted me with a swagger as casual as the rooster t-shirt he was wearing.

After a brief wait, a server appeared from behind a canvas curtain and handed me a beige Styrofoam container. Nearly every seat was taken so I opted for the market seating area next door where I could watch the activity below.

Food:

The cooks at HCT have clearly mastered the art of the squeeze bottle. Instead of tossed in a bowl for even coverage, the wings were laid across two pieces of white bread and squirted with my chosen sauce. Unexposed portions were left thirsty as the bread greedily absorbed what fell to the sides. While perfectly crisp and golden, the coating overwhelmingly tasted of flour and cayenne pepper, and masked any other spices that might have been in the mix.

Included in the price were two sides and a glass of sweet tea. The slaw also succumbed to the squeeze bottle’s wrath with a squirt of red vinegar staining the shredded cabbage. I savored the perfectly comfortable mac and cheese and washed everything down with the (thankfully) not overly sweet tea.

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Verdict:

HCT has all the makings of a successful regional or even national brand – a charismatic founder, compelling story, socially conscious mission, strong branding and a tightly focused menu. In times of rapid growth, it’s easy to get distracted by the needs of the expansion and lose sight of what made the concept popular in the first place, the food. My advice to HTC is to continue to invest in ways to efficiently and consistently serve their customers, but not at the expense of brilliant flavor.

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