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Photos by Clarissa Villondo

Five minutes before I bit into Trummer’s On Main’s Hot Chicken, I would have told you I was a spicy food champion. I come from a long line of people who pack as much heat as they possibly can into every dish. I have relatives who have accidentally won spicy food competitions at bars (but that’s a story for another time). I’m never one to step down from a challenge. I could certainly blame my bravado on the alcohol, but that wouldn’t be truthful, I really thought I could handle my shit. In my mind, it would be no problem.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

I was deeply wrong, but we’ll come back to that.

Way out in the middle of nowhere Virginia (also known as Clifton), you’ll find a delightful little main street and on that main street you’ll find a jewel of a restaurant, Trummer’s On Main. It’s there you’ll find Virginia’s largest wine program as well as some truly fantastic American dishes. There are beautiful outdoor spaces, pristine dining rooms, and cozy little bar, but on the third floor… things get weird.

Jailbird Hot ChickenJailbird Hot Chicken

That is where Trummer’s hosts their popups, and from now until May 26, you too can feel as if you’ve had something so hot you’re going to die at their Jailbird Chicken popup. Teaming up with Chef Daniel Gorman, formerly of The Inn At Little Washington, but currently at Tennessee’s 5th and Taylor, Trummer’s Chef Austin Fausett is making the only hot chicken you’ll be able to find in the D.C. area.

Heading up to the third floor, the dining room was packed with people scarfing down hot chicken, surrounded by rustic paintings of the very bird they were eating. You see, Trummer’s changes the art on the third floor depending on what kind of popup or menu they’re doing. So while I ate what some would consider a ridiculous amount of chicken I was being watched by a dozen little beady eyes. It was the very definition of hardcore.

Knowing that some serious spice was in our future, we started with libations. My personal favorite was the Tennessee Tea, made with Belle Meade bourbon, sweet tea (surprise!) and mint. Usually I’m not wild about sweet drinks, and I never drink sweet tea (because it’s gross!), but there was something about the simplicity of this cocktail that was wildly refreshing.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

If you want to pretend it’s brunch and you hate yourself, the East Nasty Bloody Mary is one of the least gross Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever had. All Bloody Mary’s are various levels of disgusting. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to mix those ingredients together and have it come out perfectly fine, but I could drink one of these without feeling as if I was going to be sick, and that is a true accomplishment.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

After filling up on liquid courage, it was finally time to get started on the food. We were bombarded with one of the best kale salads I’ve ever had (mainly because it was doused in buttermilk bleu cheese and pickled vidalia onions), a charcuterie board of Tennessee and Virginia hams, and a brussels sprout salad (featuring even more bleu cheese and a perfectly runny poached egg).

Jailbird Hot Chicken

Yet, when it came to the appetizers, there were two clear winners. The Jailbird chicken salad lettuce wraps were insanely good. Paired with cashews and a chow chow dipping sauce, the chicken salad was light and refreshing. I wanted to steal the entire plate and take it on a picnic. My personal favorite were the hot grilled squab biscuit sliders. The biscuits were cooked to perfection and the squab was so moist that eating one felt indulgent.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

Jailbird Hot Chicken

Now was the moment I’d been waiting for all night, it was time to try the hot chicken. There are four levels of spice at the Jailbird popup, ranging from Southern (which is no heat at all, just regular fried chicken), mild, medium, hot, and then the hottest of all East Nasty. Even though I was under the impression I would conquer the East Nasty without a problem, I’m not entirely an idiot, so I started with the Southern and worked my way up. If you’re not one for spicy food and simply want some good fried chicken, this is a fantastic option. The chicken was very moist and flavorful, plus there wasn’t so much breading it was overbearing, but just enough to give it a good crunch. I personally would recommend smothering this in Trummer’s very own hot sauce (which has been aged in Catoctin Creek rye barrels) because it is honestly fantastic. It’s not wildly spicy, and has more of a delicious sweet vinegar flavor.

Jailbird Hot ChickenJailbird Hot Chicken

In my mind, mild medium, and hot all blurred together. Sure there was a progression, but nothing that could prepare me for the East Nasty. Have you seen the video of Alton Brown doing a blind taste test of two different Nashville hot chickens? When he bites into the chicken, he whoops and hollers and yells about how delicious and spicy is it. Even though you can tell he’s in a little pain, he genuinely seems like he’s having a good time. When I bit into the East Nasty, I quietly zoned out into my plate, took some small sips of water and emailed my editor to tell him I thought I was going to die, and for a moment it truly did feel like I was. Five full minutes later (which felt like twenty minutes) my mouth still felt like it was on fire, but it was drastically more manageable.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

I know for a fact I would order the East Nasty again. Even if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the regular hot chicken. I would order it again and again until I could eat it with no problem because there is something wrong with me. If you are a normal person who wants to try some hot chicken without hurting themselves, go for the medium or the hot. Do right by yourself.

Of course, ice cream can soothe any wounds. If you’re going to get any dessert while you’re all the way out in Clifton, I would recommend the bourbon pecan pralines perched right on top of a couple scoops of bourbon ice cream. A great mixture of crunchy and creamy, you’re going to need something sweet and cold after having all that chicken. At least, I did.

Jailbird Hot Chicken

Before I send you on your way out to Clifton, Virginia, I must warn you, to say it’s in the D.C. area is most definitely a stretch. In order to get from my home in NE D.C. to Trummer’s, I had to battle two hours of grueling D.C. / Virginia traffic. Considering it was my first visit (and I had been wanting to go for ages), plus I had the chance to try hot chicken for the very first time, I thought it was worth it, but it might not be for you. However, if you can get someone else to drive while you nap, I recommend getting yourself to Trummer’s before the popup is over. Where else are you going to find hot chicken in this place?

The Jailbird Chicken popup will be at Trummer’s on Main Tuesday – Thursday, 5:30pm to 9pm from April 5 until May 26.

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