Eugene’s hot chicken summer is on.
For years, Eugene didn’t have a place dedicated to Nashville hot chicken, which, simply put, is fried chicken with a cayenne pepper paste applied sometime during preparation. But now, with the Dave’s Hot Chicken national chain opening an eatery July 8 near the University of Oregon campus, Eugene has three restaurants focused on the food, as well as various restaurants throughout town selling it.
The company invited Eugene Weekly for a media preview day and to get a taste of Dave’s Hot Chicken two days before its grand opening. EW sent its resident fried and rotisserie chicken correspondent to try the chain’s newest location, coincidentally on National Fried Chicken Day.
According to its website, Dave’s started as a tiny stand in East Hollywood. The chain now has more than 70 locations, in Canada and U.S. states such as California, Nevada and Illinois.
The Eugene location is its third Oregon store, but it has a lot to compete against with two locally owned restaurants in town already dedicated to hot chicken — My Soul Hot Chicken in the Whiteaker and Pyre Nashville Hot Chicken off River Road and Thomason Lane.
Located inside the former Starbucks on 11th and Alder, Dave’s interior is decorated with bright graffiti-like art with some local references, including two Greek columns (likely a reference to Animal House’s toga party) and an Oregon Duck. And with skylights, the dining room brings in a ton of light, which will be useful for those typical gray days.
The restaurant’s starkness does make it appear like a fast food restaurant, but don’t write it off as just another chain coming to Eugene. The food is of a higher quality than what you’d find in most fast food joints.
Similar to the California-based burger phenomenon In ‘n’ Out, Dave’s keeps its menu simple. One option is two fried chicken tenders on top of white bread with a side of pickles. The other option is two fried chicken sliders, filled with coleslaw and pickles and a special spicy sauce that’s mayonnaise-based. And there’s a third option of one of each.
The hot chicken tender is a way to taste the spice blend and to appreciate how juicy the meat is. But the restaurant’s slider is where it excels. Every bite of the slider has a crunch, from the kale slaw and the breading of the tender inside the fluffy bun.
As far as the spice level goes for Dave’s, if you’re a spicy food lover, consider ordering a spice higher than you’d think you need. Dave’s spice spectrum runs from none to reaper pepper. I ordered mine as hot, and it felt like eating a mild bag of Hot Cheetos, so next time, I’ll go with extra hot, the penultimate spice level.
Whether it’s tenders or the slides, hot chicken is the main character at Dave’s. The restaurant’s french fries may be loved by those who don’t mind crinkle cut, but it isn’t going to be stealing the show from the hot chicken, even if there’s some seasoning salt. Of course, the restaurant does have Louisiana Hot Sauce available, so that can breathe some life into the fries.
Although Dave’s is entering a market where there are two restaurants specializing in hot chicken and other restaurants adding it to menus, being located near the UO means it probably won’t take any customers away from the local places. It’s in a place that’s most accessible for students who may not have transportation means to make a trip out of the UO bubble an easy venture.
And Dave’s new location will be a boon for spicy food lovers, meaning Eugene could become more comfortable with hot food. So let Eugene’s hot chicken summer begin.
Dave’s Hot Chicken is at 1285 Alder Street. Opening Friday, July 8, its hours are 11 am to 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11 am to midnight Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit DavesHotChicken.com