Carla Hall Tells All About Her Upcoming Hot Chicken Spot in Brooklyn

Carla Hall cooking hot chicken. Photo via Carla Hall's Instagram

While Bravo’s reality cooking competition show, Top Chef, has absolutely provided a leg up to its winners, it’s consistently done even bigger and better things for the careers of its runners up. That’s certainly been the case with Carla Hall, whose ebullient personality (hootie hoo!) and considerable culinary skills (she won Jacques Pepin’s heart with a plate of peas) has catapulted her from DC-based catering chef to Mario Batali’s co-star, on ABC’s lifestyle program The Chew.

And now, like Top Chef-alum Dale Talde before her, Hall is readying to open her very first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Brooklyn. Located in the former Whiskey Soda Lounge space in the Columbia Waterfront District, Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen will draw on the chef’s Nashville roots, with plates of hot chicken and bottles of strawberry-jalapeño pop from the small-batch Pure Sodaworks in Chattanooga.  “My baked goods and cookies will be here as well, but the superstars of the show are actually the sides,” says Hall. “Some mac and cheese, some coleslaw, some hot water corn bread, a sweet potato cobbler bar—sorry, just was caught dreaming—did I mention I am currently hungry?”

We spoke to the rising star about why her kitchen will be entirely nut-free, the outpost already planned for the Barclay’s Center, and why she chose to seek funding for her project on Kickstarter.

So tell us everything there is to know about Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen—from concept to menu to decor!
Wow…. where to begin? This is my love letter to Nashville. I grew up in Nashville and my family still lives there. The restaurant and food is a celebration of the Sunday suppers my family had at Grandma’s—lots of seasonal food all passed to the left. We want people to have a slow moment. Our food is served fast but it is cooked slow with a whole bunch of love.

It’s my grandma’s food with my twist of lightness to the dishes. All our sides are vegetarian but all the flavor is left in. We are not a health food restaurant but we want people to come for the tasty sides as much as the chicken, which will also be served oven baked. Our kitchen will be nut free because my partner’s daughter is allergic to nuts and we want her to eat here all the time; she adds to the cuteness of the decor. Hey Sammy! (Had to shout out Sammy D!)

Speaking of decor. We are working with the ultra talented design firm AvroKO. They have made the design light, rustic, homey, and comfortable. I could see this chicken joint in Nashville as much as I see it in Brooklyn. We will be an elegant quick serve. No servers but we will bring the food to you if you take a seat at our communal tables, or you are welcome to bring it home and have an apartment picnic. We’ll be offering catering and delivery so you don’t even need to stop by—but what’s the fun in that? Come by and say hello to me.

Also, we’ll have a few cocktail, beer and wine offerings as well, along with delicious lemonade and iced tea. We are even importing some small batch soda from Pure Sodaworks in Chattanooga, Tennessee (think apple pie and strawberry-jalapeño sodas) and our coffee is coming from Nashville’s best coffee roaster, Crema coffee. You can only get these sodas and coffee at our restaurant in NYC. We want to create something very special in the neighborhood and we are looking forward to being here for a very long time!

What brought you to Brooklyn and especially, the Columbia Waterfront District, which is one of our more out-of-the-way neighborhoods, to say the least?
My partner Evan Darnell, a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey via New Orleans, found it through Keith Durst, our restaurant yoda/real estate guru.

Evan called me and told me I had to go see this amazing area of Brooklyn and restaurant on Columbia Street ASAP. After visiting Columbia Street and the waterfront area, I can truly say Brooklyn picked us as much as we picked it.

Yes, it is out of the way compared to other parts of the city but that is what makes it great. It is a true neighborhood. It has incredible small businesses, families that have been there for generations, and our immediate neighbor Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, is a culinary genius. He put the neighborhood on the map, and we hope to add some Southern tastiness to the corner of Kane and Columbia.

Plus, the rents in Manhattan are out of control… OUT OF CONTROL.

And what made you decide to pursue funding through Kickstarter, especially considering you’re already a proven “brand” with plenty of name recognition?
Name recognition, yes; money in the bank to open a restaurant, no. Kickstarter gave us an opportunity to reach out to the people who put me in the position where I am today… my fans! I have been super blessed with amazing fans and friends. I am opening this restaurant to share my cooking with them. This restaurant is for them as much as it is for me and my partner. My favorite part of Kickstarter is the founders wall we had created as a reward. Over 1000 people will be on the founders wall and this founders wall will be in every restaurant Evan and I open. The founders believed in this restaurant from day one and they will be celebrated forever.

Can I get a hooray for the founders? Hooray!!!!!

Nashville hot chicken is on track to trend big time in NYC, buoyed by your impending opening. To what do you owe the sudden interest, and why should we all get excited about a glut of Nashville hot chicken?
First, Nashville hot chicken is delicious… and delicious never goes in or out of trend. Why the sudden interest? Maybe because Nashville is everywhere on TV, there’s a gold mine of creative culinary talent down there, and the people that live there love living there. The country is noticing that Nashville is a great city and hot chicken’s popularity in Nashville is on fire (see what I did there? laughts). It is now the signature dish of Nashville.

But back to the chicken, as chef Sean Brock said, “It has ruined regular fried chicken for me. I eat fried chicken now, and I’m bored.” And my partner Evan once told me that it takes a local to bring Nashville national!

Are you still planning on adding a retail component to your restaurant, and if so, what will you sell?
Yes! Freddie Mae’s General provisions (named after my grandmother) will feature some of my favorite goods from Nashville and the south. Companies like Goo Goo Clusters, Mr. Dale’s Mustard Slaw, Nashville Jam Company, Crema coffee, Olive Sinclair chocolates and many other amazing companies will be represented. We are working with Courtney Webb, the owner of Hey Rooster in Nashville to curate this exciting part of our business.

You’ve already planned an outpost for the Barclays Center. How will this differ from your Columbia Waterfront District spot?
This is going to feature crispy chicken sandwiches done two ways—Nashville hot and southern-style grilled chicken sandwiches with white bbq sauce, and chicken tenders with signature dipping sauces. Currently, we will not feature sandwiches on Columbia Street, but in the future we may have to, because there is something so delicious about a good chicken sandwich!
115 Columbia Street, Columbia Waterfront District

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