Food News

Avanti Attracts Southern Chef and His Hot Chicken

Hot chicken and other Southern fare will soon be landing at Avanti Food & Beverage.
Hot chicken and other Southern fare will soon be landing at Avanti Food & Beverage. Courtesy Avanti Food & Beverage
Have we hit peak chicken sandwich in Denver? The Nashville hot chicken sandwich craze swept through the city a few years ago, and now almost every chicken fryer in town offers a version of the super-spicy (and sometimes super-messy) bird. But consider that the inventor of the dish, Prince's Hot Chicken, is still going strong after nearly a century in Nashville, and it's not hard to envision hot chicken becoming as ensconced in the fast-food lexicon as burgers and fries.

Someone who knows Southern food like the back of his cast-iron pan will soon be slinging hot chicken at Avanti Food & Beverage, at 3200 Pecos Street. Chef Nick Graves, born in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, will open Lea Jane's Hot Chicken in mid-February. Graves, who worked at Sean Brock's Husk in Nashville and Commander's Palace in New Orleans before becoming executive chef at Restaurant 17 in Greenville, South Carolina, explains that hot chicken is an even more addictive offshoot of typical Southern fried chicken.

"For me, fried chicken was just something we had for Sunday supper," the chef recalls. "But the first time I had hot chicken while working for Sean Brock, he said that once you try it, you'll never go back to regular fried chicken."

click to enlarge Chef Nick Graves is bringing his style of Southern cooking to Denver. - COURTESY OF LEA JANE'S/AVANTI F & B
Chef Nick Graves is bringing his style of Southern cooking to Denver.
Courtesy of Lea Jane's/Avanti F & B
Graves is well aware that the style has become nearly ubiquitous even beyond its home region; even KFC has a version, he points out. "But it's not just hot sauce on fried chicken," he notes. "There's a whole process behind it that I want to get out there."


The chef is in the process of moving to Denver from South Carolina to open Lea Jane's (which is named after his business partner's wife), and he hopes to eventually move beyond the incubator-style food hall, which he feels is a great starting place for getting to know Denver and its food preferences. "First I have to get the respect of the people around me and earn the support of the community," he states.

Fried chicken sandwiches were a huge hit at Avanti last summer, when Chicken Rebel set up shop for four months before opening its own restaurant at 3618 Tejon Street. Lea Jane's will offer sandwiches and more from the second-floor spot at Avanti most recently occupied by QuickFish Poke. The Nashville Hot Chicken & Zero Clucks Baller Bucket will offer ten pieces of fried chicken, plus a choice of dipping sauces (including Alabama white and smoked green chile), sides and biscuits. Other temptations will include fried chicken deviled eggs, a chicken cheesesteak sandwich and a weekend-only Chicken & Waffle Sammie.

Graves says to expect other surprises, too, but he doesn't want to give too much away. Sounds like a pretty hot deal for Denver.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation