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Chef Nick Graves makes his hot chicken sandwich with charred-onion ranch, kale kimchi and "Devil Dust."EXPAND
Chef Nick Graves makes his hot chicken sandwich with charred-onion ranch, kale kimchi and "Devil Dust."
Mark Antonation

Lea Jane's Will Heat Up Avanti Beginning Monday, February 17

Southern food tastes best when made by Southern cooks. Chef Nick Graves just moved to Denver from South Carolina, where he was born — and where he's been cooking professionally for years. Graves is ready to unveil his new counter-service eatery, Lea Jane's Hot Chicken, at Avanti Food & Beverage on Monday, February 17.

The menu at Lea Jane's uses fried chicken as the main building blocks; you'll find it in everything from fried chicken on the bone to deviled eggs built with a layer of fried chicken salad. But you'll also find chicken in non-fried form, including in a ground chicken burger, a chicken salad sandwich, and a chicken cheesesteak served with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, Cheez Whiz sauce and tobacco onions, a classic Southern preparation made by soaking red and white onions in hot sauce and buttermilk before breading and frying them.

Fried chicken with cole slaw and macaroni and cheese.EXPAND
Fried chicken with cole slaw and macaroni and cheese.
Mark Antonation

Graves studied Nashville's famous hot chicken at Prince's (the originator of the style) and other eateries in the city and came up with his own recipe based on tried-and-true techniques. "Everything's already been done, so we're not trying to reinvent the wheel," the chef explains.

Standard recipes call for mixing lard, cayenne pepper and other seasonings to slather on the chicken, but Graves uses a five-fat blend that includes lard, butter and rendered country ham fat (he buys country ham scraps just for this purpose). The chicken itself undergoes a three-day process of brining, seasoning and battering before it's fried to order; you can choose from four heat levels: Southern, medium, hot and clucking hot. For a real feast, go with the Zero Clucks Baller Bucket: ten pieces of fried chicken with four sauces, two sides, two biscuit and two sweet teas. For a more adult combo, Avanti beverage director Christopher Stotts suggests pairing the bucket with Veuve Clicquot champagne (though the Melvin IPA works well, too).

The chicken and the egg come together with Lea Jane's deviled eggs.EXPAND
The chicken and the egg come together with Lea Jane's deviled eggs.
Mark Antonation

Lea Jane's chicken cheesesteak sandwich with a splash of bubbly.EXPAND
Lea Jane's chicken cheesesteak sandwich with a splash of bubbly.
Mark Antonation

The fries at Lea Jane's also veer from the standard. They're wedge-style fries, but they're cut into a V shape that removes some of the bulk from the wedge and adds more crispy surface area. Call them the Gibson Flying V of the potato world. Other sides include creamy mac and cheese, an even creamier cole slaw and down-home collard greens that Graves is especially proud of. "I'm just going to put as much heart and soul into it as I can," he notes.

Graves also says he's planning to introduce more Southern dishes, such as rice and beans and hoppin' John, as specials, and that weekend brunch items will include a couple of limited-edition treats like chicken and waffles (served as a sandwich with bacon, smoked cheddar and a fried egg) and a chicken and biscuit sandwich.

Beginning Monday, come by Avanti and follow the aroma of fried chicken to the second floor for a taste of Lea Jane's from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Visit the Avanti F&B website for more details.

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