Chicken and waffles at Joella's. Photos by Kevin Gibson.
Chicken and waffles at Joella’s | Photos by Kevin Gibson

Well, my suspicions were confirmed: Joella’s Hot Chicken is delicious.

As soon as I heard Tony Palombino, founder of the popular BoomBozz Pizza restaurants, was about to bring a Nashville-style hot chicken concept to his original BoomBozz location on Frankfort Avenue, I thought, “Palombino is going to do this the right way.”

Based on a first visit, he certainly did.

The space is perfectly conceived as a faux country store, with adornments such as old license plates, neo-throwback Pepsi coolers, old saws and throwback signage. Wood floors and wood trim meet a dark orange color theme that vaguely evokes the deep red color of the spicy chicken that is served in shallow metal buckets.

Joella Borlan fountain
The soda machine, featuring drinks made with real sugar cane.

Note that there are Pepsi coolers — Joella’s also has a soda fountain, but it features Boylan soft drinks, which are made of sugar cane rather than the high fructose corn poison used in most soft drinks. Eight flavors on tap include Cane Cola, Birch Beer, Lemon Lime, Cherry, Root Beer and more. (Yes, there’s a diet option, too.)

I have to say that’s an impressive touch — and that was before I even got my first taste of the food.

At Joella’s, you order at the counter from a huge menu board. The POS system was behaving erratically the day I was there, making the ordering process lengthy and cumbersome, but the staff was doing its best to push things through. (It was only a week in, so I wasn’t going to lose my patience while they were still learning a new computer system.)

Once you order from options such as quarter chickens (white or dark), half chickens, jumbo tenders, whole wings, and chicken and waffles, you pick spice levels ranging from Southern (traditional fried chicken) to Spiked Honey, Ella’s Fave, Hot and Fire in the Hole, and then choose from an array of sides: fries (plain or garlic), red skin potato salad, sweet vinegar slaw, green beans, mac and cheese, and others.

Chicken tenders that bite back.
Chicken tenders that bite back

I opted to keep it simple, so I went for the tenders with Hot spice, with sides of fries and something called kale crunch salad. My lunch companion Russ wasted no time in ordering chicken tenders and waffles, and he braved Fire in the Hole.

The food delivery was quick, which was a nice surprise given the ordering issues. As noted, the chicken comes in a metal bucket lined with red-and-white-checkered wax paper. My chicken was topped with a single pickle slice and was resting on a single slice of white bread. My sides came separate.

One bite into the chicken, I knew I’d struck gold. Hey, I love chicken and I love spicy food — Joella’s takes a trick from Nashville tradition to marry both while providing a bit of extra flavor and some pretty cool side dish options. The kale salad was lightly sweet from a citrus-based dressing, with sliced pecans and cranberries mixed into crisp, chopped kale leaves. The natural cut thin fries were seasoned, solid and plentiful (I didn’t come close to finishing them all).

But the chicken and the spice take center stage at Joella’s, and my chicken tenders were ample and fresh, perfectly cooked and flavorful. I was glad I chose Hot as my heat level, because it lit me up nicely with a lingering burn and a deep, delicious, multi-pepper flavor. I did get a slight case of the sweats, and my nose did run.

Joella interiorRuss wasn’t so lucky — he actually had to take a moment to compose himself. His eyes watered. I asked him if his chicken was “lighting him up,” and he said, “Yes, in a good way.”

He wiped his forehead and said, “I haven’t had something this hot in a long time. And I work in a Thai restaurant.”

Well, the slogan at Joella’s is “The bird that bites back.” We both found that to be true.

Entrees at Joella’s start at $8.50 (chicken and waffles, quarter dark meat) and top out at $12 for a half chicken, which includes two sides. Kids meals are $4.99, and dessert options include Nutella poppers, banana pudding and ice cream floats. In addition to the Boylan sodas, there’s fresh lemonade and iced tea, and if you simply must have a major brand soda, there are bottled Pepsi products available. (Very soon, Joella’s also will serve beer.)

Joella’s Hot Chicken is located at 3400 Frankfort Ave. Check out their Facebook page for the latest specials.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Email Kevin at [email protected]