A spiked sushi roll.
The hottest chicken in Nashville.
A flight of buffalo wings, each spicy slightly hotter than the last.
And level 20 spicy Indian cuisine.
Meet four of Fort Collins’ spiciest dishes.
And a challenge carried out over four consecutive lunches. (Disclaimer: Even if you like spicy foods, I wouldn’t recommend trying them back to back.)
I’ve always been a fan of spicy food and usually order a “4 out of 5” in restaurants with this basic heat level scale. Still, as a native of the Midwest, I wasn’t sure I could handle the higher levels of a Western state.
Pepto-Bismol certainly made the week possible. And, as a person who wears contact lenses, I had to be especially careful with my hands; any lingering heat burns your eyes.
It was a man-for-food challenge that I’m proud to have conquered – especially after learning each class regularly brings tears to the eyes of the cooks who prepare them.
Day 1: Hot chicken “Flammable solid”
Music City Hot Chicken staff are trained to dissuade you from ordering the restaurant’s hottest spices. Still, the Carolina Reaper, Scotch bonnet, and Ghost Pepper mix is ordered daily.
“Everyone is affected by heat a little differently,” said Jordan Graf, who co-founded 111 W. Prospect Road restaurant with his brother Sam.
“We have seen people change color. We see people visibly uncomfortable. This is the reaction we wanted.
Music City opened in April and added “Flammable Solid” in June after a few spice fanatics called for more heat.
Sides of pickles and coleslaw are recommended with your order. I also used almost all of the ranch dressing pieces that came with my meal.
You can order chicken quarters, halves, strips or wings at Music City. Like other Nashville-style offerings, brown sugar is used to add contrasting sweet flavors. But the flammable solid spice goes with you long after you leave the restaurant, even if you’ve chosen the chicken breast wedge with less spice surface.
Day 2: Sushi roulette with spicy tuna
Spicy tuna sushi rolls are arranged in a question mark at Suehiro Japanese restaurant.
One of the nine pieces is enriched with a mixture of Carolina Reaper, Ghost, and Habanero chili paste – but you don’t know which one.
“We carefully pick up the fish and put our hot sauce in the roll,” said Matt Hawkinson, a sushi chef at 4431 Corbett Drive restaurant in Front Range Village. “Then we add Sriracha to a few songs to confuse people.”
The roll is usually ordered by groups of friends and families. It’s the sushi version of Russian roulette and lets you analyze every bite.
Then: Bingo! The heat finally reaches the tip of your tongue.
Lucky for me, I still had other pieces of sushi left to help soak up some of the heat. Some customers request more than one spike piece; a recent client had anything but a prank prank on his friends.
Day 3: A secret hot sauce
When you look at the Jim’s Wings menu, it looks like RamHot Habanero Pepper Sauce is the spiciest flavor available. But seasoned heat lovers know there’s a ghost pepper sauce you can order on the side topping it.
“Ghost pepper sauce smokes,” restaurant founder Jim Dunn said after trying the wings with me.
I used all of my blue cheese dressing trying to tone it down.
Dunn opened 1205 W. Elizabeth St. Campus West restaurant in 1991 with the spiciest flavor. There are now four more spicy sauces.
I was able to taste a flight of wings to discover the spicy range of each sauce.
“People can certainly handle a lot more spices today,” Dunn said. “I have seen him with a lot of clients and my own children. First it was sweet, then teriyaki and now it’s hot.
Jim’s Wings is gearing up for his busiest time of the year: the NFL season. The restaurant’s general manager, Robert McDougal, arrives on NFL Sunday at 6 a.m. – about two hours earlier than usual – to begin preparing the wings. Advance ordering for NFL games is strongly encouraged.
Day 4: Indian cuisine level 20
Star of India employees have to pass a spicy initiation. New staff members are invited to taste a dollop of the restaurant’s level 20 (out of 20) ghost pepper sauce.
“You pass that test to be part of the family here,” said Lavie Jaura, manager of Indian-style 2900 Harvard St. Punjabi restaurant. “Plus, they know what they are serving customers.”
With 20 different heat levels, there is a range for everyone at Star of India. But the most authentic way to eat the food is to spice it up with the spices imported from the restaurant.
Ghost Pepper Sauce is only ordered once out of around 100 customers. But when it does, staff should make sure to soak dirty dishes in cold water before sending them to the dishwasher.
“Otherwise the whole kitchen is smoky and everyone is coughing,” Jaura said.
You can try ghost pepper sauce with any dish. I had it with a dish of vindaloo loaded with potatoes.
And luckily, I was able to chase away my bites with a Lassi mango smoothie. The waiters are also given a glass of yoghurt drink to quench the burn during their initiation.
Taj Mahal (148 W. Oak St.) and Bawarchi Biryani Point (1611 S. College Ave.) are other Indian-themed restaurants in town that aren’t afraid to spice up either.
Follow Jake Laxen on Twitter and Instagram @jacoblaxen.