Restaurant Review: Son of a Biscuit

THEIR CHICKEN: Son of a Biscuit stops well short of Nashville heat.

Micah Camden doesn't lack confidence. Coming off the excellent Boxer Ramen, the restaurateur of Little Big Burger and Blue Star Donuts fame was bullish about Son of a Biscuit, his new fried-chicken joint in a former Pizzicato on Southeast Division Street.

"It's going to be the shit," Camden told Portland Monthly. "You don't know how many times I got off shift at Yakuza and just ate bags of Popeyes. Now, I'm going after Popeyes the same way I went after Burgerville."

Does Biscuit best Popeyes? Sure. What about Portland's best fried chicken, three blocks east at Reel M Inn? Biscuit wins only on convenience—it takes 30 minutes to get Portland's standard-setter at a dive bar compared to 10 at Biscuit. How does Biscuit stack up against the Nashville hot-chicken joints Camden claims as inspiration? So far, it's not close.

Biscuit's build-out is what we've come to expect from Camden: sparse, bright, with cans of Rainier and Fort George 1811 stacked behind the register. There's a bar with metal stools, a high-gloss floor and three spigots with boozeless beverages, including an excellent tarragon sweet tea.

But, authenticity-wise, Biscuit's "Nashville-style hot chicken" is the equivalent of "New York-style pizza" at an East Tennessee gas station. After it's out of the fryer, Nashville buttermilk-dredged birds are slathered in a paste of lard, cayenne and other spices. The "medium" at Hattie B's had me gushing sweat, and nauseated one of my dining companions. On the other hand, I pleaded for "extra-hot" on my third visit to Son of a Biscuit, and got Popeyes spiciness, slightly milder than the hot chicken served at the Cackalack's truck on Southeast Belmont Street. I'm not sure real Nashville birds would fly in Portland, but this isn't a sincere attempt.

Biscuit's chicken—available as two pieces of white for $9.50, two pieces of dark for $8.50, a half-bird for $12.50 or a whole for $24—is otherwise pretty good. The breading is always golden and crispy, but the blend of 24 spices is a little salt-forward for my taste. The breasts have all been big and juicy, though I've had one thigh that was distressingly red in the middle. White bread, a plop of ranch dressing and sliced pickles are a nice touch, even if the bread doesn't have much pepper gravy to sop up.

The biscuits are usually great: plump and buttery, with dense flesh and a crusty skin, although I did have one bad batch that tasted like spilled baking soda.

The other sides ($3 each, one included with two-piece plates and the half-bird, two included with the whole bird) are solid if unremarkable. They're always packaged in plastic to-go containers—very Southern, not in the good way. But the mac and cheese is wonderful, thick elbows made sticky with sharp cheeses, beer and Worcestershire sauce. The fries come from Little Big Burger, but here they are dipped in Cajun spices instead of truffle oil. A biscuit topped with banana pudding, whipped cream and a little fruit is a nice little dessert, especially for $3.

Popeyes, indeed, might be in trouble thanks to Son of a Biscuit. Still, now that fried chicken is becoming the new bacon, someone in Portland should aim for a Nashville hit.

EAT: Son of a Biscuit, 2045 SE Division St., 971-888-5933, 11:30 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday.

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