Every dish comes with a story at Mae, a pop-up held inside Dame on Mondays and Tuesdays when the Northeast Killingsworth Street restaurant is closed. Chef Maya Lovelace hand-delivers each family-style bowl and platter to tables, pausing to share a sugary, Southern-tinged tale about the food and its origins. Named in honor of her grandmother, Mae is less of a supper club and more like a church picnic on a wilty afternoon below the Mason-Dixon Line. Dishes are passed in a circle and then again and again for seconds and thirds. Every single person in attendance hangs on Lovelace's prose that's as downhome and charming as her cooking.
The cornbread arrives first but doesn't bear much resemblance to the neatly cut golden squares you're probably used to. Mae's version is straight out of southern Appalachia, where there's no flour or sugar in the recipe. Though breadstick-shaped, it's just as pillowy as you'd hope and served with sorghum butter, maple syrupy and seductive.
While kale and baby spinach may be posh salad greens, Lovelace prefers the no-frills iceberg variety. And eaten on a sweltering day in her home state of North Carolina, the reasoning makes sense: "It's juicy, crispy and refreshing," she explains. Really, though, you could coat grass clippings in Mae's buttermilk vinaigrette—an herbaceous, peppery classed-up take on ranch. But before we got too highfalutin about the dressing, the next dish's use of crumbled potato chip garnish brought us back down to Lovelace's roots. Her tangy pimento mac and cheese was nearly gone after just one lap around the table.
By the time the fried chicken was about to be served, I wondered if any of us would have room until eyes widened with excitement as a heaping pile of deep brown meat got closer. The limbs are buttermilk brined and varnished in three fats, creating perfectly crisp skin and flesh so impossibly juicy, I could've sworn my great aunt Mabel—who perfected fried chicken by feeding railroaders at a whistle stop in Nebraska—had been reincarnated as Lovelace.
When the dinner came to a close, my tablemates tiptoed around the divvying-up of leftovers. This is not the time for Southern politeness. Claim your chicken leg quickly or risk leaving empty-handed.
Pro tip: Lovelace recently got a permit to proceed with construction on what will be a permanent home for her food. Until Yonder opens, sign up for Mae's email alerts and be ready to pounce. Tickets sell out in less than an hour.
GO: 2930 NE Killingsworth St., maepdx.com, 6 and 8:30 pm seatings Mondays and Tuesdays