Micah Camden is the Lex Luthor of the Portland food scene.
Strident commercialism is the name of the game for the local restaurateur, but even the haters can't deny that his portfolio of fast-casual eateries—stretching from Little Big Burger to Blue Star Donuts to Super Deluxe—is highly impressive.
But the expansion of his empire hasn't come without failures.
In 2016, Camden pulled the plug on Son of a Biscuit, a fried chicken-and-biscuits concept he co-founded with business partner Katie Poppe just two years earlier. It's unclear what went wrong, given that it occupied a busy corner of red-hot Southeast Division Street. But it must've stuck with him, because four years later, Camden is giving chicken another shot, this time in an even more central location.
Rather than revive Son of a Biscuit, Camden has created something entirely new with Baes Fried Chicken, an expansive counter-service spot inside former Old Town punk bar Ash Street Saloon. He's ditched the biscuits, teamed up with former Clarklewis chef Morgan Brownlow—and Portland-born NFL star Ndamukong Suh, who has an ownership stake in the business—and created a well-oiled behemoth that doles out fresh, juicy fried birds with ruthless efficiency and alarming consistency.
The menu is generous but not so overloaded with options that first-timers are paralyzed by the process of ordering. Prices are respectable (ranging from $8 for two-piece dark meat to a whole bird for $32), the sides are familiar, and there are a chicken sandwich ($10) and three-piece tenders meal ($10) for easier eating. It's also fast: On each visit, our not-insignificant orders arrived at the table within about five minutes each time, even during the lunch rush.
None of that would matter, of course, if the chicken arrived dry and underseasoned. But that's where Baes really knocks it out of the park. The hot chicken, in particular, is destined to be the subject of citywide hype. The level of heat is tolerable for most, preserving the smoky, peppery flavor without scorching taste buds. Add a side of ranch (50 cents) for dipping and you're in comfort food heaven.
With the exception of the "kitchen greens," which swap traditional collards for bland kale, the small menu of sides checks all the necessary boxes. The waffle fries are some of the best in town, perfectly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. The sauces are cheap enough that you may as well add one of each—try Spicy Peach (50 cents) for the regular chicken and paprika-laden Comeback Sauce (50 cents) for the fries.
Baes makes the case that not everything shiny and new and efficient automatically sucks, a concept Camden has built his career on, and it's almost certain he has blueprints for three more locations lying around somewhere at this very moment. And that's a good thing—the chicken is great, and the more diners have access the more they'll probably agree.
EAT: Baes Fried Chicken, 225 SW Ash St., baeschicken.com. 11 am-11 pm Monday-Saturday, 11 am-9 pm Sunday.