In the last year, fast-casual restaurateur Micah Camden — the man behind breakout hits like Super Deluxe and Little Bean — has eaten a lot of chicken. He’s made pilgrimages to Howlin’ Ray’s in Los Angeles and Hattie B’s in Nashville, stomped around Savannah and New York and Philly eating his weight in poultry. He ate it hot, and fried, and in gravy and with dumplings. He evaluated the crust on the fry, the juiciness of the bird, the quality of the sides. And now, a year later, he’s ready to do it for himself.
Bae’s Chicken, a downtown chicken shack slated to open November 6, is Camden’s new partnership with Ndamukong Suh, a Portland-born football player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Suh approached Camden about opening a chicken restaurant, so Camden decided to take Morgan Brownlow, formerly of Clarklewis, around the country to built a menu together.
The result: Fried Organic Aurora Valley Farms chickens, available golden brown or hot, served alongside sides like creamy-tangy mashed potatoes with rich mushroom gravy, mac and cheese with slices of black truffle, and an arguably controversial side of greens made with broccoli rabe and Swiss chard.
Camden knows what you’re thinking: This isn’t his first fried chicken place. Back in 2015, Camden and his then-partner Katie Poppe closed a fried chicken shop on Southeast Division called Son of a Biscuit. It was the “runt of the litter” in his words, but he also knows it wasn’t the best he could do. “Son of a Biscuit was all ego for me. I wasn’t really thinking about how it’d contribute. I didn’t spend a year researching,” he says. “I knew the optics would be on this. This is, straight up, ‘What does the industry expect, how can I be better, or how do I be different?’”
No one could argue that Camden was hasty with this one. Each component of the chicken has been thought through, both for its taste and its efficiency: Camden fries in peanut oil, for consistency, but also uses a fleet of fryers that self-clean every 10 minutes, to reduce oil costs and keep the flavor from getting stale. He skips the buttermilk and sticks to an Old-Bay-egg-white-and-flour dredge; that means the chicken can cook without burning the crust and requires less oil to fry.
The birds themselves, however, remain juicy and flavorful, especially the hot, which gets dunked in the classic chile-spiked oil and rolled in a spice blend out of the fryer. “I didn’t want to do a ‘novelty hot,’” Camden says. “It’s a nice, round spice.” Of the 26 spices in the blend, Camden uses three different varieties of paprika, two cayennes, and a vinegar powder, giving it a flavor akin to Shin ramyun packets. Chicken comes in various bone-in combinations, in strips, on yeasted waffles (drenched in a Hennessy syrup), and even grilled on salads and sandwiches.
Because Camden focused so heavily on cost-effectiveness, the price point remains pretty low: A whole bird clocks in at $28, less than $10 over what someone would get at Popeyes. Plus, it’s fast — Camden says he can get birds delivered to most parts of Portland proper in about 45 minutes, even during peak hours.
The space itself, in the former Ash Street Saloon, pulls heavily from restaurants Camden encountered while traveling in the South. “I’m not claiming to be a Southern restaurant. I don’t want to appropriate that food,” Camden says. “But Southern design is all about taking an antiquated building and letting its history shine through, but also giving it a polish. Not bougie, not staunch.” He let the building’s brick walls and intricate wood floors stay, adding touches like mounted shelves of pickles, white walls, and green booths — not to mention an eye-catching pineapple wallpaper. “I got so much shit for picking this wallpaper,” Camden says. “But when I was in the South, you know what was everywhere? Pineapples.”
The most noteworthy design element in the restaurant is likely Lily Batman, a large framed photo of a chicken in the restaurant’s main room. The team rented the chicken for $150 dollars, building a set and chasing her down when she made a run for it. The daughters of his partner at Little Bean were in charge of the name — something silly but somehow still stately. Customers can see it for themselves on Saturday, when the restaurant gives away 1,000 fried chicken sandwiches starting at noon. Explore the space, located at 225 SW Ash Street, and the menu below.
Updated Nov. 4, 2019, at 11:11 a.m.
This story has been updated based on information from a former employee at Ash Street Saloon, who says the wooden floors were installed in the ‘90s, as opposed to being the building’s original floors. We have yet to hear from the Ash Street Saloon owner.
• Bae’s menu [Official]
• The Man Behind Super Deluxe Will Open a Chicken Shack With a Pro Football Player [EPDX]
• Previous Little Bean coverage [EPDX]
• Previous Super Deluxe coverage [EPDX]