Growing up in rural Tennessee, family meals were a huge part of Dominic Finzo’s upbringing. When he got home from school, he would join his grandmother in the kitchen, peeling potatoes or learning how to make biscuits, while fried chicken was a staple of the dining room table a few times a week. “Looking back at it, I can see how special it was and how fortunate I was to be able to do that with her rather than sitting in front of video games or something,” Finzo says.
After spending the last year helming the kitchen at Mediterranean restaurant and bar Culture on SE Hawthorne, he says that he’s ready to bring the cooking from his childhood to Portland. Called Reckon, the new restaurant will operate out of the Culture space to start — Cameron McNulty, the director of operations for and co-owner of Culture is also part of the team — offering takeout and delivery only when it opens on July 29. The menu will include those buttermilk biscuits, hot slaw, cornbread, and, of course, fried chicken.
The biscuits are made with a brand of flour that Finzo says he’s bringing up from the South but cheekily refuses to name, while the cornbread is prepared in cast iron skillets — including some that belonged to his grandmother. Kool Aid pickles, a popular snack that originated from the Mississippi Delta, will also be on the menu. For the fried chicken, Finzo and his team are buttermilk brining the birds for 24 hours, then dredging them in the same flour as the biscuits. It’s then spiced three times, according to Finzo.
Reckon will offer a classic “meat and three” set up — a couple pieces of chicken with three sides; a half-bird with sides — along with eight-piece “fryer” meals, and what Finzo calls the “Whole Kit n Caboodle,” which comes with a whole bird, one of every side, four biscuits, and a gallon of sweet tea, made the same way Finzo’s grandmother made it and served in a plastic gallon jug.
Reckon arrives at a fraught moment in Portland. Not only does the pandemic continue to weigh on the city’s health and economy, while ongoing Black Lives Matter protests — and the government’s violent attempts to suppress them — enter their second month, the local restaurant scene continues to wrestle with its in own role in racial injustice, from allegations of racist behavior in acclaimed kitchens to questions of cultural appropriation.
Just weeks ago, Maya Lovelace, one of Portland’s well-known chefs, celebrated for her fried chicken restaurant Yonder, prompted a citywide conversation about toxicity, racism, and sexism within the restaurant industry through a series of Instagram stories from restaurant workers. During the flurry of resulting news coverage, she was criticized by a former employee who told the Oregonian that he felt that “Black culture [wasn’t] ever really celebrated in [Yonder],” and that she didn’t highlight the importance of Black history in Southern cooking as much as she should have. While Lovelace, a white chef from the South, categorized the criticism as being “fair,” she also pointed to the fact that white, male chefs in Portland cooking Southern food rarely received the same expectation to have an understanding of the history of Southern cooking.
Finzo, who is mixed race, says that opening a Southern restaurant with an emphasis on fried chicken is just a matter of cooking what he always has, and what he grew up eating with his family. “To me it’s what I grew up on, and what brought my family together at the end of the day,” Finzo says. “If you’re in the South, chances are you’ll have a meal like that. I don’t think that there’s a particular person who should or shouldn’t make it. If it comes from the heart, and something that makes you and others feel good, then it shouldn’t be frowned upon.”
McNulty, a co-owner of Reckon, also weighed in on the conversation around appropriation, saying, “I grew up eating variations of this food as well. I’m bi-racial, African American and white, born in Texas, lived most of my life in California, I spent the last eight years in Oregon. I agree with what Dominic said — if it comes from your heart, there shouldn’t be a rule for who can and can’t cook that.”
Beyond the fried chicken, Finzo has a few other menu items he’s excited for. One, called the Reckoning, is a fried chicken sandwich doused in Finzo’s own Carolina Reaper hot sauce. Diners who order it are encouraged to record themselves eating it and send it to the restaurant — people who finish it will have their videos posted on Reckon’s website. There’s also a chicken and dumpling stew that will be made every day in limited quantity. For dessert, it’s all about hand pies made with seasonal fruits.
While the restaurant will start with takeout and delivery from the pick-up counter at Culture, the pair eventually want to open a separate brick and mortar space, with Sunday barbecues and other specials. For now though, it’s all about keeping customers safe, and for serving people the food of Finzo’s childhood. “Both my grandparents passed away a couple of years ago, so it’s my way to pay respect,” he says, “to bring what I was raised on to people who I think would appreciate it.”
Friday, July 24th, 1:30 p.m.: This article originally mistakenly referred to Dominic Finzo as being white; this has been corrected to accurately reflect his identity.
- Culture [Official]
- All Previous Culture Coverage [EPDX]
- The Portland Restaurant World’s Reckoning, Explained [EPDX]
- Chef who rocked Portland restaurant industry now faces reckoning of her own [The Oregonian]