It has been 19 days, 19 hours, and 10 minutes since I first tried the Buffalo chicken livers at Scholar, the new(ish) Italian(ish) restaurant on Northeast Broadway. A friend had a pork shoulder dish there he loved days before, and hoped to explore more of the menu on another visit. “Do you eat chicken liver?” he asked in a text. My answer is generally yes — though, when I’m seeking them out, it’s usually in a mousse context, or maybe in a larb. He sent a screenshot of the menu: “Buffalo chicken livers: Crispy livers, Buffalo sauce, Rogue smoked bleu cheese, heirloom polenta, pickled celery.”
It’s clear this dish is, at least, a little bit of a gimmick — on the restaurant’s Instagram, it appears to be the most posted dish. It is unlike anything else on the menu, which generally sticks to Italian standards and pizzas. And you know what? I’ve fallen for it. I cannot stop thinking about this dish, almost a month after eating it.
Chicken livers are heavily dredged and fried before landing in a tangy Buffalo sauce; a play on the typical wing, those livers arrive topped with thinly sliced pieces of pickled celery, as well as crumbles of semi-creamy-but-still-ripe blue cheese. Biting into one — this is not a wing situation; use a fork — you’re hit with the satisfying crunch of something fried and the overwhelming pow of acid, with just a tiny wisp of the iron-y, sweet flavor of the liver, silky from the fry at the center. The livers are piled on top of a buttery polenta, a welcome relief from the acidity of the Buffalo and pickle; the move is to drag them through the cornmeal with a fork, almost like the dunk of a wing in ranch or blue cheese dressing.
While Buffalo chicken livers don’t appear to be an invention of Scholar — and other Buffalo organ meats have been spotted in Portland, namely at the now-closed Brasa Haya — they certainly haven’t reached cliche status in Portland. I have yet to see them anywhere else in town (if you have, let me know). It’s also unclear if the dish really requires livers; the crunch of the fry and the tang of the sauce are the real draw. Frankly, I don’t care. The nostalgic hit of Buffalo sauce and the high-low quality of a fried nugget served over polenta make it a hard dish to forget — and one well-suited to a town that treasures its foie gras profiteroles.
Scholar is located at 2226 NE Broadway Street.