BISTRO MARQUEE: THE SECRET SHOWOFF
This nondescript bistro across from the Keller Auditorium hides a happy hour–only stunner: a trio of perfectly golden-fried chicken thighs and legs showered with pickled sweet peppers and squiggles of house-smoked honey ($9.50). The moist, tangy bird, brined in sweet tea, garlic, and herbs for 24 hours, is graced with properly clingy, salt-and-peppered skin—just greasy enough to feel a bit wicked. Even better, it’s all served atop a mini cast-iron skillet of baked-to-order corn bread, each bacon fat–scented, crisp-edged bite heavy with cast-off chicken-skin crispies and pepper juice. In other words, it’s magic. Big surprise: the guy frying this gem is none other than Rick Widmayer, the chef who helped make Screen Door’s fried chicken a citywide obsession.
Winner-winner: Hospitable? The staffers are downright lovable.
Bad egg: Demanding preshow crowds tax the kitchen and limit the magic chicken’s stage time to 4–7 p.m. daily (bar only on show nights).
Son of a Biscuit: TAKEOUT HERO
Little Big Burger/Blue Star Donuts empire builders Micah Camden and Katie Poppe’s take on the Southern chicken shack is a finger-lickin’ work in progress. The comfort peddlers balance salt with a sweet bloom of piment d’Espelette, smoky Hungarian paprika, cayenne, and five kinds of peppercorns; a complex heat that lingers with every bite of hot chicken. Son of a Biscuit’s value and accessibility are hard to beat, with local birds (half bird with one biscuit and side, plus pickles, $12.50, whole bird with two biscuits and sides, plus pickles, $24) served fresh for lunch and dinner daily until they run out. Bonus: they pack their hot cluckers atop squares of Texas toast, and dole out sides like velvety pickle-chunked potato salad and gommy-good banana biscuit pudding. With a closer eye on the fryer temp, Camden could have another phenom on his hands.
Winner-winner: Forget the bird—SOB boasts one of the very best biscuits in town ($1.50), a honey–kissed round that tastes like it’s made from equal parts browned butter and fluffy inspiration. The secret? Each biscuit is baked in its own mini cake pan for premium crustage.
Bad egg: Our juicy bird’s skin was fried to gum-poking, hard-crack armor on one visit. Work that out, and we’ll transfer our takeout allegiance from Popeye’s permanently.
WOODSMAN TAVERN: HIGH-FLYING ONE-NIGHTER
Portland’s foodie answer to the Twin Peaks aesthetic weighs in with a dynamite Tuesday deal: a highbrow paper bucket of otherworldly, buttermilk-sopped fried chicken ($19 for five pieces, $36 for a whole bird). It’s double-dredged in onion powder and paprika-laced flour, fried hard in lard for proper crunch, and then aggressively herb-salted and drizzled with honey. Anoint each bite with a dollop of vinegary house hot sauce and let your eyes roll back in your head in poultry ecstasy.
Winner-winner: Be sure to add on a substantial biscuit, striated with grill marks and slathered with bright, chewy candied orange and tomato jam.
Bad egg: Did you catch the price? Plus, there’s only enough fryer space to offer the bucket once a week, and they don’t do takeout—start lobbying owner Duane Sorenson for a Woodsman chicken window, stat.