Eat This Now

Tastebud’s Best-Kept Secret: Wood-Fired Birds, Butter, and Biscuits

Once a week, a SE Portland pizza house transforms its menu into a farmhouse feast.

By Karen Brooks March 9, 2011


On Wednesday nights, a small collection of food-world notables, families, and daters gather for a culinary epiphany in an unlikely setting that looks somewhere between a junk store and a suburban bathroom. Stan Getz is blowing some sweet vintage jazz from a record player up front, but everyone is focused on the perfumes leaking from the hidden kitchen of Tastebud, the Southeast Portland home base for farmers market wood-oven star Mark Doxtader.

Tastebud’s Chicken Night has arrived, and with it the most glorious birds you can remember eating, full-on juicy with chewy, crackling skins that recall Peking duck. The package includes buttery, bronzed biscuits of the highest order, courtesy of rising talent Kate McMillen of Lauretta Jean’s pies, who works the floor at Tastebud.

On the side: a handful of possible companions, all simple but carefully conceived, from polenta to rough-smashed potatoes, gorgeous marinated beets to sweet-roasted vegetables that look like they were just yanked from the ground. At $5 each, just order them all.

No reservations required; just show up and order from the menu.

Décor has always been an eyesore at Tastebud, open since 2008 at 3220 SE Milwaukie Ave. Doxtader should just embrace his inner farmer and spin out a more compelling place that reflects his dust bowl vibe. He knows it, and says he’s working on it.

But his magic with fire needs no improvements. So lower your eyelids for now, and inhale one of Portland’s best-kept secrets. This is mighty good food, with the ability to flat-out satisfy at modest prices.

Three changing chickens stand at the center of the dinners, with a range from Thai to barbecue, and whopping half-bird portions for $12. Doxtader likes his herbal compounds as well as light sauces like lemony piccata. But he excels when he pushes out a little, going deep down-home (chicken cobbler crowned with mini biscuits) or throwing an elbow or two (chicken Diavola softly crackling with chile heat is a stand-out regular).

But it’s the running juices, the heavenly skin, and the utter goodness in every bite that make you realize how rare it is to find a great chicken, neither dry nor deadly dull. Doxtader shows his grill-savvy here, getting a smoky char by placing the birds right over glowing coals, then transferring them to a hot, dry frying pan in a cooler corner of the oven to get that luscious crispy skin.

Tastebud serves its regular wood-fired pizza menu Thursdays–Sundays. Read about the kitchen’s seasonal pies in Portland Monthly’s current Best Pizza issue.

Doxtader will also unleash his wood-fired bagels, porchetta sandwiches, and other treats when the Portland Farmers Market reopens on March 19. And watch for the market debut of Lauretta Jean’s pies.

In the meantime, the bird is the word.

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