Big’s Chicken, which began as a series of “Five-Napkin Chicken” events in Laurelhurst Market’s parking lot, already looks like the spin-off hit of the summer. The restaurant, found inside the former Big Ass Sandwiches storefront and co-owned by Laurelhurst Market co-owners Ben Dyer, Jason Owens, David Kreifels and chef Ben Bettinger, smokes and grills whole chickens basted in Alabama White Gold barbecue sauce, boneless thighs for sandwiches, smokes and deep fries wings and plates up savory sides such as dirty rice, fried cauliflower and JoJos. The shotgun-shack space is decked out in roadhouse finery, its walls lined with historic beer signs, old license plates and a subscription box for The Oregonian. A brief taplist features both craft beer and $2 pints of Olympia, plus a pair of potent draft cocktails batched up at sister restaurant Reverend’s BBQ. Our only complaint? There are only two patio tables out front, and they go quick.
The dish: Get in line (behind us) for this year’s sandwich of the summer. Big’s signature sandwich is a charred stunner, the blue ribbon champion of backyard barbecues, with boneless, smoked chicken thighs given a masterful char on the grill then placed akimbo on a griddled potato bun with a lightly dressed slaw and sweet pickles. Half a chicken, equally juicy and charred, arrives dressed in scribbles of both White Gold barbecue sauce, a mayo-based sauce from Northern Alabama, and a bright, puckery Fresno chile sauce. For $4 more, you can add crispy crusted, fluffy centered JoJos dusted in a Cajun-y spice and another mound of that spicy, flame-abating slaw to make it a plate. The dirty rice, here fortified with chicken liver mousse, Big’s trinity — their mirepoix of bell pepper, onion and celery — and dry spice, is almost risotto-like with a touch of spice. Wings, too, are worth a visit for, served crisp and dry-fried in multiples of six. But the most important, and surprisingly transcendent, part of the meal was the buttermilk pie, with its lemon curd-meets-pecan-pie-like filling, a sweet, custardy slice tempered by a tangy sour cream sauce. Heck, just go with friends and order everything.
The takeaway: The Laurelhurst Market team has a hit on their hand with this smoked chicken spin-off of last year’s popular “Five Napkin Chicken” events. Don’t miss the sandwiches, the dirty rice or the buttermilk pie.
Sample menu: Half bird ($9.95/$13.95 for a meal), six piece smoked/fried chicken wings ($6.95), Big’s veggie bowl ($9.95), fried cauliflower ($2.95/$4.95), dirty rice ($2.95/$4.95), desserts, including cookies and pie ($1.95-$4.50)
Drinks: Non-alcoholic sodas ($1.95-$2.95), beer on tap ($2-$5), tap cocktails ($7)
Go: What time is it? How about right now?
Details: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; 5663 N.E. Glisan St.; 503-477-5922; bigschicken.com
— Samantha Bakall