My plan had been to post about this a bit ago. But after reading Karen Brook's marvelous review of Mae's pop-up at the SE Hawthorne Lardo, I decided best to wait. So now I will explain why people were willing to stand in a long line for Mae's fried chicken and Appalachian cuisine. Good thing the weather was kind.
The wait wasn't due to lack of hustling on part of Mae's chefs. Off to the side Zach Lefler was handling chicken frying duties and plating up lots of golden pieces of bird.
While the heart of Mae's, Maya Lovelace, was meeting all the diners and taking orders. Mae is her creation, a pop-up family style dinner that is an ode to her Grandmother. They normally take place at Old Salt restaurant. I've wanted to attend but something always was going on. Lucky us that Maya decided to make use of Lardo's truck and share some of the dishes from her dinners.
So it was a no brainer to drive across town for this chance to taste what others have been raving about. What I really liked about this is we were able to decide how much food we wanted to try. As much as I love course dinners, sometimes the amount of food offered is more than I can handle in one sitting. Having this a la carte at Lardo was perfect. I wish more chefs who do set menus would take advantage of this. Not only is it great for customers but it also is great advertising for their dinners.
I was lucky that some really great people were also attending so I was able to share food and great conversation with them along with food photo ops. Like these plates of fried chicken, sea island red peas, angel biscuits with ham, pimento cheese baked grits, bacon fried cabbage with pickled mustard seed vinaigrette, and braised kale with country ham and vinegar.
Along with these green garlic deviled eggs. I did get my own but it wasn't plated at pretty as these were. I enjoyed the taste of it especially since it was different from what I am use to. Along with the the rest of the meal, I was enjoying food that I had not had in a long time. The slow-cooked sea island red peas with T & T salt pork and sorghum was really good with a nice balance of seasoning. I've never had grits before but Mae's were really tasty.
I'm glad I was able to taste everything on the menu so I can say there wasn't a bad dish in the bunch. As for what I ordered, there was a bowl of Mae's house pickles consisting of ramps, zucchini, okra, green beans, and carrots. I made the mistake of biting into something hot and spicy right off the bat. However most of the pickles were not that and I really enjoyed the zucchini which was crisp and fresh.
I went for the dark meat chicken with three sides. The pickles were one side and the other two were fried green tomatoes and an angel biscuit. The fried green tomatoes came with buttermilk ramp ranch dressing and this was so good I also dipped a bit of my chicken in it. I think the coating on the tomatoes was corn meal. They were nicely crisp on the outside and tender but not soggy inside. I could go for more of these right now.
The Mae main attraction though is the buttermilk brined fried chicken. Fried in three fats and so flavorful! I think the brining helped keep moisture in the meat which made it tender and not dry. I was able to taste both white and dark meat and both were delicious. However my favorite part of the meal was the angel biscuit. They were served with sorghum butter and a decent slice of salty ham from Benton's which was aged 16 months. Even without the extras these are excellent biscuits. Light and soft even after getting cold. I wish I had picked up some to go.
So there you have it, my unbiased opinion on a delicious Portland picnic of Mae's food at the Lardo sandwich shop. Sadly that was a one time thing however Maya and Zach continue their dinners at Old Salt restaurant in Portland, Oregon. If you want to experience this ode to Southern cooking you can sign up for their mailing list at their website and receive emails when they are taking reservations for their dinners. The Mae website is here.
Along with that, if you are ready to start holiday feasting, Mae has teamed up with Portland Food Adventures and offering a special holiday dinner on December 9th. Not only will there be food but also drink pairings by the well versed Paul Willenberg, Nodoguro's Beverage Manager. I am sure they will be good since he has a lot of experience enjoying Mae's food. If that sounds like fun to you then hurry to their site since they are sure to sell out all their seats. The tickets and more information about this dinner are on the Portland Food Adventures site here.