"I'm trying to cut down on fried chicken before noon," drawls the young man sitting at my table. We're in Pine State Biscuits' cramped dining room. It's just after 11 am. He nearly made it.
Woe to the health-conscious biscuit acolyte who discovered Pine State at the Portland Farmers Market, yet could only indulge in a delicious mélange of fat and carbohydrates once a week. With a new storefront on SE Belmont, Pine State is now serving fried chicken and biscuits Tuesday through Sunday, every morning, starting at 7 am. They should warn the cardiologists.
What do biscuits have to do with fried chicken? The answer is Pine State's Reggie Deluxe. Certainly the most lauded item on the menu (Esquire named it one of America's best sandwiches), the Reggie Deluxe is a tower of fried chicken breast, egg, cheese, and bacon, drenched in gravy and nestled between two halves of a homemade biscuit.
Calling the Reggie Deluxe a "sandwich" is like calling a '62 Cadillac Coupe de Ville a compact car. This is not the meat and lettuce mash-up your mom jammed into a Ziploc. It is a tricked-out, highly engineered means of conveying fatty goodness into your digestive system. It also requires cutlery. Straight off the fork, the salt and crispness of the fried chicken blends with the tang of gravy while cheese and egg yolk add richness to the texture. As you hack away, the stack slowly breaks down into the gravy pooled on the plate. The end result: a delicious mess.
The folks running Pine State hail from North Carolina, where biscuits are a way of life. I lived there for a month with a 90-year-old woman named Nanny. Her biscuits were a staple in the house: eaten with jam for breakfast, with cheese for lunch, and finally, sopping up juices from country ham and collard greens at dinner. It's likely the largess of memory, but Pine State's biscuits simply cannot compete with Nanny's. I will, however, admit they are the best I've had in Portland. These biscuits are sturdy, and rightly so. They are not flagrantly flaky, possessing just a bit of crumble without being dry. Adequate on their own, when topped with Pine State's perfectly piquant, white cheddar-studded pimento spread, the biscuits purr with flavor. They also work exceptionally well with Pine State's white wine and rosemary-hued, shitake mushroom gravy. Add an egg and you're eating the Moneyball, a hangover cure handed down from the Divine.
With such fine selections, you might overlook the McIsley, a brow-hiking and ingenious combination of fried chicken, pickles, honey, and mustard. Those who take a chance will find notes of honey Dijon buried deep in a handsome crunch, as the stone-ground mustard mingles with strong dill pickles and local honey. It also smells freakishly good.
With such cultish craving for their creations, it's strange that Pine State Biscuits would have such little space for its clientele. Three tables and a short bar are not enough. Things could get ugly in the biscuit line. Three words: outdoor seating, please.
On the whole, Pine State does it right. Give them a larger space and a little time and no one in Portland will wait for noon to eat fried chicken.