New blood has arrived on NW 23rd st. in the form of fast-casual fried chicken. The grand opening of CHKCHK lead with the serving of over 800 free chicken sandwiches to Portlanders, who graciously accepted with open arms (and mouths). Pretty generous, right? Turns out generosity is not uncommon for the restaurant and it’s owners, as CHK CHK donates 5% of gross monthly sales directly to Q Center, a Portland non-profit supporting the LGBTQ community.
“We’re advocates for the LGBTQ community and wanted to support them in a very real, very tangible way,” owner Aaron Grimmer explains. That sounds pretty much exactly opposite of that other fried chicken joint that’s been popping up around Portland recently to some controversy. You know, the one with the CEO that notoriously spoke out about his strong anti-gay marriage beliefs, yet still somehow saw drive-thru lines that wrapped around the block on opening day.
So, how exactly does CHKCHK strive to “reclaim the chicken sandwich?” First off, it was born of an all-star team. Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Aaron and Jessica Grimmer are no strangers to the PDX food scene. You may know them from Picnic House, Barlow, or the newer cocktail and Tex-Mex mecca High Noon. Inside their newest restaurant, decor is bright and whimsical – think barnyard meets Willy Wonka meets Southern charm. A neon “Power to the Peeps” sign illuminates one brick wall, the rest adorned with barn wood, rainbow pop-art, bright teal paint, and hot pink frames. Seating is picnic-style casual and there’s a fair share of it.
The menu focuses on one thing, and executes it well. Executive Chef Casey Gipson “loves to create elevated menu items that draw from the power of nostalgia embedded in comfort food,” as owner Aaron explains. The chicken itself is responsibly-sourced, all-natural, antibiotic-and-hormone-free, and always served fried. But you can get it in a few different ways: on a sandwich with either classic CHKCHK secret sauce or spicy sauce; on top of a salad; or in nugget form.
Let’s talk sandwich. Both the spicy and regular version include a big, juicy piece of perfectly fried, tender, and surprisingly non-greasy chicken, adorned with romaine lettuce and truffled pickles. The house-made buns are the icing on the cake. A buttery, fluffy, brioche-like bread that’s more than just a vessel. The house sauce, similar to a classic fry sauce, tops the dish. If that’s not your jam, they have a half-dozen other sauce varieties to pair with your chicken or fries. There’s an ultra-creamy, thick buttermilk Ranch, a delightful honey mustard, sweet pineapple BBQ, cheesy Buffalo, and our favorite, a spicy cayenne honey.
There’s a chickpea version, too, for the adventurous vegans. All sandwiches are $7, which is more than fair for what you’re getting. Other noteworthy menu items include the waffle fries ($2), which are perfectly delicious and seasoned by themselves, but are elevated to something other-worldly when served as “Southern Fries” and loaded with fried nuggets, sauce, pickles, and green onion ($7). The CHKCHK Mac ($6) is stick-to-your-ribs, comforting in a way that mac and cheese should be, and sinfully creamy. Exceptionally crunchy garlic breadcrumbs balance the texture in all the right ways.
There are two more things you absolutely can’t leave without trying: a boozy soda, and a nostalgic dessert. The quirky desserts, created by Pastry Chef Annie Yen, are playful adaptations of childhood favorites. Think Twinkies, Twix bars, Butterfingers, and snack cakes. The boozy bottled sodas are fun, colorful creations curated by Bar Program Director Tom Lindstedt. “They’re a thoughtful mix of quality liquors and spirits, melded together and carbonated to create a playful boozy concoction, such as the Orange Créme (Vodka, Orange Curaçao & Tuaca),” Aaron explains. Yeah, we like what you’re throwing down.
“We enjoy the business side of things, and the rush when you create a concept that provides food and drink that people are excited about,” Aaron confesses.” But if you take a step back, we’re actually all about creating an experience where you sit down, surrounded by people you care about, with good food and drink, in a place of warmth and comfort. And that, we love.”
We love that too, Aaron. Almost as much as we love your fried chicken sandwich.
Words by Tiffany La Forge, photos by Tyler Bertram.