It was…oh I don’t know..maybe three years since I first said to myself, “Self, I wonder how that Hot Suppa place is.” Since then, I every time I drove by the Congress St. eatery, which was at least once a week, I noted that I had to check it out at some point and then just forgot about it until I drove by again. I never bothered to look at their menu or figure out what they were all about, though I had heard from reliable sources that they started out as a breakfast and lunch joint and had adopted a dinner service over the last few years. That all sounded well and good, but didn’t really matter unless I actually went to check it out for myself. I finally did on a nice Friday evening as my hunger was reaching its peak.
Walking into Hot Suppa, I was a little surprised at their layout. We entered into a sizable waiting room and when I peered into the seating area, I saw that the restaurant was small. With about ten tables and six or so seats at the bar, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in there. The tables were full and the bar empty, so we asked to sit at the bar and were told that was fine. We prepared ourselves to enjoy some southern food, looking at the menus with great anticipation.
Though I saw some good options, I decided to skip a drink as I was both driving and a little sleepy after a long week. Mrs. Portlandeater eventually ordered a Congo Square Zombie – anejo rum, light and dark rum, pineapple, passionfruit and lime juices, angostura bitters. That sounded good to me, but I still opted out. She got her libation quickly and we slowly scrubbed the menu for the best possible eats. The bartender also described the specials which hung from a board on the wall and included a good selection of local beers. Usually I find myself focused on choosing from a few items that grab my attention, but their menu was full of food that looked both adventurous and delicious.
Among the items I considered ordering initially were Charbroiled Oysters, a Pimento Cheeseburger, and the Spicy Korean Barbeque Pulled Pork Sandwich. I kept looking past those however, continuing to search for the night’s final selection. I knew it when I came to it, Deviled Eggs – three bacon, three Sriracha – to start. Then I wanted the Nashville Hot Chicken and Side with white bread and pickles. I chose the Mac and Cheese as my side for an extra buck. The chicken came with the message “Warning: This dish is painfully spicy; Order at your own risk!” I jumped on that risk with reckless abandon. My wife went with one piece of the Nashville hot chicken – reckless abondon included – and then threw in Hand Cut Fries and Cornbread – ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
As our requests got sent to the back, we discussed our busy week and observed the happenings around us. The restaurant was a cozy, little place and it’s diminutive size was a partial explanation for why it always seemed packed. The place settings included a great selection the standard hot sauce favorites – Tobasco, Texas Pete’s, Sriracha. The staff were running around getting everyone’s orders to them in a timely manner and it appeared that at least one novice server was in training mode. Despite my non-order of a beverage, the bartender had some good suggestions for others who pulled up to the bar for a drink and was able to describe them well.
Before long, my little devils came out and I was ready to get egg into my face. The bacon variety had a little piece of bacon sticking out of them and the sriracha were topped with a bit of pickled onion. I started with a bacon, shoving the entire thing into my mouth. The inch-or-so piece of pork somewhat overpowered the egg. It was undoubtedly good, but the pickled flavor in the yolk filling was drowned out slightly by the bacon. It’s hard to argue with the smokey swine, but I was hoping to get a little more fill flavor. Next I tried a sriracha egg. That one was beautiful with just the right amount of the hot and sweet red sauce. A more balanced flavor than the bacon, I thought it was awesome. Even though it’s tough to miss with sriracha, they played it perfectly and those were the sure winner on the plate.
Once the eggs were done, I had the plate taken away and we waited a bit for our meals. I wasn’t starving any more after the starter, so the extra wait was no big deal. When the food came out, I had one slice of bread, two pieces of chicken, and four pickles all held in a stack with a large toothpick. I also had a large bowl of mac and cheese with it. That was good, because I love me some mac and cheese. My wife had the one piece of chicken with bread and pickles, two sizable pieces of cornbread, and a pile of the fries. It was time to get to work.
I took my fork and knife and got into the fiery fowl, grabbing a piece of the meat and skin together. It was juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, truly hot, and had an almost unnoticeable sweetness from being brined in sweet tea overnight. I couldn’t think of anything wrong with it. It was a first class example of the burning bird. After that, I switched to the mac which came with a spoon; is is weird that I prefer eating macaroni with a spoon? Al dente without remorse, the cheddar cheesy, buttery covering gave the dish all it needed. I remembered how much I loved to eat boxed mac and cheese as a kid. This was what happened when someone tried to mimic that 25 cent box using real, delicious ingredients. It brought back my childhood joy and multiplied it many times over. I followed it up with a bread and butter pickle to wash it down.
Next, I wanted to try my wife’s food. Looking past the chicken, she offered me an entire piece of cornbread. It was cut into a wedge, huge, heavy, and cake-like. It was definitely different than any cornbread I’d ever had – more buttery, more moist, and almost a soft pudding-like base. It’s probably unfair to compare it to the traditional stuff, but this was the best thing I’d ever had called “cornbread”. After that, I took a fry to try. They were fine, but I was completely distracted by my previous bite of corn concoction.
We continued to eat our meals. Each of us had a small fit of coughing at one point due to the spicy chicken, which got hotter and hotter as we ate. Toward the end, I started to sweat, probably from a combination of eating so much food and the hot, hot heat of the chick. We worked hard to finish all our food and I would have been comfortable leaving, but the wife had a hankering for dessert. There were three available and we went with the Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with bourbon butter sauce. Bourbon makes everything better, so once we decided on that, I sort of changed my stance on a sweet finale.
The bread pudding came out and we both put our forks to it. It was drenched in the sauce and covered in whipped cream. I tried to get all the parts in a single bite. Holy mackerel! It was warm and gooey and the sauce was over the top. When I took my succeeding bites, I made sure to get extra bourbon butter on them and the wonderful whiskey shined through in a way that left me wanting a glass of it. This was good stuff, the kind that could cause you to waddle out the door if you ate too much of it, but also the kind that leaves a smile on the face long after dinner is done.
With the last bits of dessert down the hatch, it was time to make our way to another dimension outside the restaurant. The meal came to $70 bucks after tax and tip. These days in Portland, anything under $100 after tip is is pretty low end price-wise, so our tab was super reasonable. Here’s the scoop on Hot Suppa – they’re absolutely awesome. The combination of service at the bar, cozy atmosphere, and really excellent food undoubtedly made this one of the restaurants I will return to regularly. Everything was so good, I have no doubt I could eat their chicken, mac or pretty much any of their food all day long without trouble. They’re open for three meal per day most of the week, so maybe that’s how many I’ll eat there next time I go.
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