If you’re new to Portland (or have the misfortune of living elsewhere in the US), vote democratic, are under 55 years of age and 250 pounds of weight or are, most unfortunately, a vegetarian, you may have never been to Tad’s Chicken and Dumplings. A situation that you will soon need to rectify.
When you enter Tad’s, the nostalgia envelopes your senses like your own mother’s breath on your infant face. The brass, the wood grain, the canvas- shaded table lamps and, most importantly, the red gingham checked curtains. Forget the Sandy River view, those dirty hick children can frolic out of my sight, I want to be immersed in the setting that Tad so thoughtfully envisioned. Okay, so Tad is long dead and the location of Tad’s now was opened by subsequent owners in the 1940’s.
There is a bar, which is fabulous, but is unfortunately manned by youngsters. Some of these youngsters have proven capable, but there is no substitution for experience, or at least the appearance of such. I really wish they would get rid of all those kids and hire some stiff old men who wear bow ties and who know many cocktails but only dispense a half dozen or so. But I cavil.
What’s good about the place is its seamlessness. One is seated courteously, then brought a “relish tray”, which is a silver serving dish filled with raw vegetables and a little paper cup of creamy dill dressing which could use a little acidity and salt. Whenever I see the term “relish tray” on a menu I envision watermelon rind pickles, chow chow and green tomato jam. Alas, I am almost always disappointed. The service is prompt.
I have ordered many things, my favorite is razor clam cakes. Well seasoned, tender and well executed (that is to say, fried), they are the signature appetizer. The fried chicken livers are routinely terrible (what a fucking crime it is). The onion rings are fairly good and the bay shrimp cocktail is (inexplicably) hit and miss.
So skip the appetizers and head straight for the mains. Who needs ’em when you’ve got a rocks manhattan in your hand anyway? The green beans are standard, you can have as many as you like, and you will like many. They’re not, um, how do you say in your language? al dente. Which I must assume means bland and crunchy. They are, as we say in my language, stewed. With ham.
The chicken and dumplings is very large. It is rich and fatty. It is almost seasoned well enough. Unlike many restaurants in the metro area, salt is on the table. Is this what is meant by the colloquialism, the salt of the earth? I remember sitting down to my first meal where a salt dispenser was not in evidence, it was at a restaurant called “Mint” (capital M, lower case m? the website makes it unclear. This sounds like a job for my wife). What was certain was that the food required salt.
The dumplings are dumplings. They are steamed, they are heavy, they are white. They make an excellent accompaniment to gravy. The fried chicken is also good. It lacks the colonel’s secret blend, but who can compete with the Colonel of the Food Scientists? Certainly not I.
In summary, if you ever find yourself out on the Old Columbia Highway near Troutdale, hightail it to your nearest KFC. They have a seven piece meal deal going on right now for ten bucks or something like that. They don’t have drinks, or ambience, and the clientelle and staff are largely ignorant and/or addicted to drugs. But they have managed to, through the genius of food science, transform chicken feces into an incredibly crispy, deliciously spicy, fried nugget that, when dipped in honey mustard sauce, resembles fowl in flavor.