Portland Chef Micah Camden – Genius or Madman?

I was pretty high on this guy, leaning towards the “genius” moniker, after my visit to his Yakuza Sushi Bar, where, oddly enough, I had one of the most beautiful burgers in Portland.   Plus anybody that builds a restaurant that pleases both Mrs. BurgerDogBoy and I at the same time (she is a sushi NUT) has something crafty up their sleeve.

I got excited a couple months ago, when I walked by a place under construction called “Little Big Burger”, and learned it was to be a new setting for Camden.   “Yee haw,” sez I, great burgers coming to the Pearl!

Time goes by, some delays, finally, the moment arrives, he is open to business to rave reviews.

Folks, one thing you can count on me for is total honesty in my posts.  Granted, they just represent my opinion, but I have no stake in the game to lean one way or another.   I just talk about things I like or don’t like.  The “mainstream media” in which I spent a couple decades, DOES have a stake in reviews.   Establishments being reviewed are also potential ADVERTISERS.  See the connection?   I knew you would.

The Willamette Week recently ran a ‘semi-review’ of Little Big Burgers, which mostly focused on his house-made ketchup.  One of the lines in the review said “…….Until then, you’ll have to join the long line snaking out of Little Big Burger for a taste.

“Oh, oh,” sez me.  “I better scoot on down for a taste, even tho I don’t like long snaky lines.”  So I arrived at 1130A today, Thursday, and there were no snaky lines to be found.  In fact, there was no line at all.   Granted, business picked up as the lunch hour deepened,  but for a restaurant that seats about 25, the wait was minimal…..to order.   The speed of the kitchen is another matter altogether.  Not so speedy.

There was a big man standing at the end of the kitchen, permanent scowl emblazoned across his mug, some person in authority, but not Camden, I don’t believe.   It appears this man’s job was solely to scowl, in the 45 minutes I was there, he didn’t move, didn’t interact with the staff, or any of the customers.   It was just curious to me.

Anyway, back to the order-taking process, the menu is short, hamburger, cheeseburger (choice of four different cheeses), veggie burger, fries, soft drinks, root beef float.  No bottled water, I found out by trying to order same.   The walls of the joint are adorned with beer cans, but there is no reference anywhere as to whether they actually sell beer or not.  I still don’t know.

The burgers are Cascade Natural Beef, which I have written about before.  Pretty hard to go out for  a fancy burger in Portland without being served Cascade, like at “C Burger” (really excellent)  or the Savoy Tavern, or beef from Painted Hills (more on that in a sec).

Camden starts with a quarter pound fresh patty, grilled on the flattop, with a toasted brioche.  Add the cheese (I chose blue), long with the standard decorations of pickle, onion, his house ketchup and lettuce, and you have the whole show.   There is Beaver Brand mustard and his house made ketchup  on the counter, but no salt and pepper, Camden must be one of those chefs who figures his food is seasoned perfectly for everyone.  Thinking back, I believe I had to locate a salt shaker at Yakuza, as well.  Hey, what can I say, salt is (one of ) my poison(s)!  All burgers are prepared medium unless ordered otherwise.   There is an assembly line/system of sorts, all food is prepared as if “to go”, with the burgers wrapped in foil, and food placed in a brown bag.

The meat itself is good, but starting with a 1/4 pound precooked weight, there’s quite a bit of shrinkage, and this burger might remind you of a “slider-sized portion” you can get around town for Portland’s happy hours, like the burgers at Morton’s Steakhouse.  At the prescribed medium doneness, the patty gets a little crust on it, which I personally like.   Novelty or not, $3.75 seems a bit spendy to me these days, even tho you can easily pay north of $12 for a burger in this burg.

The fries are fine.   The french frie add-on this year appears to be truffle oil, and that’s fine with me, but it’s not a mass appeal flavor.   The menu board says the spuds are Yukon Gold, with the oil and sea salt.   They are crisp, salty shoestrings, about the size of a medium McDonald’s order at twice the price. (Like it or not, McDonalds has set the standard for fries).   For my personal taste, the same prepped fries at Foster Burger hold a slight edge, and that’s not even factoring in Foster’s squid ink garlic aioli.

Can’t comment on the beer, as I said, don’t know if they sell it.  Soft drinks are from Coca-Cola.  I had a cup of water, which was offered to me by Katie @ the Kash Kounter;  she was the real bright spot of the whole operation today.

(The “more” on Painted Hills beef:   it’s all I buy, exclusively to make burgers at home.  I buy it at Barbur Foods on Barbur in SW Portland, their 85/15 mix.  It’s so good, I am sure I could eat a bowl of it raw without flinching.  Find your closest retailer here).

Will I return to Little Big Burger?  Possibly.  Burger craving walking thru the Pearl w/ Mrs. BurgerDogBoy some lazy Saturday.   Will it be a destination for me?  Nah.

So is Camden a genius or madman?   I guess there is a little of both in all of us.

Little Big Burger

Little Big Burger

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