Gabriel Pascuzzi's casual chicken concept Mama Bird will debut this May in the city's hip Slabtown neighborhood.
“I don’t know if you can imagine a couple chefs and four line cooks all on Whole30 making decadent sandwiches every day, but let’s just say we were all hangry,” says Gabriel Pascuzzi, the fine-dining chef turned sub-and-hoagie whiz behind Portland, Oregon’s wildly popular gourmet deli, Stacked Sandwich Shop. But navigating the month-long clean-eating boot camp paid off, inspiring the chef’s forthcoming chicken concept, Mama Bird.
“I found myself wishing for a place serving grilled chicken and vegetables,” explains Pascuzzi, who previously clocked hours at Colicchio & Sons and Daniel Boulud Bistro Moderne in New York before relocating to Portland to pursue meat between bread. Keen on barbecued and smoked birds, Pascuzzi realized that an eatery offering “healthy and delicious vegetables and chicken off a wood fire grill” at an affordable price––following Stacked’s counter service model––could fly in Portland.
Mama Bird, which claims a former parking lot encompassing just under 3,000 square feet, will debut this May in Portland’s hip Slabtown neighborhood, offering à la carte quarter, half, or full chickens grilled over local hardwood and charcoal at a central hearth to an indoor/outdoor dining room of roughly 90 guests. Those patrons will be able to choose from six to eight complimentary house-made sauces, three seasonal vegetable preps, a handful of starches such as sweet potatoes roasted on the coals and grilled fingerlings tossed in garlic oil and herbs, and a couple salads. Right now Pascuzzi is working on a vegan Caesar flavored with lemongrass and yuzu. The chef is also excited about the three desserts he’ll plate: a draft root beer float, a gluten-free grilled fruit cobbler with dairy-free vanilla ice cream, and a s’mores kit for two that will come with hot coals for DIY marshmallow roasting.
While Pascuzzi is still finalizing his menu, the chef expects to “spend a lot of time fine-tuning” those sauces, and right now he’s considering options like Calabrian chili aioli, gremolata, house-fermented hot sauce, and a romesco variation. Prices, too, are still in flux, but the team is thinking of selling a quarter chicken with one sauce for $9, a half chicken with two sauces for $16, and a whole bird with three sauces for $32. Veggies and sides will run $5, $8, and $12 depending on the size, with salads around $9. Sweets prices are still to-be-determined.
While the chicken and starches will remain constant, fruit and veg sides will fluctuate seasonally, with much of the restaurant’s produce sourced from Portland’s ubiquitous farmers markets, in addition to Pascuzzi’s father’s personal garden.
“Last year 90 percent of the tomatoes we served at Stacked were from that garden,” adds the chef. Meanwhile, Pascuzzi is sourcing his birds from the California-based, all-natural, gmo-free, and humanely-raised coop Mary’s Free-Range Chicken. And in addition to whole birds, he’ll also sell bone broth.
By way of beverages, Mama Bird will be equipped with 12 taps, one of which will be reserved for a house lager produced in collaboration with local craft beer producer Pono Brewing, with another dedicated to root beer. Also in the works, a frosé machine, six to 10 wines by the glass in the $9 to $12 range, a concise bottle list, plus non-alcoholic options like local kombucha, tea, and Virgil’s sodas.
In terms of aesthetics, Pascuzzi is mostly designing Mama Bird himself, chasing a clean, contemporary look, communal and individual tables, and an outdoor fire pit. The eatery’s central feature will be its custom hearth designed by NorCal Ovenworks. And while Pascuzzi had hoped for a grill with 360 access, “due to some issues with the venting, we had to put a wall on one side,” he explains. But cooks will be able to access it from the three remaining sides.
Though Mama Bird isn’t entirely gluten-free, and clearly not vegan, it is indeed a concept fit for those with dietary restrictions. Pascuzzi says that the gluten on his menu will come in the form of croutons on that Caesar salad. (Pascuzzi may sub a chickpea butter for animal butter in the cobbler). He also plans to offer birds prepped with a sugar-free brine that subs in pineapple or apple juice.
Pascuzzi believes that Mama Bird will be “the yin to Stacked’s yang.” While each concept adheres to the same principles in terms of thoughtful sourcing and deft technique, Mama Bird follows a healthier path hinged on simple preparations that highlight great ingredients with the help of good salt, olive oil, and fire.