Chicken and dumplings from Wilson County Barbecue in Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Although Wilson County Barbecue in Portland opened before the pandemic, I just started going there in early May.

I’ve now been about a half dozen times and am fairly obsessed with the place, despite not having had any actual barbecue.

I have yet to make it past the chicken and dumplings ($19, includes hushpuppies or biscuit and two sides) because they’re tremendous for so many reasons – a major one for me being the comfort the dish provided during a very difficult time.

My mother Louise was diagnosed with a brain tumor on April 24, and we lost her on May 29. In that span of five weeks, I fell apart, and edible salvation came in the form of several visits to Wilson County Barbecue.

Would you believe me if I told you that one of my mother’s nicknames for me was Dumpling? Indeed, it was, and a childhood memory of mine is coming home from school to see the crockpot on the counter with chicken and dumplings cooking.

My mother, however, was not exactly a gourmet chef (save for Thanksgiving dinner, which she slayed). But the chicken and dumplings at Wilson County Barbecue? Downright epic. One of the owner’s grandmothers is named Teeny, and it’s her recipe. The “dumplings” are more like wide, thick noodles, and they burst with the flavor of the delicious broth they’re bathed in, surrounded by generous shreds of chicken. I can’t get enough, and I can’t stop ordering it despite the fact that I’ve caught glimpses of the baby back ribs, fried shrimp and the restaurant’s namesake offering.


What’s more, the dish comes with either hush puppies or a biscuit and your choice of two sides. Hush puppies are fried cornbread fritters, but I haven’t tried them yet at Wilson because I can’t not get the biscuit. It’s perhaps the best I’ve ever had, with a sublime flakiness and a pleasing flavor. It comes with a little container of honey butter that is pure magic. If you ask, you can also get a side of blueberry jam.

The sides at Wilson County Barbecue are their own galaxy of excellence. The list includes smoked baked beans, cheese grits, mac and cheese, collard greens and mashed potatoes with gravy, among others. There’s also a daily rotating side, and I can vouch for the macaroni salad as well as the grilled corn.

Fried chicken from Wilson County Barbecue. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

My partner, Tracy, has accompanied me to Wilson County on numerous occasions, and her fixation is the fried chicken ($16 for two-piece, $21 for four-piece, includes hushpuppies or biscuit and two sides), and the fried chicken sandwich ($18, includes one side).

I treated her to lunch in exchange for some tasting notes. It was an easy sell.

It was a picture-perfect August afternoon, so we ate out on their spacious patio, until my well-earned fear of bees sent us inside for the second half of the meal. But I’m not complaining, the inside of Wilson County Barbecue is huge and comfortable with many seating options, including a couch area and long bar. Tracy said the outdoor seating area is the best she’s seen in Portland, with fire pits, large picnic tables and semi-private areas with lots of plants around. I concur.

Tracy ordered the two-piece fried chicken meal and chose white meat, which meant a breast and a wing. She told me that the coating was thin and crispy and remained intact while she ate it. Next time we’re there, she’s going to try it with the Nashville hot dip ($2 extra). Tracy also raved about the slightly sweet and perfectly tangy cole slaw and shares my love for the biscuit. We both had the grilled corn that day, and she loved how it was lightly charred and salted. On previous visits, she’s tried the Hoppin’ John (Southern-style black-eyed peas) and was sad it wasn’t on the menu that day. Trust me, she survived.

Tracy also wanted me to be sure to mention how much we both appreciated how the food came out fresh and hot, as it’s cooked to order and not subjected to heat lamp purgatory.

I love this place. It brought me comfort when I needed it most and now I’m a customer for life.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: