Rock ‘n’ roll barbecue
Newly opened McCall’s serves up spicy food in a lively atmosphere
I recently made two lunchtime pit-stops at McCall’s, the new barbecue place obscurely tucked between Wilbur’s Feed & Seed and Four Counties Roofing on Meyers Street in industrialized south Chico. Located in the same spot that housed now-defunct Chandler’s Coffee House, McCall’s opened in November 2010. It is open only on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.—or “until the meat runs out,” as a sign on the door advises.
Upon opening the front door, I was greeted by rock music—not too loud, but definitely asserting itself as part of the ambiance—coming from speakers situated near two big-screen televisions broadcasting ESPN. The walls of McCall’s are plastered with album covers—everything from The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, to Agent Orange, Black Flag, The Jesus Lizard and Social D—as well as screen prints of local landmarks—Duffy’s, the Blue Room, KZFR and the Pageant Theatre—by local artist Aye Jay Morano.
Add to that a ventriloquist’s dummy perched on a shelf behind the front counter and a pair of antlers jutting from the wall near the entrance to the unisex restroom—only a couple of the interesting visual oddities one notices in the McCall’s decor.
I ordered a pulled-pork sandwich ($6.55) with grilled onions ($0.40) from the friendly guy running the register, manager Frank Zangrilli. Other sandwich options on the simple menu include tri-tip, Louisiana hot-link and barbecued chicken. While ordering, I couldn’t help but notice a display of Kiss figurines—the whole band “performing” in front of colorful flashing lights in a glass case beneath the register.
I grabbed a bottle of water ($1) from a galvanized metal tub full of ice before taking my place at a table, the only woman in a room of men. I enjoyed my sandwich—full of flavor from the on-site smoker and McCall’s’ sweet, snappy, homemade barbecue sauce.
Visit No. 2: I ordered a cup of tri-tip chili ($2.75, with a cornbread muffin; bowl, $5) and a smoked Louisiana hot-link sandwich ($6.55) with grilled onions.
Once again, I was the only female in the building.
The chili—made with black, kidney and pinto beans—was delicious. It was spiced just right for my taste (on the kicky side, but not five-alarm), and the meat was tender and chunky. My sandwich was also tasty. The rock soundscape—everything from “Great Balls of Fire” to The Clash—was familiar, and fun to eat to.
I ended up chatting with the friendly owner of McCall’s, 39-year-old John McCall. His local cred includes being the former general manager of Woodstock’s Pizza (for 15 years, until he opened McCall’s), as well as a musician in legendary Chico band The iMPS.
McCall said he prepares the meats in a big, black, metal barbecue and a smoker located in the parking lot. His delicious barbecue sauce is the end result of four years of cooking for friends, family and fellow musicians. “I’ve always just liked cooking for friends,” said McCall, “and barbecue is one of the most social types of food.”
McCall said he doesn’t currently offer ribs “because ribs are so expensive. This is a lunch place, and I want to keep it affordable.”
He assured me that his clientele isn’t solely male; his wife, Jennifer, an attendance technician for the Chico Unified School District, for instance, has brought in female colleagues and friends.
While a license is currently in process so that he can serve beer, and McCall is toying with the idea of occasional live-band performances, he does not want to cultivate “a bar atmosphere.” The father of two wants families with kids to feel comfortable at McCall’s.
“I’m just trying to have a cool place,” he said, before adding that “all of the action figures are stuff my wife doesn’t want in the house, so I put it all in here.”