Mac Que’s Barbeque8101 Elder Creek Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95824
Barbecue joints are often found in the most unlikely locations. Take Mac Que’s, a spick-and-span place off the southern reaches of Power Inn Road, among a score of businesses like custom embroiderers and pet groomers that I’ve never needed to explore. But when I read about Mac Que’s tri-tip sandwich on the Chowhound message boards (at www.chowhound.com), I made it a point to get myself there. Rumor had it that Mac Que’s sandwich was one of the best of its breed, piled high with slices of tender beef and tasty barbecue sauce.
Rumor was not wrong. But there was more to the menu than tri-tip, even though that is perhaps what sets the restaurant apart from the crowd. Mac Que’s has a full complement of barbecue, including pork ribs, hot links, chicken, whole pork tenderloins and even ham—something you don’t see on many barbecue menus. There are also so many sides it’s hard to choose, and there are five heat settings of barbecue sauce, ranging from mild (“no kick”) to 50/50 (“li’l kick”) all the way up to the 52/50 (“upon request”) I would be afraid to try. The setting is nothing fancy, but the ladies behind the counter are as friendly as can be, and the joint overflows with lunch-hour regulars trading badinage. It’s scrupulously clean, cheerful and decorated with framed black-and-white photos of jazz and blues greats.
After placing an order at the counter, we repaired to one of the red-and-white checked tables to await our food. The smoky smells coming from the kitchen were promising, as was the presence of workers in utility vests from what seemed to be the city water crew. In every town, the various crews who work all over the city tend to know the best inexpensive lunch joints around.
My tri-tip sandwich lived up to its billing, a soft and long white roll with slices of extraordinarily tender beef, deeply flavored and savory. There was a modest amount of sauce already anointing the sandwich, and there was an extra container alongside for dipping. (The sandwich also comes with a bag of potato chips.) The sauce-on-the-side presentation meant the structural integrity of the sandwich was preserved, and you could really taste the meat before deciding exactly how much of the tangy, thick, spicy and sweet sauce would enhance it perfectly. I got the 50/50-strength sauce, and it was just right, with the promised “li’l kick.” It had a building heat, not too strong but definitely there—enough to make me wonder how strong the 51/50 (“real kick”) must be.
There was no wondering about the hot links my husband ordered as part of his two-way dinner. They were hot, hot, hot. Our own fault, really; there was a choice between the oxymoronic mild hot links and the hot hot links, and I urged him to try the latter, having been to a number of barbecue joints where the hot in the links was missing in action. Well, Mac Que’s put the spice back in. These links were delicious but mouth-searing. Indeed, after lunch my husband confessed that midway through he had started to fear the links. He still soldiered on and managed to clean his plate.
The other part of his two-way, pork ribs, was more manageable. These ribs were not as tender as some I’ve had, with the meat perhaps just a tiny shade dry, but they excelled in meatiness. There was scarcely a hint of perceptible fat, and the superlatively smoky pink meat was neatly sliced. These were ribs to sink your teeth into and gnaw on, and again a relatively restrained light hand with the barbecue sauce was employed. We were nevertheless glad of the bright-red utensil bucket on the table: It held a few forks and straws but was otherwise chock-full of much-needed paper napkins.
Each dinner plate (which can include plates of single meats as well as the two-way, three-way and four-way combinations) comes with two sides. After much consultation, we tried the red beans and rice and the greens. The latter were long-cooked, of course, with a smooth flavor and a nice balance between the vinegary enhancement and the natural bitterness of the greens. The red beans and rice were full of dusky spices (I thought I tasted cumin) and made a nice counterpoint to the barbecue sauce. Next time, I want to try the macaroni and cheese and the baked beans, though it would be hard to eschew the greens.
The available desserts are cookies and slices of sweet-potato pie. I asked the lady behind the counter how the latter was. “It’s great,” she replied enthusiastically, so I went for it. I loved the smooth, dense filling with its sweet allspice flavors, though I’m pretty sure the crust was packaged. Nevertheless, it was a worthy ending to a delicious barbecue meal. I went for the tri-tip, and I’m glad I did. I’ll go back for the friendly atmosphere and the care with which all of Mac Que’s tasty offerings are prepared.