The soul food queen

Mary Eddings

photo by Larry Dalton

Now that the Kings’ starting power forward situation has been signed, sealed and delivered, there’s a minor issue remaining about a certain cuisine that Mr. Webber professes he can’t find in this area. We’re inclined to disagree; we found a prime spot for ribs, links and the like right here in Midtown where, Tuesday through Sunday, Mary Eddings and her daughter Joanne Davis will be smoking some fine ’cue and serving it up for lunch. Mary’s Kitchen and BBQ is located at 1216 20th St., next to Jack’s Urban Eats. Not exactly a long drive from Arco Arena, Chris.

You’ve got a message on your sign out front that reads: “If you run across C-Webb, tell him that there’s soul food right here! In his own backyard, Sac-town.” Would you like to put the word out to him?

Honey, I tell everybody to tell him! ‘Cause he said there’s no soul food, he’s got to go over an hour to Oakland, and Richmond, and this, that and the other. He just don’t know. All he have to do is come out of Granite Bay, hit I-80 and he’s here.

What dishes do you offer here?

We offer chicken, beef brisket—which is like a tri-tip, except mine melts in your mouth, you don’t have to pull on it, you know, and it’s flavorful. And we have beef links, we have pork ribs, on occasion we have beef ribs. And every week we’ll have a different special. And then we have all the side dishes: Mary’s beans, which are very popular—all of it is very popular, really—and collard greens; we have potato salad and macaroni salad, we have coleslaw and we have string beans with onions. And we have three different sauces: mild, medium and kick yo’ ass [laughs].

How long have you been in this location?

I’ve been here five years. Mm-hmm. Our anniversary is coming up this month.

What time do you get here in the morning to start your smoker?

Usually, I try to get here between 5:30 and a quarter to six.

What kind of wood do you burn?


Is that good?

You’ve never tried my barbecue? You did, and you liked it? Well, that’s because of the almond, and the seasoning, and the knowledge.

Where did you get the knowledge?

From my grandmother and my older sister. And my mom, too—my mom’s a good cook, but my grandma’s a better cook. ‘Cause my mom worked all the time very, very hard, so my grandma did most of the cooking. And then my older sister did the cooking, you know, at our house, so I learned different things from her. You know how older sisters are: “It’s your turn to cook.” I don’t know how to do that. I ain’t stickin’ my hand in that. So when I got married and had a family and stuff—you know when you’re not high class, and you ain’t middle class, you’re right down there, everything you cook, you try to make it taste as good as you can. You know how kids don’t like their vegetables? Well, if you fix it for them one way and they don’t like it? All you have to do is just doctor it up a different kind of way and they’ll tear it up. All my children love vegetables. I’m a soul cooker. I cook up here just like I cook at home. You know, I don’t say, well, this person might have a bland diet. I’m a soul food cooker. So, if you gonna come up in here, open up your taste buds, baby, ‘cause it’s comin’ at’cha [laughs].

What defines a soul food cooker?

You know, we use—how can I put it—as my grandma says, “We put our foot in it.” Like some people use a little pepper and a little salt on their vegetables. The kids won’t eat it. You have to put some butter in there, put some onions in it or some onion powder. Make it taste good to ’em—a pinch of sugar. Look at her: That’s my daughter. Look like she missed any vegetables? But I would like to do more soul food—seasonal, like fresh black-eyed peas, which I do, but chicken and dumplings, smothered pork chops. But what amazes everybody: I don’t have a stove, so everything I do is crockpot. And they can’t get over, how do I make it taste so good? I don’t really slow-cook it; I just stick my foot in it.

What’s the secret to cooking good meat?

Cook it slow on a medium temperature. On a medium, ‘cause a lot of people cook their meats too fast, and they flip ’em. They constantly out there flippin’ them. You don’t flip ’em. It cooks from the bottom up, so you don’t have to turn it for it to brown. My ribs take two hours, my beef brisket takes three, my chicken takes an hour and a half. And I don’t turn it—once I put it on that grill, when I take it off, it’s ready. It’s all nice and brown, juicy and tender. You don’t turn it. I hate to see people flippin’ their meat, or they’re bastin’ it with barbecue sauce. Don’t do that, ‘cause all you’re doing is burning the sauce. Make sure your grill is nice and hot, and just go from there.

Now, are these miniature smokers?

Those are what I started out on. And I graduated to Big Bertha [points to Volkswagen-sized smoker on wheels]. Six doors, three on each side.

You take Big Bertha on the road?

No, I don’t do on-site.

Even if C-Webb said, “Come on out here to Arco Arena"?

Well, you know what? I love C-Webb, and I knew he was gonna stay when everybody said he was leavin'. I knew in my heart that he was gonna stay, so I wasn’t worried about that. But if he asked me to do it on-site? What he got, $43 million? That’s what he got for seven years? He gonna have to pay me a half a million [laughs]. No. If he threw a grand party, he would have to pay me, of course, but I’d do it for him on-site. And I left a message on, what is his name, Petrie? He’s supposed to do their diets or whatever, or so I was told. And I left a message on there that said, “Tell me what kind of soul food that Chris Webber wants. And whatever he says he wants, I will cook it and deliver it to him personally.” No one ever called me back. And I’m a Kings fan from my heart! [laughs] Don’t mess with me when the Kings is on, baby!