IEM Session #15.4
Inhuman Eating Machine official rules and guidelines
(continued from 15.3)
Eating Day: Yes, STILL April 29, 2010
NOTE: All locations in Oakland unless specified otherwise.
MAGGIE RAY'S- 3206 Danville Blvd, Alamo- 1:45pm- $8.95
I was starting to get somewhat full- a little earlier than I had expected. My unemployment pants were straining to hold in my gut, but as of yet, I was not in any considerable pain. It was no time to slow down. We arrived at Looney's new location on MLK and even exited the car, but when we got to the door, I decided I wanted to give myself a brief respite and take the drive out to the Contra Costa suburbs. I was hoping that 30 minutes on the road might clear a little space in my beef-hole. NOTE: As of today, I still have yet to try Looney's. Let me know if you think it's worth a visit.
Alamo is the richest, whitest, suburb in very rich, very white, south-central Contra Costa county. My hopes for quality 'que in this town were slim. I imagined sauce pilfered from Chili's baby back ribs ladled over sliced beef inspired by an elementary school cafeteria. It is true that I have a penchant for food made by the oppressed masses of America. This is mostly because it's a good way to get a cheap meal. My reverse snobbery obscures the fact that it is occasionally possible for Whitey to make delicious "real" grub within spitting distance of a booming metropolis. Maggie Ray's is clean- too clean- for a bbq joint. It looks more like a bistro, complete with al fresco dining and a smooth jazz soundtrack on the back patio. I decided to forego this scene and get my food to-go from the counter in the front of the building and eat it on the sidewalk. The decor in the front room had a lot of contrived, distressed, old-time kitschy replicas- the kind of accoutrements you'd find at a Cracker Barrel or T.G.I. Friday's- including a faux-retro poster advising that meatless diets are dangerous. It was all geared to look funky, yet safe, for the locals. I anticipated this set-up a harbinger of imminent crumminess.
Maggie Ray's barbecue was expensive, but it cost no more than Uncle Willie's in "gritty" downtown Oakland, so the price shouldn't be seen as a reflection of Alamo's sickening affluence. And the meat came with a romaine lettuce salad and a corn cake (with real Niblets inside!) You would not find either of these high-end sides at an urban barbecue establishment. But authenticity be damned, since both of these items were delicious. The corn cake was moist with just the right amount of sweetness. And the salad had a tangy vinaigrette. I ordered the "sandwich" portion of brisket (rather than the "barbecue specialties" portion), but the sandwich came with neither sliced cheapo bread, nor the sandwich roll they usually provide here (they were out.) Hence, I received the corn cake. The meat is what really shocked me here, though. The brisket was cut in long slices and resembled the thick, hand-cut pastrami one finds at Katz's and other kosher-style delis in New York. And they did not skimp on the portion. There was no hot/mild sauce option, but what they served was a good mix of sweetness and slight heat. Ladled sparingly, the light saucing was the perfect complement to the stellar brisket. It provided just a touch of added moistness without interfering with the taste of the meat, which would have been excellent on its own. The meat was juicy, tender, and perfectly smoked, requiring zero gnawing.
I was flummoxed. Stuffed to near misery now and experiencing near-deafening borborygmos , I could not believe that I had received bbq beef of this caliber in such an enclave of assholery. I had contact with only one person at Maggie Ray's- a pretty, well-scrubbed blonde. For all I know, however, the place may be run by former sharecroppers who use generations-old recipes to create these carnivorous delights. This is all immaterial. I don't care if Maggie Ray's is run by a Mormon CPA from Idaho. Whoever is cooking that meat knows what s/he is doing. There IS a time for keeping it real, but when you want good barbecue, your mouth is the only arbiter of quality- even when the experience seems less then genuine.
I don't see myself making too many trips all the way out to Alamo just for brisket, even delicious brisket. It's a bit of a drive from Oakland and the stuff does cost a little more than I want to pay. But if I'm ever hungry in this part of Contra Costa and I have some money burning a hole in my pocket, I can think of few places in the region where I'd rather eat.