Mack: The not-quite-American barbecue

  • 2007-05-30
  • By Rachel J. K. Grace
TALLINN - Mack Bar-B-Que on Tartu mnt., run by the same folks as Babyback in Tabasalu, gets its customers off to a good start with a warm greeting from wait staff sporting shirts that say, "We (heart) Your Smile." Within seconds of entering, my friends and I were greeted not once but twice. We walked past the traditional American-style booths and seated ourselves at a big circular booth. (If you ask me, self-seating is something more American restaurants should adopt.)

With menus piled between the tables, we were able to grab a few and begin perusing our options right away. Even so, it was just a moment before our server brought us water with ice (a rarity in Estonia, but standard for American restaurants). The menus look American (which means they are well-organized and very colorful), but I question the decision to use English titles and Estonian descriptions. The full menu in both languages would have been wiser. I ended up ordering the BBQ salmon (167 kroons, 10.67 euros), friend one ordered the BBQ beef brisket (158 kroons), and friend two ordered the BBQ sub (58 kroons) and stuffed jalapenos (68 kroons).

After we ordered, we had a moment to look around and take in our surroundings. This spacious restaurant has the feel of a classy casino, with a diamond pattern on the walls, wide-striped curtains that look like silk shantung, and a floral-wine-patterned carpet. A large group would feel comfortable here, as long as they like American hard rock, mostly from the 80s and 90s. The large, padded bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant, with seven suspended televisions featuring several sports channels. Unfortunately Mack has an identity crisis, proclaiming itself as both a sports bar and a family restaurant (there is a children's play area).

After twelve minutes, our food arrived. Perhaps this is a good time to discuss what defines American barbecue. Ask ten Americans and you will probably get ten different responses, but it is mainly described as a particular method of cooking meat and using a "barbecue" sauce to marinate and baste. Though all three of the meals we ordered were called "BBQ," there really wasn't anything barbecue about them. My salmon was cold smoked (which, granted, I would have known had I bothered to read the Estonian description) with some very spicy salsa on the side. I had to ask for barbecue sauce, which went well with the salmon and made for a tasty meal. Friend one's beef brisket was just plain beef brisket with some gravy on the side. It turned out to be about 40 percent fat, so there was a big mound of gristle left on his plate after he finished eating. According to our server, someone else had complained that the meat was too dry. Here is an idea for the chefs: cook it with the fat on (to retain the moisture), but cut off the fat before serving (to retain your customers). All that fat was an unpleasant sight. For the money, the BBQ sub was the best and tastiest deal (though it, too, was a little fatty). The stuffed jalapenos were from the freezer (as, I have heard, are most of their appetizers) and overpriced.

Overall, the mediocre food, out-of-the-way location, but good service make it a restaurant we will go back to (especially with a large group), but we are not in a hurry. As to their claim of being "A Slice of America on Your Plate," granted, it is the most American restaurant I have been to in Estonia, but it doesn't quite feel like home.

Mack Bar-B-Que
Tartu Mnt 63