Les Bon Temps
Chef Mac's cuisine gets its Louisiana flavor direct from the sauce
Published: November 10, 2010
Chef Mac's Louisiana Cuisine
4311 Harford Road,  319-6227, chefmacs.com
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It’s not an auspicious beginning to the evening. None of the four tables at Chef Mac’s Louisiana Cuisine is occupied, though it’s 6:30 p.m. Nothing bubbles on the stove, and the vintage cold case that separates the dining part of the storefront from the kitchen and prep area is bare save for a handful of red and green peppers and a head of celery.
And so it’s hard to imagine that anything special will come from this clean, basic space. But once you decide on something from Chef Mac’s compact menu of dishes plucked from the bayou and then give your order to Miss Betty, the woman in charge of the kitchen tonight, the magic begins.
First it’s the thwack of a knife cleaving vegetables and hitting the chopping board. Then it’s the sizzle of onion in oil, of sausage on the grill. In moments, the room fills with the fragrance of the Cajun Holy Trinity (pepper, onion, celery), and some minutes later, a fiery spice penetrates the air, insinuating itself over the sideboard piled with plastic utensils, past the handful of tinsel and Mardi Gras beads, and into nostrils, where it smolders at a slow burn. In 20 minutes or so, Miss Betty has conjured up three different plates of food from what seems like nothing.
This is not the case, of course. Each Cajun dish is based on a rich seafood stock, Maclonza Lee, Chef Mac’s namesake, chef, and proprietor, explains later when he stops into his year-old restaurant just before closing. From that stock and a variety of ingredients and thickeners, he says, he is able to make to order a slew of recipes from his Louisiana childhood, including shrimp creole or crawfish étouffée.
Regionalism creeps into other parts of Chef Mac’s menu as well. Sandwich offerings include po’boys, Cajun-style pork roast and barbecue, and andouille sausage. Burgers, both beef and turkey, come blackened. And tucked between listings for gumbo and stuffed salmon are hybrid dishes such as Cajun chicken kabobs and Cajun tempura shrimp.
On a first visit, however, we stick close to the bayou, and dither about which distinctly Southern sides to order with our meals. Fried okra is passed over as there’s okra in the gumbo, according to Miss Betty. Instead, a small portion of tart, silky collard greens ($3) comes to the table, along with a sturdy square of macaroni and cheese ($3), creamy, but not mushy, and a serviceable corn muffin ($3) to absorb the forthcoming heat. And these dishes are hot—both in temperature and spice.
Shrimp jambalaya ($12.95) arrives steaming on a black plastic plate and tastes broadly of green pepper and meaty shrimp, its red sauce thick enough to bind the ingredients but not so thick as to be pasty or tasteless. Seafood gumbo ($13.95) is more earthy, brown-sauced rather than red, but no less spicy. There’s shrimp here too, and andouille sausage, and heaps of tomato and okra. Both stews are served over Cajun rice. A third entrée finds a crisp-skinned andouille sausage nestling into a generous bowl of red beans and rice ($7.25; the kitchen will also substitute seitan or tofu in many of the dishes). Are they spicy too? You betcha. We’re glad we’ve brought beer to wash it all down. (Chef Mac’s is BYOB.)
Like the sides, desserts at Chef Mac’s help cool the burn. The featherlight sweet potato pie ($2.95) is also redolent of spice, though nothing that will burn your tongue. It does, however, deserve a better crust. And the peach cobbler ($3.95) needs an entire do-over, complete with lighter biscuits and fresh fruit.
Chef Mac’s is undoubtedly quirky, and reportedly busier at lunch than dinner. It requires a little patience: By the end of the day, some menu items may not be available, and with limited staff in the kitchen, your meal may take some time to prepare. I’d go back though. The gumbo is worth the wait.
Chef Mac’s Louisiana Cuisine is open for lunch and dinner, Monday- Saturday. BYOB.
> Email Mary K. Zajac