Just three blocks from Occidental, wedged next to Yellow Liquor on the corner of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Ridgeview Avenue, is Max City BBQ, the newest Eagle Rock gastronomic venture. The corner café is hardly a dive; it boasts a bar lined with Ranunculus flower bouquets and over-sized glass jars filled with lemonade and iced tea. Part of the rear parking lot has been transformed into a back patio surrounded by a succulent plant vertical garden. The attractive space is the result of nearly a full year of renovations.
Formerly a marijuana dispensary, the venue was dramatically transformed into the vision shared by co-owners and husband and wife Jason McDonald and Melanie Blair and business partner John Andrus. Andrus, an architect, handled the majority of the renovations.
The motivation to start up the restaurant began for McDonald and Blair well before the March 21 opening. Seven years ago, McDonald was challenged to a “rib-off” among friends in Los Angeles but fell short of winning. Since then, New Yorker McDonald committed himself to improving his product, though clearly not from a “barbecue family.”
“I am a bad loser,” McDonald said.
Following the rib-off, McDonald and Blair began catering small-scale, backyard events for friends and family in L.A. The catering business took off, prompting the couple to expand the business to a retail space.
The menu at Max City BBQ is identical to that of the couple’s flagship catering business, featuring barbecue classic such as baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork and barbecue chicken, served with sides including macaroni and cheese, cucumber salad and cornbread.
I headed to Max City BBQ with Diplomacy and World Affairs major Emma Lalley (senior) and Art History and Visual Arts major Hannah Rindlaub (junior) on a Thursday evening less than a week after the opening. I went for the barbecue chicken paired with the cucumber salad, while Rindlaub and Lalley ordered the pulled-pork sandwich with Key lime pie for dessert.
The portions were generous and came in disposable containers nestled on hammered aluminum platters. Served with a cornbread muffin, the flavorful and moist chicken was even better with the barbecue sauce found on the table. The cucumber salad was reminiscent of Japanese cucumber salad with rice-wine vinegar, lightening up an otherwise-heavy meal.
Although each item on the menu is delectable, certain dishes stand out. “The Key lime pie is what’s up,” Rindlaub said.
We were far from the first Occidental students to visit Max City, according to McDonald. Thus far, he has been thrilled with the traffic but is still figuring out how to keep up with demand while maintaining high quality. McDonald has hired Occidental students in an effort to keep up with demand.
“It is hard to keep things fresh when producing in large quantities,” McDonald said.
McDonald aims to maintain flavorful, classic dishes by utilizing high quality, organic ingredients, including eggs from the Atwater Village Farmers Market.
McDonald, Blair and Andrus are acutely aware of the Occidental community’s potential impact on their business and hope to continue to cultivate an Occidental fan base. As other Eagle Rock businesses have done, Max City BBQ is offering a 10 percent Occidental student and faculty discount, as well as other deals tailored to the college crew.
M-F 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., 4729 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90041