PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Every time we drove by the little barbecue joint on Fenn Street, I used to say, “we really need to check that place out.”
Mad Jack's BBQ recently moved to larger quarters at 295 North St.; below, sides and ribs.
Well, by the time we finally did, they had hauled up stakes and moved to a much larger location on North Street. Mad Jack’s is that good.
We made our way there in plenty of time on a Wednesday night about two weeks after the move. The liquor license isn’t ready yet and because of a small fender bender, we arrived pretty late but we still managed to find enough to fill the barbecue craving. If anything, a brush with danger sharpens your appetite, so we were famished by the time we sat down.
Mad Jack’s has moved from being a little hole in the wall take-out place to being a sit-down restaurant big enough to host a live band, something I’m hoping they’ll eventually do.
We ordered dishes to share, a rib sampler, pulled pork, collard greens, mac and cheese, cole slaw and mashed sweet potatoes. They were out of beef ribs so they let me substitute a Texas favorite, smoked brisket.
When you go to a place that’s newly opened or just moved, you need to be a little patient with things. Wait staff are still finding their way, the kitchen is still finding its rhythm and while all of that is true at Mad Jack’s right now, I’m confident it won’t be true forever.
No matter what, if you want to eat ribs in the Berkshires, this is the place to go.
Mad Jack’s ribs, dry-rubbed Memphis, baby back ribs and spare ribs, were delicious, sweet and meaty and falling off the bone tender. They were smokey and flavorful, everything you want in a rib. And if you’re not from Texas, the brisket was pretty darned good, too. (Texans prefer their brisket sliced and as an honorary Texan, I do, too.)
The pulled pork was smokey and tender, portions were generous, too. Just before our dinner arrived, Soleil, our server, plunked a beer case on the table, it was full of different sauces. Five different kinds — decisions, decisions.
About the sides, here’s the thing; when I go out for Southern food, I don’t want it gussied up. Southern-style collard greens are the only vegetable I know that benefits from being overcooked — and I mean way overcooked. If you’re serving barbecue and your greens aren’t olive drab, limp and swimming in “pot liquor” (the juice from the greens mixed with fatback drippings and whatever seasonings are in there) they’re not greens.
An emerald-green, barely wilted baby bok choy plant sliced in two and arranged artfully on a plate, well, it might have lots of vitamins and it might be pretty but that’s not greens.
Thankfully, Mad Jack’s gets it. Our greens arrived in a bowl, suitably limp, oozing flavor and having been cooked for more than an hour, yum.
Top, the man behind Mad Jack's: Jabari Powell. Right, hush puppies.
Macaroni and cheese was exactly right, not too mushy but stodgy and cheesy, a great foil to the sweet sauce on the barbecue and the near-bitter tang of greens. And while the peach cobbler was not actually cobbler but peach pie, it, too, was really very delicious. It was good enough that we ate the whole thing despite being far too full to finish our dinners. (You have to order the cobbler when you order your dinner so we didn’t know we’d be that full.)
There are some debates to be had over things like hush puppies (I think they should be fluffier) and cole slaw (I like mine on the sweet and tangy side, Mad Jack’s is salty) but you can get sweet potato pie at Mad Jack’s and that’s something to be cherished — I could eat it all day.
The salads looked fantastic, imaginative and tasty, there’s fried chicken for those days you really need it (and who doesn’t have those days?) And the prices are down-home sensible. The bill came to $40 before the tip. My rib sampler came with enough food to feed both of us, easily.
As it was, we ate leftovers for lunch the next day and were happy to have them.
But really? It’s all about the ribs. Mad Jack’s does a great take-out business and no wonder but it’s a place that’s really poised to become somewhere like the legendary barbecue and blues joints they have in Texas and the Carolinas. Add in some music and some local beer and you have a perfect place to spend a hot Friday night.