I grew up with a father who, like many fathers, considered himself a barbecue aficionado. For a traditionally masculine police officer like my father, grilling is the closest he gets to artistic expression. He experiments with different types of wood chips, creates his own sauces and dry rubs, and wakes up at four in the morning to throw the meat of the day on his Traeger smoker. Grilling is his art, his sweet science, the culmination of which is a meal shared lavishing praise on his efforts.
Because of this, barbecue is very personal to me. It is an experience; it’s a feeling; it’s church.
Max City BBQ is the epitome of comfort food. The entire dining experience is so casual and relaxed it evokes the feeling of family barbecues. Max City is a love letter to summer cookouts and simple concepts done with care.
The Max City motto is “Barbecue doesn’t have to be bad for you. It just has to be delicious,” which explains why you’ll regularly see the athletes from the neighboring crossfit gym stop by Max’s for their paleo-friendly protein.
Almost as engaging as the food is the story of how they came to be. Max City began as a catering company, providing barbecue stylings for weddings, corporate events and parties. On Oct. 1, 2013, they capitalized on their grassroots support and launched a kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to bring Max’s to a brick and mortar location. With pledge gifts for supporters of free catered meals, jars of their rub and smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving they were able to surpass their goal by the 31st of that same month. They opened their storefront on Eagle Rock Boulevard in March 2014.
I went to Max City on a slower weekday evening, fortunately escaping the large crowds I was forewarned of on Yelp. The small inside dining room and patio fill up quickly during popular times.
The menu is built around their four different types of meat; brisket, chicken, ribs, and pulled pork. To get the full Max’s experience I ordered the WeaKnees (32) a silver tray of a quarter pound of each meat, two sides and two pieces of cornbread. It’s the largest option available, I mistakenly thought I’d be able to take down the pound of meat and pound of side dishes and ended up taking more than half home.
The chicken featured crispy skin on the leg and thigh and subtle smokey barbecue flavor while the white meat remained tender and juicy.
During my visit the pulled pork was tender and flavorful, although a glance at the Yelp reviews shows this isn’t everyone’s experience. I do suspect the pulled pork would be better ordered as a sandwich ($12) on a brioche bun topped with coleslaw. Something about the mound of pieced apart pork isn’t received too well on its own.
Ribs are available in baby back (half-rack $17 whole $29), or St. Louis style (half-rack $16 whole $28). A quick primer on the difference between the two: St. Louis typically have flatter bones and a higher fat content while baby-backs are smaller, more lean, and thus typically more tender than St. Louis cuts, though both cuts can be tender depending on how they are prepared. The WeaKnees platter comes with four tender St. Louis ribs, coated lightly in their house rub. If you can’t get enough of their sauces, fret not. They have two bottles at each table simply labeled “spicy” and “not spicy.” It’s hard for me to say, but they definitely compete for some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.
The MVP of the WeaKnees platter was the brisket. The marks of good brisket are that it doesn’t fall apart on its own (a sign of undercooking) and that it doesn’t taste like a campfire, a trap Sunday morning grill masters often fall into while making brisket. Max City’s had a thin, smoky bark and the perfect pink smoke ring running along the perimeter. Every piece was beautifully marbled and cooked just enough so it split apart with little effort and retained its juiciness.
No barbecue platters are complete without their sides, and at Max City choose your sides carefully because while all of the meat options were rock solid, some of the sides could use some TLC (looking at you, collard greens) The standouts of the sides menu are the cornbread (two pieces for $2.50. and the mac and cheese eight ounces for $6 or 16 ounces for $12).
The cornbread served muffin style has a crispy enough exterior that it doesn’t crumble as you try to take a bite and a moist inside that doesn’t leave you choking on chalky cornmeal the way old-school cornbread might. Sometimes little changes to the classics are welcome and in the case of this cornbread, they balance the traditional corn flavor and a moist texture into a perfect little muffin.
I’m almost embarrassed to love mac and cheese as much as I do. I’ve had all varieties from the highbrow interpretations with truffle oil and lobster to the hipster, sriracha hot-Cheeto topped bowls. Refreshingly, Max City’s mac and cheese didn’t need any added novelty to make it incredible. It’s coated in a melted stringy cheese and finished under a broiler for added texture.
With its comfortable atmosphere, friendly staff, and well done BBQ favorites, I’ll be making a trip back to Max’s soon, ideally for their Sunday brunch served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. where they meld their Southern barbecue classics with LA brunch stylings. Their brunch features items like Cornbread Waffles ($10) topped with maple whipped cream, and fruit compote, and a Pulled Pork Breakfast Sandwich ($12). Pair either of those with their insanely low priced bottomless mimosas ($12) and you’re in for a nice Sunday.