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Down-home cooking at Mary’s BBQ Place

Slow-smoked meat paired with baked beans, coleslaw, and potato and macaroni salads makes the perfect meal to celebrate Labor Day weekend, often viewed as the end of lazy summer days even if the first day of autumn is technically still weeks away.

Mary’s BBQ Place, which opened one year ago at 841 E. Pine St. in Central Point serves up this simple and delicious menu six days a week all year long.

Mary O’Brien has 22 years of catering experience and claims to have been roasting meats over wood fires for half her life. She previously operated O’Brien’s Mountainview BBQ at Rainey’s Market and has competed at Battle of the Bones, one of my favorite local festivals.

Her little barbecue restaurant at the corner of Pine and Ninth streets is fronted by a corrugated metal shed that protects the wood-fired smoker. The small dining room has seating at wooden picnic tables covered with plastic or at counters that ring the perimeter. Quaint, rusted-metal wall hangings blend artsy hipness with rustic roadhouse sensibilities and match Mary’s approach to barbecue.

“I’ve never been to Texas or Kansas City or Louisiana or South Carolina,” she says.

So instead of getting bogged down in doctrinaire debates over regional barbecue styles and authenticity, she just cooks up what she likes and has dubbed it “redneck barbecue.”

The smoker lunch plate is a good way to sample Mary’s menu. For $10 you get a choice of three pork spare ribs or a sandwich featuring any of the meats from Mary’s smoker: tri-tip, boneless, skinless chicken thighs, pulled pork or Taylor’s spicy Italian sausage. Then choose one of the sides: red potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans, coleslaw, green salad or a baked potato. The meal also includes a fountain soda or iced tea. A sandwich on its own is $7 and sides are $3. Bottled beers and ciders are available for $4 each.

The generous portions are big enough to share, so my husband and I were able to try a good cross-section of the menu when he ordered a pulled pork sandwich and potato salad and I opted for tri-tip and a side of baked beans.

Cooked over local madrone and oak, the pork and beef both had a subtle smoky flavor. The pork was a little fatty, but the tri-tip was moist and tender. The soft but sturdy buns held up to the varied textures and as much sauce as we squeezed on. The restaurant’s regular tomato-based sauce is light and tangy, while a jalapeño version adds a hint more heat.

The potato salad featured red potatoes with the skins left on for added color and texture, sliced black olives for an extra punch of salty, savory flavor and a classic creamy dressing. The baked beans were thick and tasty with just the right amount of subtle sweetness and a gentle touch of spice.

If you’re not into sandwiches, Mary’s will load a baked potato with eight ounces of meat, plus butter, sour cream, cheese and barbecue sauce for $9.

Mary’s also serves dinners for four that include meat, family-sized, 32-ounce helpings of two sides, and a loaf of garlic bread. Prices range from $35 for chicken to $52 for tri-tip. Take-out business was steady while we ate our lunch, and I imagine this feast could be a nice centerpiece for a picnic if you don’t have a backyard and hours to tend a smoker yourself.

Mary’s is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Check out the menu at marysbbqplace.com or call 541-727-7079.

Light, tangy sauce enhances a pulled pork sandwich at Mary's BBQ Place, while the potato salad is accented with olives. [Photo by Anita Burke]