At MA's, strip-mall smoking gets a bit surreal 

Phantom Sammich

The difference between how MA's Sammich Stop describes itself in a promotional pamphlet and how it really is, is so vast as to yield complete cognitive dissonance — like, am-I-in-the-right-place confusion. The literature talks about a place "where locals gather to kick back" in a "fun" and "relaxed" environment: "We truly believe we've created something with this restaurant that you cant [sic] get anywhere else in the area."

What I'm saying — and it's more confusing than upsetting — is that there is no restaurant. There is no dining room. Outside the genial, but bored, woman who helped us with some to-go food from the front room of a kitchen prep area stacked with dry goods, there's not even staff "dedicated to providing friendly and personalized service." Maybe all that comes on the catering side, but MA's Sammich Stop is not a restaurant. It's barely a counter.

Then MA's was out of ribs one day, and out of the Dirty Bird Sammich and the Smokin' Chicken both days. And you can't call the listed number to check ahead of time, because somebody stole the phone while it was being used to play music outside; now it just goes straight to voicemail. Even the credit-card machine ran out of paper, generating a frantic call while we waited.

Again: I'm not mad. Somehow this was all rather charming. Plus, there's the restaurant's website, where the "best food west of the Mississippi" is promised from the hands of chef Timothy J. Archer, "a culinary genius and the mastermind behind all of the delicious blends of food and spices that makes MA's Sammich Stop the best BBQ in all of Colorado."

Taken together, the whole thing is like a real promotion for a fake restaurant in Grand Theft Auto.

But the barbecue is real, and the ribs are real good, when you can get them. A half-rack ($10) of applewood-smoked spare ribs comes bearing a light dusting of something delicious — Archer did not return our call — over large whorls of meat barely holding in the bones. You could pull out chunks, or just lightly carve them off with your teeth.

Like the moist, fatty brisket sandwich ($11), lightly smoked and almost melting, these babies were in no need of sauce — which is a good thing because, outside of the peppery chipotle, they were all pretty disappointing. The Carolina did a hot-dog dance of yellow mustard and ketchup, while the blueberry seemed to be fruit jam and cumin. Some light-orange colored peach habañero sauce actually wasn't too bad, just watery and light on flavor.

The bayou burger ($6) comes off like a Sloppy Joe gone wrong, a huge pile of greasy meat flecked with rice dumped over a bun, but the mounded pulled pork ($6) holds its own — moist, but quietly seasoned. Skip the sides, because they're either über-bland potato salad, a watery coleslaw (though with some nice apple bite) or bags of Frito-Lay.

I mean, you could skip the whole thing, really, but I feel like there might be something to the catering experience. And those ribs and brisket are legit. I guess, if you go: Get into that Omaha Boulevard frame of mind — think a strange mix of out-of-the-way residential, industrial and light commercial — enjoy the touring neighborhood carnival as you drive by, and embrace the feeling that you know not what's to come.



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