It was almost 19 years ago, in August 1994, when Mac’s Grill opened up on Minot Avenue in Auburn, introducing the delicious attributes of its signature black Angus beef to the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Now served up by a trio of new owners, the restaurant’s 10-ounce “mini mac” fillet-style sirloin remains one of their most popular items on the menu — still butchered, seasoned and grilled up on the premises.

The restaurant purchase came one year ago, after the original owners (the Landry and McFarren families) heard Gerry Gagne was in the planning stages of opening a small restaurant in Lewiston. He rustled up two partners — brother Dave Gagne and Mike Peters — and the three of them soon took over the searing tasks of keeping the grills fired up and the margaritas flowing.

Dave Gagne said it’s been “a long, but interesting, year” — and he laughingly admitted it sometimes has seemed more like 10. All three owners have spent time learning the ropes, and are hands-on in all aspects of the business. While they can now make their way around the kitchen and do much of the prep work, they have not yet graduated to the ever-so-important task of grilling, leaving that to their professional chefs.

When it comes to serving beef, Mac’s Grill is a heavyweight. “We serve over 1,000 pounds a week,” said Peters, who has taken over most of the butchering duties at the restaurant. He added, “We cut every steak we sell right here, in-house.”

Starting off with large sections of certified black Angus beef, they break them down into various steak cuts. “We get most of our steaks from what is called top-butt sirloin,” he said. They further break those down into steak tips, shaved beef and “ground beef, for our burgers, which are ground here daily.”

There are a few ways to add variety to a steak selection at Mac’s Grill. You can add an order of gulf shrimp for $7. Or request the BBQ chicken breast for an additional $5.25. Mushroom gravy and sauteed onions are on the list for the more conservative diner, a piquant blue cheese topping for the more developed palate.

Steaks are sold by the pound at the retail counter, Peters said, “if folks are interested in grilling our steaks at home.”

For this story, the group shared a recipe for one of their popular steak rubs. They also shared their recipe for boneless short ribs, a menu item that might also periodically be served up at one of their wine- or beer-tasting events.

The Gagnes’ sister, Nancy Berube, has worked there for all 19 years, and is “the face of Mac’s Grill,” said Gerry Gagne, noting that in her position as general manager, three out four customers know her.

While a few things have changed at the restaurant since the new ownership, much has stayed the same up until now. “Being consistent is very important to us,” Gerry Gagne said.

They wanted to focus on doing what has worked well all these years, and have made no significant changes to their recipes or procedures. They’ve made one change to the restaurant’s schedule — they’re now open on Mondays — and have branched into a new market by offering a BBQ cookout-style catering service.

They may add new items to the menu, but for the most part they have chosen to not make major changes to the meals people have come to count on over the years. For example, Gerry Gagne said their chili is unique in that it doesn’t have any beans, “and it’s been on the menu since Day One!”

However, the partners have increased their non-beef and non-meat offerings, knowing that customers sometimes prefer pasta, chicken, seafood or salads. In so doing, they’ve put one of their most historically popular dishes — the seafood pasta bake — back on the menu after a short break. For $24, it is a decadent, cheesy mix of scallops, shrimp, lobster and mushrooms served in a sherry Alfredo sauce over pasta.

“We tailor everything to suit people’s dietetic needs, too,” Peters said. That is easy for them to do since everything is made to order on premise, and nothing is purchased pre-packaged. “We even make our own desserts,” he said, including the cheesecake made by general manager Berube.

And more changes are on the horizon, including both a dining room expansion this spring and construction of a separate bar area. Wanting to cater a bit more to local sports fans, they will add more TVs to make it more comfortable to watch a game, offer an evening bar menu and stay open later in the evening. And with more tables in the restaurant area, the owners hope to shorten up any waiting lines.

Next year, they plan to expand their postage-stamp-sized kitchen, which is disproportionately small for the amount of meals they turn out. All good news for hungry customers.

Mac’s Grill’s Texas dry rub

Ingredients:

3-1/2 tablespoons cracked black pepper

2-1/2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon coriander seed

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon dried marjoram

Directions:

Place ingredients in a bowl and blend well. Sprinkle on both sides of your steak, rub in and let set for approximately 30 minutes to allow absorption of the flavors. Store any unused dry rub in an airtight container.

Mac’s Grill‘s boneless short rib

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 pounds center cut chuck flap (boneless short ribs)

Montreal seasoning

1 medium celery stalk

1 medium carrot

1 medium onion

6 tablespoons Burgundy wine

1-1/2 cups demi glace (make yourself or use dry mix and follow package directions)

1-1/2 cups au jus (seasoned beef broth or prepare from mix)

1/2 sprig fresh rosemary

Directions: Heat oil in large stockpot. Lightly season short rib on all sides with Montreal Seasoning, and sear on all sides. Remove from heat. Add chopped vegetables to pot with reserved oil. Cook on medium heat for several minutes. Deglaze with wine, scraping brown bits for full flavor. Continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add meat, au jus, demi glace and rosemary. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 3 1/2 hours.

For gravy: Carefully strain braising liquid from pot. Separate meat and discard vegetables. Skim fat. In a separate pan, build a roux (equal parts fat and flour). Whisk in braising liquid. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes until desired consistency.


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