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Thursday June 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- For the residents of 6,000-person towns and farm-lined dirt roads, we sure seem to love gourmet, foreign, experimental, organic vegan food. The Berkshires' smorgasbord of eateries triumphantly caters to the most delicate palettes and restrictive diets.

Yet for all of our culinary indulgences, it appears as though we've forgotten the primal ecstasy of greasy, salty, messy country dinner. I tip my hat to Madjacks BBQ, a newcomer to Pittsfield's continually revitalized North Street, for reminding me what I was missing.

Madjacks has been sating the meat-lover crowd with down home, sweet-and-spicy delights prepared daily since 2010. After two years on Fenn Street, owner Jabari Powell moved it to a much larger, more central storefront between Spice Dragon and K's Merchandise.

The space is designed to be crowded in the best of ways. A wide-open dining room and massive three-sided bar under high ceilings and large street-facing windows (tastefully dimmed by diaphanous blinds) beg to be filled with hungry bodies ready for the evening to begin. It'll take a lot of people to fill the place, but that's exactly who will like Madjacks: a LOT of people.

Only three other tables were occupied at 9 p.m. on Saturday, but the space felt alive. A combination of vintage R&B music, animated groups of high school athletes and middle-aged double daters, and the sounds and smells of steaming meat foster a soda fountain energy.


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Even the waitstaff seemed to be having fun -- not always the case at the tail end of a Saturday night.

A few details pointed in the direction of practical, unpretentious authenticity. Exposed brick walls cast a disarming softness on the room, as if affectionately teasing the crisp, warm Earth tones of the interior's newly painted surfaces and the multicolored glow of hip, almost psychedelic ceiling lights set to low.

Even the sparse items waiting for us on the diner-style table told a story. Six types of house-made sauce sat in squeeze bottles holstered in an empty six-pack carrier with a bowl of wet-naps sitting next to it. The message was clear: "Relax, get comfy, and prepare for delicious and messy food."

There's a heavy emphasis on Deep South cooking including some regional treats like hushpuppies and beef etouffee that I've never before seen on a Berkshire County menu. Place diverse orders and prepare to share. Everything is worth a taste.

For around $10 you can select from an enticing list of entrees accompanied by two sides and cornbread. This may sound like a lot of food, but it's actually much more. All of our dinners were huge specimens of epicurean excess, and the accompanying sides were big enough to be served as appetizers at a less generous restaurant.

Fried Catfish Bites with Cajun mayo ($6.99) couldn't have been better.

I used to live in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter and am confident that such luscious, buttery nuggets would be a standout even at the famed intersection of Decatur and Frenchmen. I'll order it every time I return to Madjacks. The same applies to the collared greens, which I never knew could be so flavorful.

The menu is big, but the servings are enormous. Of the four of us I alone finished my meal. My BBQ 1 2 Chicken Plate ($10.25) with sweet and tangy sauce was fantastic. If my stomach were larger I'd have demanded the other half of the chicken, too. But I could barely finish as it was.

Two friends ordered the Rib Sampler Plate ($17.99): "3 baby back ribs, 2 beef ribs, & 2 spare ribs & 2 St. Louis."

Fred Flintstone would have swooned over the massive piles of glistening meat and bone. Neither of these hungry men made it past the halfway mark. To order at Madjacks is to select tomorrow's lunch as well.

One thing missing from our dinner was the option of a beer or glass of wine. The liquor license isn't in place quite yet, but when this changes, as the manager assured me it soon will, I can picture the mammoth bar becoming this summer's new hotspot.

Quick, cheap, delicious plates served within a full view of North Street make it an ideal place to meet friends before hitting the bars or blissfully descending, as I did, into a meat coma.

Also absent were the clambering throngs of patrons who, once the word gets out, will turn Madjacks into the busting, toe-tapping, all-ages joint that it's poised to become. So all that's really missing is beer and you, and the beer is already on the way.

This combination of cheerful ambiance, good music, low prices, and authentically delicious Southern food right on North Street won't be a secret for long.

Pretend you "forgot" about your diet and grab a table now before a line forms around the block. And get the catfish. Trust me about the catfish.