by Tricia Piquero for 110 Magazine Sept 2009
Mac’s Old House Restaurant on 18th Street in Antioch is actually 87 years old this year. The building was an actual house when the original Floyd “Mac” McKinney and his dad built it in 1922. Mac then converted the place into a bar on St. Patrick’s Day 1956. Sixteen years later he sold it and retired. Gary Noe bought the restaurant in 1983.
I spoke with Rick Cook, the manager and head chef. Rick said he had started working at Bertolas in Oakland when he was 15 years old, and worked his way up from dishwasher to manager. Bertolas has a similar menu and ambiance to what Gary was hoping Mac’s would become. The owner of Bertolas was Gary’s friend; with Gary’s approval, he hired Rick away from Bartolas before Mac’s Old House served their first steak or beer. Rick worked with Gary in setting up the bar.
Rick told us that he had started working at Mac’s Old House 26 years ago and complained that, since he began at the top there wasnt anyplace for him to go, so he had never had any promotions during all the years since then. Rick also said that when he first arrived in East County he maintained that he would never move here. But he quickly fell in love with Antioch and in less than a year he bought his first home in the area. Rick said that he grew up in the fogs of El Cerrito and has been chasing the sunshine ever since.
Mac’s Old House provides a warm deliberately informal ambiance. Simplicity, tastiness, and price are the three signature qualities. The dinner menu contains only nine entrees. Mac’s serves no vegetables except broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. The menus are printed on placemats — separate ones for lunch and dinner.
Diners can order any dressing for their salad, as long as it is Italian; any soup as long as it is minestrone. But both the dressing and the soup are homemade and delicious. In addition, the sauces and salad dressing are made from scratch. The signature prime rib is delicious. More than one regular thinks the calamari is the best on the planet.
The lunch menus are augmented by daily special menus: sandwiches on Mondays, Cajun on Tuesdays, fish on Wednesday’s, New York Steak on Thursdays, the dinner menu on Fridays. Rick says that almost everything on the menu is fresh, except the Wednesday halibut special is frozen, and Rick says that it will sell out in an hour and a half.
The third notable feature of Mac’s Old House is low prices. They advertise that they offer the cheapest drinks in town. At three bucks for a well drink, they’re probably right. They also offer some of the cheapest eating. The most expensive item on the menu, the Prime Rib dinner, is only $10.95, unless you want to pay three more bucks for an extra cut that will overflow the edges of your plate. Soup and Salad is only $4.95.
A number of regulars drive a long way to patronize Mac’s Old House. We met a couple who had been eating in the restaurant since 1961. They said that they drive up at least once a week from their Walnut Creek home just to eat in the restaurant.
Rick said that the restaurant was featured in one of the Eye on the Bay shows. The production crew came to the restaurant and after shooting the restaurant and sampling the menu, Rick said that the crew packed up their equipment and left. Suddenly, one of the crew was back in the restaurant, and Rick discovered that he was ordering soup to go.
When he opened the restaurant, Rick said that Gary recycled a sign that had originally hung outside a bar in Pittsburg, that had been called Steve’s Cabin. Gary replaced the letters but discovered that there wasn’t enough space-available to fit all the letters in MAC’s OLD HOUSE, so he eliminated the ‘D’ and made it “MAC’S OL HOUSE” so that it would fit.
Motorcycles are sometimes parked out front and Rick likes to say that the place is something of a biker bar. But most of the bikers are professionals — doctors and lawyers who have parked their Mercedes in the garage and are out on the town. In spite of the cheap drinks and informal ambiance, this is a family restaurant. It closes down completely at 10 p.m. It’s open seven days a week, with lunches only on weekdays.
Mac’s employees are committed to the restaurant just like the regular customers. Three quarters of them have been working there for more than ten years. One for more than 20. The kitchen was the actual kitchen of the house. It is small but, like a conjurer doing a parlor trick, the single cook might put out 250 meals on a busy night.
Mac’s Old House is obviously a good place to work; Rick and the owner are obviously good people to work for. I can tell you from experience that Mac’s Old House is surely a good place to eat.
3100 E. 18th St., Antioch, CA 94509
Ph: (925) 757-9908
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30PM; Dinner Mon-Fri 5-10PM;