Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack
No more pink flamingos in Saline
by Billie Ochberg
From the March, 2014 issue
Wally and Cindy MacNeil first met in 1984, when they were in their mid-twenties. Each worked at the old Maude's restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. They got married, started a family, and in 1996 opened their own restaurant, Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack in downtown Saline, known for its simple seafood with a Cajun flair.
Today, the MacNeils and their restaurant are still going strong. But, as with most of us as we age, it doesn't hurt to make a few improvements from time to time. Their recent renovation was a complete makeover. "This was more than just a face-lift," says Wally MacNeil. "We've done that sort of thing a couple of times over the years, closing for a day or two for touch-ups, but this was extensive."
With brown paper covering all its many windows, Mac's closed for the last two weeks of January, smack in the midst of the so-called Polar Vortex. While most of us stayed off the roads, took work home, and weathered below-zero windchills, a Phoenix Contractors crew worked around the clock for two weeks overhauling close to 6,000 square feet of Mac's. Accustomed to long days and nights, the MacNeils were on site every step of the way, as was their landlord, Bill Kinley, who also runs Phoenix Contractors. Wally is quick to point out that the staff pitched in, too: "They helped every day with cleanup, hauling out the old kitchen floor, cleaning the tables and chairs and dusting; with construction, there was a lot of dusting," Wally emphasizes, sitting down late in the afternoon between the lunch and dinner rush, less than a week after reopening.
The changes are numerous and obvious. Gone are the brightly painted walls and countless mounted fish, signs, and sea-themed tchotchkes. "No more lime green and no more pink flamingos," Wally says, as he leads a tour through the three separate seating areas: the Main Street room, closest to Ann Arbor St.; the raw bar, in
the middle; and the bar, next to the kitchen in the back. Now, the walls are painted in a palette of complementary earth tones that highlight treasured features of the historic building's interior, like its exposed brick walls. The deep sienna wood crown molding above the wide brick doorways matches the shelving in the back bar area. The wood bar has been replaced with granite and picks up the afternoon's natural light that pours in from the restaurant's wraparound, floor-to-ceiling windows. All the wood tables in the bar area have been polished to a rich shine; every chair has been either refinished or reupholstered. The wood chairs have new padding for added comfort. A new half wall in the Main Street dining room acts as a partition and allows for more booth-like seating, something the MacNeils know their customers value: "People like the cozy feel of booths, that feeling of privacy; booths are always the first to fill, so now we have more options," Wally says. The place still has about 160 seats, but it seems like there are a lot more now, with several newly created private nooks, a few new high-backed booths along the courtyard on the south side of the raw bar room, and two new counters in the bar area.
Other changes and updates were made in the kitchen--in fact, it was the kitchen's worn-out floor that sparked the renovation in the first place. "Now we've got a 100 percent waterproof kitchen floor," says Wally. There are also shiny new stainless steel prep tables and a newly constructed wall that divides the bar area from the kitchen. The wall cuts down on the noise without closing off the kitchen, but the open feeling isn't lost, thanks to new built-in windows.
Another effect of replacing bright green paint and pink flamingos with new lighting and soothing earth tones is illuminating the flair and color on the plates. Now, what's on the menu really stands out. "We've changed our plate presentation," explains Wally. "We're still offering a lot of the same flavor profiles, but the dishes are presented in a way that modernizes what's on them." One of the new dinner menu items is barbecued salmon served over a potato pancake, topped with fresh arugula salad surrounded by lightly drizzled chive oil. Another is the "fisherman's style" linguini served with sauteed shrimp, calamari, and mussels in a white wine tomato sauce. Other familiar menu offerings, like the marinated bone-in pork chop and USDA top sirloin dinners, have a new presentation. The White Marble Farms pork chop is served over a potato pancake topped with balsamic caramelized onions; the sirloin is char-grilled and topped with melted blue cheese and fresh rosemary, and served with redskin potatoes.
The dinner menu now includes an expanded array of burgers and sandwiches from the lunch menu, including a beer-battered haddock sandwich, a salmon burger, a crab cake sandwich, and a lobster roll made with Maine lobster and served on a toasted Benny's Bakery hoagie bun. The classic fried shrimp po' boy, formerly a lunch special, is now a permanent fixture on both the lunch and dinner menus. New appetizers on both menus include shrimp and andouille grits, fried sweet potato wedges served with a side of Creole mayo, and smoked salmon served over a potato pancake topped with chive creme fraiche and arugula. Dinner and lunch specials change weekly. In the week after the reopening, specials included the coconut-encrusted shrimp served with a sweet chili sauce for $9.99 and the sauteed rainbow trout served with lemon butter and rice pilaf for $23.99.
Wally MacNeil is modest about his and his wife's impact and value in the community. But spend a half hour sitting down with him--during which no less than half a dozen locals pop in to bend his ear--and you'll quickly see why the MacNeils are local treasures and why their loyal customers are relieved that Mac's is refreshed and reopened.
Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack, 104 E. Michigan, 944-6227. Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. noon-11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m. macsinsaline.com
"It's really our regular customers who got us thinking about making the change," says Maria Cotero, who with her husband, Oscar, owns Oscar's Sports & Grill. For five years it was Wings-Pizza-N-Things, a franchise, but when customer after customer preferred the Coteros' off-the-menu specials night after night and year after year, they decided to make a change. "We ditched the franchise and made our Mexican specials a permanent part of the menu," says Oscar. The restaurant still serves pizza, wings, and burgers, but some of the most popular items are now Maria's Baja Fish Tacos, the Grilled Carne Asada, and the El Gordo Burrito. Five years ago Maria Cotero might whip up about a gallon of her fresh-roasted chili-and-tomato salsa, and it would last almost a week. But now that the Mexican dishes are regular menu items, she has to make more than a gallon every other day. Don't ask her for the recipe. It's a family secret.
Originally from Baja, Mexico and southern California, both Maria and Oscar Cotero grew up in the restaurant business. "Our families ran restaurants," explains Maria. Their four children know their way around the business, too. The oldest two, Saline High graduates, are now in college, one studying business and economics. Both of them work at the restaurant when they are home from college. "We are a family-friendly place," emphasizes Oscar.
The interior hasn't changed much, but the new name fits the ambience much better. It's very much a sports bar, with twelve large television screens broadcasting sports all the time and memorabilia of Michigan college and pro teams and the Saline Hornets. One wall has a giant Hornets electronic scoreboard mounted on it. The rest of the walls and corner shelves are covered with prized Michigan sports memorabilia, a collection that, Oscar says, has tripled over the past five years. It's hard for him to say which items are his favorites. Pointing to a now-vintage Wolverines football helmet, he says, "That was a gift from one of our regulars." He then points to a framed photograph of the 1968 world champion Detroit Tigers. "It's signed by all the players," he says. He's a big Tigers fan and a season ticket holder. As if on cue, a regular customer comes in to ask what section he's in this year, so he can try to sit nearby.
Oscar highlights a shelf above the bar that displays more than fifteen tequilas, including Corralejo, Casa Noble, Don Julio Anejo, and Herradura. "I'm thinking of offering flights of tequila so customers can sample some of the higher-grade tequilas three at a time." As he talks about special events, special menu items, and purchases for the restaurant, it's clear that he responds to his customers and takes their suggestions seriously. When he heard that folks wanted the Michigan Lottery's Keno and Powerball games, he got both. When regulars asked for trivia nights, he made one a weekly event. Oscar's Sports & Grill now offers My Trivia Live every Wednesday night, karaoke on Thursdays, and live music on the weekends.
Oscar's Sports & Grill, 6877 State Rd. 429-7700. Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. oscarssportsgrill.com
The Busch's grocery store in Saline finished its months-long remodeling since our last issue. It never closed during the renovation, which made for a bit of confusion as customers navigated around construction, but now that it's done there are no complaints about the shorter aisles and more open, spacious appearance. Jason Herington, the "center store" manager, describes happy "guests" all around. "People love the new meat department. It reminds me of ... the butcher from The Brady Bunch," Herington says, as he proudly offers a tour of the long, gleaming meat counter. "Before the remodel you only had pre-packaged meat. Now you can talk to the butcher. It's full service. You can order what you want and have it tailored to fit your needs." Every cooler throughout the store has been replaced with high-efficiency coolers equipped with screens that lower for overnight energy conservation.
A brand new foyer with an expanded area for carts allows for easier access and lets in natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows under a modern wood-and-crossbeam ceiling. Customers no longer need to schlep bags of returnable bottles to the back of the store. Now there is a separate spacious bottle return nook near the entrance. The tile floor throughout the store was removed and the concrete beneath it polished to a high sheen--"just polished, no chemicals," says Herington. Four new U-Scan registers were added up front next to the updated and remodeled magazine, card, and floral area. The beer and wine section is twice as big with a vast selection of domestic and craft beers, and you can mix and match singles to create your own variety six-pack. "We even have a craft gluten-free beer," said Herington, pointing to a bottle of "Omission."
Busch's, 565 E. Michigan, 429-6100. Daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m. buschs.com
[Originally published in March, 2014.]