Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Restaurant 17: Dinosaur Barbeque

RESTAURANT: Dinosaur Barbeque
LOCATION: 646 W. 131 St., New York, NY
DATE: May 8, 2005
FOOD: Appetizers: Mild and Hot Chicken Wings, Fried Green Tomatoes (Original), Drunken Spicy Shrimp Boil; EntrĂ©e: Sample Extreme (1/2 Chicken, ½ Rack of Ribs, Pulled Pork (substitution for Brisket)) with Cornbread, Macaroni & Cheese, and French Fries; Dessert: Rhubarb Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
BEVERAGE: Three of Dinosaur home brewed ales, Decaf Coffee
PRICE: Unknown

Pigs are disgusting, filthy animals, sired from putrescent loins into a life of contaminated breaths drawn in squalid sties of pollution.

But they sure do taste good.

Dinosaur Barbeque in Harlem, an offshoot from the original Syracuse locations opened by two bikers, marinates their porkers’ ribs in a dry spice rub for up to 24 hours before slow roasting them to a tender perfection. New York is frequently criticized for its sub-par barbeque, but travel a little north of Manhattan’s ubiquitous Dallas BBQs and Texas Rotisseries and you’ll find there’s good barbeque to be had in the city. Harlem now has two distinguished exiles of America’s south – Bill Clinton and Dinosaur’s barbeque.

Three blocks away, the smell of smoke permeates the air. By the time I walked in the door on Mother’s Day Sunday, my mouth was already salivating. Luckily, Dinosaur’s wide selection of draft beers offer plenty of ways to quench your thirst and awaken your hunger. Once seated, our waitress, Strawberry, informed us she was a mother herself and quickly gave Mrs. Goldberg a high five. The celebration was underway.

Come hungry or don’t come at all should really be Dinosaur’s mantra. While the portions are far from grotesquely large, it’s hard not to keep eating until you engorged self bears an uncanny resemblance to a late in life Marlon Brando (what, too soon? Come on, the fat jokes were okay before he died). But though the ribs are the offer you can’t refuse, the traditional appetizers and desserts are the rub, the dishes you assume are random fillers, but end up being anything but.

The drunken shrimp, boiled in beer and Cajun spices, come with a habanero cocktail sauce, a combination that reminds one of how great non-Emeril New Orleans cuisine can be. The same can be said for the fried green tomatoes, pecorino cheese topping the crisp encasing which surround the succulent, melt-in-your mouth tomato interior. Even the wings are amazing (and I am not a wings fan), most notably the honey flavor covering the mild variety, sweet and salt mixing in a Texas-sky sized swath of taste.

But seriously, on to what we came for – the ribs. “Falling off the bone” is to meat reviews what “genius” is to literary criticism, but in Dinosaur’s case, the moniker actually applies. Gently nudge the meat on the half-rack that comes with the “Extreme Sampler” (enough food to feed the entire population of many Mississippi towns or one Houston (“fattest city in America five years running”) child. Neither Jordan, Alexis or I came anywhere close to finishing the meal – but Strawberry kindly provided Dino-bags) and the pork practically jumps from bone to plate. In reality, it seems the bones on Dinosaur’s ribs are no more than temporary kebab skewers, a device used merely to get the roasted delicacy to the table in the easiest manner possible. While I am no barbeque expert, these are hands down the best tasting ribs I’ve ever eaten, charcoal and ketchup-based glaze exploding with a wide spectrum of spicy, slightly saccharine, and smoky flavors (apparently all adjectives are required to begin in an “s”). The pulled pork is also incredibly tender and would be great on a sandwich. The chicken is less memorable, but still worth ordering if for nothing else than an additional way to sop up Dinosaur’s marvelous sauces. On a previous visit I ordered the baked beans (very good) and salt potatoes (not my thing). This time, I opted for the crunchy and delightful fries and gooey masterpiece that is the Mac & Cheese.

Despite not having room for dessert, I ordered it anyway, deciding as soon as I heard the words “Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie” leave Strawberry’s mouth. Rose Water’s crumble had been great, but Dinosaur’s pie (more like a crumble itself) was amazing. Served a la mode, the pie was like a good southern style tea, sweet and bitter at the same time.

So thank God for pigs. In a room bedecked with mothers and families adorned in their Sunday best, Dinosaur was a dazzling way to spend Mother’s Day. From perfect ribs, to a smiling and garrulous wait staff, to a beautiful view of the river, Dinosaur had a little bit of everything. Upon leaving, stomach and mind were united in satisfaction – on this day, there was nothing more I could’ve possibly wanted.

**** And a Happy Mother’s Day to my mom. Sorry I couldn’t be there. Hope the coffee was at least a passable substitute.

RATING: 8.0/10

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