BBQ, like most great art forms, is highly subjective. Dry Rubs vs Viscous Sauces. Pork shoulder vs Beef Brisket. Ribs vs well, nothing. Dinosaur BBQ does nothing to quell these debates, it excels in everything. And, oh, what a burden it is to have to argue the deliciousness of moan-inducing dish after moan-inducing dish. There’s a certain holier-than-thou attitude amongst BBQ enthusiasts and Southern natives that no palatable BBQ exists above the Mason-Dixon line. Poppycock! Dinosaur BBQ, originally of Syracuse, NY and now proudly franchised at 125th St & 12th Ave., stands as evidence that America, great melting pot, can give yankees a bit of dixie love.
The restaurant is large by strip-mall standards, cavernous compared to typical NYC hot spots. The roominess of a chain restaurant, complete with waiting times. Make reservations for dinner service. You’ll still wait 15 min. or so, instead of the typical hour-long delay. And sitting in the Walden-esque waiting area, surrounded by hardwood floors and furniture, with the olfactory melange of aromatic smoking woods and crackling mammal fats curling up your nose like a Tex Avery cartoon, it can be a very long hour, indeed.
The temptation is to go buck-nutty and over-order appetizers because a.) you’re probably starving and b.) the food looks and smells amazing. Resist this. The entrees and sides are well worth the wait, and portion size is barely an issue. I went small with a quarter-pound shrimp cocktail that piqued my protein craving while settling the hunger pangs. Chilled, plump and too-generously seasoned with Old Bay and BBQ spices the cocktail comes with a habanero BBQ sauce for dipping. It’s a bit much on bold flavor, but a good smack never hurt the taste buds. And the spicy heat opens up the sinuses and facilitates full-on flavor comprehension for the subsequent entree.
Dinosaur BBQ is ideal for splitting items with friends or lovers or enemies. I ordered the “Sweetheart Deal”: a full-rack of ribs and four sides for two. I also recommend buying a bucket of beer. Pork Slap Pale Ale, to be specific. $22 for six beers is far from highway robbery, and the convenience of having drinks on hand is worthwhile as your server will be busy and check-ins are infrequent. The service isn’t outstanding, but when you see the volume and activity of the whole place you understand why the servers can’t hover over you and refill your Coke every two minutes.
The sides ranged from epic to underwhelming. Salt potatoes, which are baked/steamed small potatoes in butter and (you guessed it) salt were adequate, but portion size was lacking. The baked beans were a bit thin to my taste, but flavorful with plenty of smoky, porky notes and the squishy sweet texture you anticipate.
Coleslaw was fantastic. Creamy without being heavy, and coarsely shredded so the bites had actual texture, the coleslaw is a far cry from the typical styrofoam cup filled with mutilated cabbage and watery mayo found at too many delis and diners.
The mac and cheese cannot be captured with words. It must be experienced. Cheesy, spicy, gooey and rich, it is strong enough to stand alone, but when paired with the ribs … my goodness. We ordered extra because it was devoured almost instantly, and had the power to distract us from the ribs.
The ribs were, as expected, phenomenal. A carousel of sauces is available on the table for your slathering pleasure, and after a bit of each I went with the Wango Tango Habanero BBQ sauce. Had the heat, had the sweet and gave me a good, slow burn that cut through some of the fatty mouthfeel on the ribs. I gnawed each one down to a clean white bone, suitable for God to shape into Eve. Best ribs in town. Period.