A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mar. 29.


Dinosaur Bar-B-Que - 646 W. 131st St., Harlem
A solo order of Fried Green Tomatoes, a 3/4 rack of ribs with cole slaw and mac and cheese, a Middle Ages IPA, Sweet Potato Pecan pie

Abortion and religion seem like quaint, friendly discussions compared to the maelstrom of barbecue debate. I can’t think of any food nearly as divisive (pizza may be a distant second), with topics such as region, meat, sauce and style all invitations to an inevitable smackdown. So with this in mind, let me lay my mesquite-scented shortcomings on the table now: I’ve never eaten ribs south of Virginia. The only place in the Midwest I’ve been is Chicago. I also don’t have, nor have I ever had, barbecue sauce coursing through my veins.

Things got particularly messy in New York when Syracuse-import Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened a remote outpost in Harlem. After the early raves, there was the predictable backlash culminating in the triple slam of The New York Times, The Village Voice, and even The New Yorker’s usually benign Tables for Two. When the dust eventually settled, what remained was a very good, unpretentious restaurant that had gotten caught on the battlefield in the relentless barbecue war.

On my first visit, I got the Extreme Sampler, a gargantuan plate of a half-chicken, a half-rack of ribs and Texas beef brisket. The brisket was too dry and the baked bean side was just okay, and the portion far outweighed my hunger, but otherwise, I was very happy with the meal. The impressive beer list, focusing on upstate drafts, didn’t hurt either. This time around, I gauged my hunger better and selected the ¾ rack of rib with sides of mac and cheese and cole slaw. Pleased with the work of the Middle Ages brewery last time, I picked their IPA to wash down my food. It didn’t let me down.

The ribs were as good as I remembered too, loaded with meat and just enough fat. The smoked pork fell gently off of the bone, with a pleasing well-cooked and mildly sweet flavor. They also smelled terrific, making me wish I could eat more than seven in a sitting. But because they are so meaty, I filled up fast and had to give my last two to Vince. As for the sides, they inevitably play second-fiddle to the violin solo of the meat, and at Dinosaur, they fit the role, being good but not outstanding. The best was the offbeat mac and cheese, with stringy cheese and a slight kick. I also liked the fresh-cut fries that I tried last time and the salt-baked potatoes.

Dinosaur’s desserts are also nothing mindblowing, but sturdy renditions of reliable standards. They’re also gigantic. I enjoyed my last choice of key lime pie, but even better, was the sweet potato pecan pie I split this time around. Subtle and just sweet enough, with a thick crust and a light filling, it made me glad I saved room for it.

Another feature of the restaurant that deserves note is the service, which both times has been alarmingly casual, friendly and helpful. Our waitress seemed like she was having fun and, always on top of what we needed, made our experience that much more pleasant. By the end of the meal, I was relaxed enough to sink down into my seat, my full belly bulging out, sipping the last drops of my IPA. “Have a good night, boys,” our waitress said with a laidback grin.

So while it may not be the Holy Grail or even the world’s best barbecue, I will stand by my claim that Dinosaur is New York’s best. And if anyone feels like arguing that point, my suggestion is that you head up to Harlem, have a beer and a rack of ribs and just relax. There's already so much in the world to divide us. 7/10


Anonymous Roma said...

Okay, stop already!! You make me hungry and pine for the city! I really enjoy your writing. Sometimes it makes me laugh. But I have to ask you, what do you do that you can go out this often in this expensive city??
Thanks for the good eats!

11:56 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

How in the world can you afford to do this? Writers aren't allowed to make enough money to eat so well. Here I am living on Ramen, and you're deciding between fondue and filet mignon every night ... At least my music taste is better.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

The secret is not to spend money on anything else. And working lots and lots of overtime. And robbing banks.

5:16 PM  

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