It was cold night in a marginal part of town. The music inside the honky-tonk biker joint was loud, we were hungry, and the wait for a table seemed interminable. After finally being seated and served, my first ravenous bite justified all the effort it had taken to reach that point. This was real barbecue! Although that took place some seven years ago, I still savor my gustatory memories of the original Dinosaur Bar B Que in Syracuse, New York.
In late 2004, roughly a year after my Syracuse feast, I welcomed the prospect of Dinosaur's new Manhattan venture with eager enthusiasm. Early tepid reviews, however, delayed my initial visit to the Harlem branch by several years. Should I have waited so long?
On a recent visit to the NYC Dino, we were greeted with the familiar 45-minute wait for an indoor table. Fortunately, outdoor seating was on a first-come, first-served basis. We promptly scored a private, full-sized picnic table outside on a lovely summer's evening. Best of all, we avoided the deafening decibel levels of the dining room. It almost appears as though the interior space had been manufactured to resemble the one in Syracuse—right down to the noise level. One could say that Dinosaur really knows how to put the din in dining. Just steps from the Cotton Club and Fairway, the contrived biker ambiance seems incongruous with its surroundings. The clientele was composed of mainly yuppies; the few bikers we spied had ridden in under their own pedal propulsion.
Regardless of what critics may have said, the barbecue here is every bit as good as the upstate original, and exceeds the taste and quality of many a Southern pit. With its $27.95 Sweetheart Deal for Two (a full rack of pork ribs, four homemade sides, and two pieces of honey hush cornbread), this Dino has soared to one of the top spots on my list of favorite barbecue joints. The ribs are marinated for 24 hours with Dinosaur's Action Spice Rub and slow pit-smoked to perfection to yield a meaty, fall-off-the-bone tender rack. A light glaze of Dino's original Bar-B-Q sauce adds the perfect finish. Nevertheless, there's additional sauce at each table for those who like more. Unlike many, this one is rich and flavorful without being a ketchup bomb.
For our sides, we chose cole slaw, Creole potato salad, Bar-B-Que beans, and simmered collard greens (vegetarian!)—each very tasty. The relish and Cajun spices in the potato salad added a welcome tang. Of course, cornbread is de rigueur with barbecue. Dino's honey hush beauties are moist, and have the right degree of graininess in their texture. My only complaint is that we were limited to a mere two pieces with our Sweetheart Deal—two more would have been twice as sweet.
Though usually a wine drinker, I prefer suds with my 'cue. As one might expect, Dinosaur has a well-chosen selection of beers on tap. While my Comestaccomplice ordered the Blue Point Toasted Lager, I chose the Middle Ages Syracuse Pale Ale. Less bitter and a bit smoother than mine, hers was the better brew for barbecue.
Dinosaur Bar B Que's are among the most satisfying ribs I've tried, and worth the heartburn. Needless to say, a full rack and all its accompaniments are more than ample for two. Why did I wait all these years to try this place?
Dinosaur Bar B Que
646 West 131st Street (SE corner 12th Av), Harlem, Manhattan
By train: 1 to 125 Street (walk west on 125th to 12th Av)
By bus: M4, M104, Bx15