Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 17 January 2012
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: A Restaurant Review

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
700 West 125th Street, at Twelfth Avenue, Harlem
Getting There: 1 to 125th Street

Although hidden in a nook about as far west as you can imagine in Harlem, there sits perhaps the City’s most highly regarded barbeque joint and everything about it screams ‘big.’ From its massive open space to its seemingly endless array of draught and bottled beers to its generous portions of meat platters, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has been serving up traditional smoked ‘cue fare since 2004, to the delight of just about every red blooded (or red meat eating) New Yorker. However this would be our first return visit since the restaurant crossed the street to takeover their new space more than a year ago, and pleasantly, their penchant for delicious cooking and formula for delivering high caliber ‘cue remain unchanged.

Uniquely, instead of having ‘Dinosaur’ chains throughout Manhattan, the Harlem location is the only one nearby. The remaining three began with the flagship up in Syracuse (1988), Rochester (1998), and their most recent, Troy (2010), each opening in a notable, but secondary city, making the restaurant one of the culinary highlights worth going a little bit out of your way for. The Manhattan outpost was as bustling as ever upon our party’s arrival for dinner- a weeknight at 7:30pm. The spacious dining area, the long bar section, and even the small waiting space were all buzzing, packed with people. During the short wait for our table, we crammed into the bar and gazed upon the many beers listed on the huge chalkboard which sits behind the bar, each of which is interestingly accompanied by their alcohol content. After gulping down a couple of IPA’s and Sixpoints, we strode through the many tables toward our own, all the while glancing at other patrons’ plates.

Once seated, you can truly get a feel for the size of the restaurant. The walls are lined with kitschy yet eye catching pig portraits and southern tchotchkes, which make you forget that you’re actually on 125th Street in Harlem and not in a traditional barbeque smoke pit next to a south of the border road house. Incredibly even with so many tables being served, the restaurant was well staffed, giving us appropriate attention whenever called upon.

Anyone that’s already been to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que will surely recommend that you order the wings. Bucking the traditional trend however, the restaurant does not offer any of their varieties in buffalo sauce, offering them up by their different temperatures. Opting for the more conservative side of spice, sweeter wing alternates like the mild (honey barbecue or sesame hoisin) or hot (Wango Tango, which is more medium) proved both unique and tasty. The wings (3 for $3.95; 6 for $6.95; 13 for $13.95) were incredibly meaty and bulbous, each being rubbed in spices, then smoked, and then finished off on a grill for a nice change of pace from a run of the mill fried wing. Just as delicious were the “BBQ salmon fritters” ($6.95)- four pieces of deep fried smoked salmon in a batter with red pepper, corn, and chives. Served with a side of creamy creole mustard, the thick sauce lacquered the airy fish stick perfectly. We also opted for the “Hot Elgin sausage” ($7.95), a side hot link that was outstanding. Salty and sweet at the same time, the cured pork provided a terrific contrast to our other starters. With all of the tasty appetizers already, the “drunken spicy shrimp” ($6.95 for ¼ pound solo) was middle of the road. As peel and eat shrimp go they were certainly delicious, but ultimately were no match for the other more desirable orders.

Deciding to step up to the plate to taste each of the meats Dinosaur had to offer, we shared the “Big Ass Pork Plate” ($15.50), the “House Special” ($15.50), and the “Tres Hombres” ($19.50), each of which accompanied a different side with each meat. The “Tres Hombres” was our favorite of the varieties because it encapsulated everything we seek out in barbeque. Delicious pulled pork, slices of Texas beef brisket, and a ¼ rack of Dinosaur’s tasty St. Louis cut dry rubbed ribs covered our plate, but didn’t last long. The food came out quickly and was piping hot, with enough sauce coating each of the items that we didn’t even need to reach for the extra bottle which sat tableside. The salty pork was incredibly savory and the rib meat was cooked expertly and tore from the bone easily. Our only issue with the tender brisket was that we didn’t order more of it. It was well smoked and sauced and left our plates too soon. The “House Special” comprised more of the same terrific ribs with a ¼ piece of smoked chicken. Those who shy from red meat will certainly enjoy the chicken here, but it paled in comparison to our other entrees. Finally, the “Big Ass Pork Plate” was just a larger helping of the signature pulled pork served in the “Tres Hombres.” While the items are not necessarily fashionably plated here, the restaurant opts for substance over style and meshing the marvelous meats with sides like the “mac & cheese,” “Bar-B-Que beans with pork,” “Bar-B-Que fried rice,” and the “roasted whipped sweet potatoes” and some warm sides of cornbread makes whatever sits in front of you no match for your appetite.

As the finishing touches were being put on our plates and the wet naps were applied directly to our hands and cheeks, we reflected upon our ideal meal for our party. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a superb spot for parties of any size and is even appropriate for two, as long as you’re hungry. But reservations are not difficult to get if you plan accordingly and due to their high volumes of customers, they are definitely recommended. There may not be a lot of sights to see in the surrounding area of the restaurant, but Dinosaur is the surefire gem of the neighborhood worth visiting more than once for an energetic, lip smacking, finger licking (insert BBQ cliché here) experience.

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