I was born and raised on Dinosaur BBQ when I lived in Syracuse, New York, and was under the impression that the hole-in-the-wall biker bar was an original. After relocating to the Northwest, delicious summer meals at the Dinosaur in downtown Syracuse faded into a fond, epicurean memory. So, needless to say, when my travel host told me we were headed to the Dinosaur in Harlem, I was amazed…and hungry. I couldn’t wait to dig in, and wasn’t even concerned about the two days it would take me to get the barbeque remnants out from under my nails.
When I arrived, I have to say I was a little disappointed by the ambience. Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant is nice…too nice. The Harlem location pays little homage to the original, miniscule Harley hangout in Syracuse. The sweeping square footage and faux-rustic decorations of the New York location made me long for the days of waiting outside for an hour to share a seat with one of my older brothers.
But then the food came, and all was right in the world. My mother still religiously cooks summer barbeque sides from the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook, but there is something about having the whole package laid out in its full splendor. My group ordered chicken, ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. After I plated up, I slathered Dino sauce over all visible meat surfaces. I love the tomatoey, vinegary, and slightly sweet taste of their sauce, and that they’ve taken care not to thicken or sweeten too much. There’s another perk of the fresh, light taste of their sauce: lighter sauce means you can eat more meat! If you’re really jazzed up, you can take some of it home with you.
Like going to a steakhouse, part of what makes barbeque dinners so satisfying and memorable is what goes along with that ungodly amount of meat. Dinosaur handles the sides department like a pro. Bar-B-Que beans and cole slaw are prepared with care and aren’t over processed like some other joints. But the side that is a real treat for me is the Syracuse-style salt potatoes. Due to the city’s long love affair with salt production, young white potatoes have been harvested early and boiled with generous amounts of salt for over a century. The high salt content cooks a crust on the skin of the potato, and the end result is a creamy, tender potato with a sinful amount of salt and butter.
My cut of the bill was about $20, and I still took home more than enough in leftovers to enjoy another session of barbeque bliss the following day. For that price, I will gleefully pick brisket out of my teeth and attempt to de-grease my nails. While the Syracuse Dinosaur BBQ location will always hold a special place in my heart, I have a feeling that once I move to New York, the Harlem location will do well to keep a place in my stomach.