Throwdown: A Texan Tries Out Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Welcome to Throwdown, a continuing series on the best of Central New York. Past stories have compared the best pizza and wineries in CNY. In this edition of Throwdown, native Texan Samantha Mendoza compares the famous Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to her daddy’s authentic Texas barbecue.
Alright, so let’s get one thing straight: I’m a Texan. A proud, county-listening, tamale-eating Texan. Born and raised deep in the heart of San Anton’, there’s only one thing I take more seriously than my studies, and that’s good ol’ fashioned barbecue.
So when I moved to Syracuse this summer and kept hearing y’all talk about how great this Dinosaur Bar-B-Que place is, I just knew that I had to try it for myself. In the newest addition of our Throwdown series, I boldly go where no Texan has gone before: a barbecue joint in Upstate New York. This is my take on your city’s attempt at slow-smoking my favorite dishes.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a local favorite that first opened its downtown Syracuse location over twenty years ago. The joint is more packed than cows in a farmhouse most weeknights and weekends, which has earned it a reputation of having a lively atmosphere– and a long waiting list. The dim lighting and funky wall decor, like old license plates and dinosaur murals, gives it a casual, down-home feel that is perfect for post-football game gatherings. The main attraction– the barbecue, of course– has received many awards and has been featured on countless food and travel networks. But will it meet a Texan’s standards?
For this taste test, I decided to conquer two Texas favorites: ribs and brisket.
While Texas barbecue is typically divided into four distinct categories– East Texas, West Texas, Central Texas, and South Texas– one characteristic can be seen in all regions of the state: ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender. They are typically slow-smoked with a dry rub of spices, then lathered in a famous, homemade Texas barbecue sauce.
I admit that I was skeptical of the slab of meat placed in front of me by the Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que waitress. I examined it carefully, poking my fork between two of the rib bones before slowly pulling them apart. They didn’t disappoint. The meat was tender and glazed with just the right amount of barbecue sauce, and the spices of the dry rub were just right.
Well played, Dinosaur. Well played.
But there was still one more dish to be tasted: the dish of all dishes, in my opinion. The brisket.
I’m a hard gal to please when it comes to this particular dish, mainly because if there’s one thing that reminds me of my childhood in the grasslands of my small Texas town, it’s the smell of my daddy’s homemade brisket. It would marinate in a special blend of lemon pepper, Italian dressing, peppers and onions, and other secret ingredients for 24-hours before being slow-smoked on the pit and promptly devoured by my sister and me.
I thought of this as I cut into the thin slice of brisket on my plate. Alright, Dinosaur, I said to myself with more than a bit of reluctance. Let’s see what you’ve got.
The result? Not bad. The meat was tender; not too chewy, but not too flavorful either. Parts of my cuts were a little too fatty, and aside from the excellent Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sauce, there wasn’t much to really savor. Still, the serving offered a small taste of home, of a dish that reminded me of evenings by the barbecue pit with my family in San Anton’, and in the end, what more could I ask for in a city thousands of miles away from the Texas prairies.
Overall, my trip to Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que did not disappoint. Hell, I’d even say it exceeded my expectations. The ribs were tender, succulent and flavorful, and while the brisket wasn’t necessarily up to my standards, the sides of spicy mac n’ cheese, collard greens, cornbread and mashed potatoes more than made up for its lack of flavor.
Is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Texas barbecue? I reckon’ not. But it is a slice of home, slathered in barbecue sauce and slow-smoked goodness. And that makes me happier’n all-git-out.