Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Honky Tonk Rib Joint

As I was thinking about restaurants to visit (and cupcakes to eat) on my trip to NYC this coming weekend, I almost forgot about Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a "genuine honky tonk rib joint." It's out in Harlem, and chances are I won't have time to get out there, but man, it's been awhile since I've had good bbq. Redbones is the best I've found around here, but it doesn't really measure up to the first two Dinosaur locations, Syracuse and Rochester. The Harlem location was passable on my last visit, but my loyalties will always remain in Western New York.

Back in 2008, I was spending my last year in Rochester working on Alzheimer's research, applying to grad school, and just starting to get into the food writing thing. I had a beautiful loft-style apartment in a less-than-beautiful area of grungy downtown Rochester, the part that was bustling in the glory days of the Erie Canal and the flour industry, but now it has a tragic broken facade. There's still potential for rejuvenation - it feels like Buffalo but with more of a chance of rebirth - but development plans always seem to fall flat or suffer years of delays. My little piece of loft heaven did have a few walkable attractions nearby, though: a delightful bagel shop called O'Bagelo's run by a rabid sox fan named John; the baseball stadium - Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings - that I could see from my roof; and best of all, perched on top of the abandoned subway tunnel that I never got around to exploring, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Although it started as a legit biker bar and you're still guaranteed to see plenty of motorcycles parked outside, Dinosaur now gives off a more touristy vibe - Epcot Biker Bar, if you will - but the food is still solid. You'll find the expected ambiance: tattooed and pierced waiters, old rusty license plates and signs covering the walls, and a heavily graffitied bathroom with messy stalls. You'll also find heavenly wings (worthy of their proximity to Buffalo), huge portions of ribs, tasty sides, and the best cornbread in the world, if you like it sweet, crumbly, and topped with honey (I do.)

The Dinosaur bartenders make amazing mojitos (on the sweet side but deceptively strong). You'll also find great live music at the bar some nights. Some old favorites from the menu that I can still smell if I point my nose towards Rochester: mojito criollo chicken steak with tomato cucumber salad and fries, honey bbq wings, Texas beef brisket sandwich, key lime pie. A seven-hour drive in blizzard conditions? I don't care. I need to get back to my Dino.

Mojito criollo chicken with tomato cucumber salad, fries, and cornbread...I still dream of this.
A close-up of the beautiful chicken, topped with some tasty chimichurri sauce.
Boston-area Shaws locations occasionally carry Dinosaur sauces, such as the Sensuous Slathering Sauce (which is gluten-free, by the way) that I used in my recent bbq baked tofu dish. I've also spotted these packaged goods in the fridge section, and I found the pulled pork to be edible (I haven't tried the others), but honestly, the atmosphere is half the fun. Do yourself a favor and drive to Rochester, Syracuse, Harlem, or next year, Troy.

For a little bit of Dinosaur in your very own dining room, the cookbook is spectacular. Again, you're missing out on the rowdy atmosphere (well, I guess that depends on your living arrangements) but the recipes are solid, and the photos and anecdotes liven it up. I've successfully made the honey hush cornbread, drunken spicy shameless shrimp, tomato cucumber salad, and a few other dishes, and they've all been a hit at picnics and parties.

"If you leave here hungry it's your fault!" proclaims a Dinosaur motto, and it's absolutely true. Best to put your diet aside for the day and just enjoy.

I miss Dinosaur Bar-B-Que terribly, and I'm anxiously awaiting a spare weekend to return to Rochester to go there. Even Syracuse or Harlem would be acceptable, but Rochester - with all its snow and crime and decrepitude - holds a special place in my heart.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon


  1. Woohoo to ROC dino!!! I love that place :)

  2. Rochester Dino--mouth-watering memories!!

    Someone needs to bring Dino to Boston!!


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