When I was five years old, and everyone was running around pretending to be cops, astronauts, or firemen, I was digging in the dirt, training to be a paleontologist. A word that I could barely say, but I knew that it meant digging for dinosaurs so I committed it to memory and for the next 10 years repeated it every time anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even though, I am all grown up and a paleontologist I am not, I still have an affinity for our gigantic fossilized ancestors. Therefore a few years ago when my good friend introduced us to a BBQ joint named Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem, I have to say I was smitten.
My friend is a native of the North, as in the true upstate New York, not Rockland County like all of us Bergenites believe to be upstate, and way up there in damn near Canada, the first Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was born, in Syracuse, N.Y. Since 1988, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has been kicking ass and taking names in the BBQ world and slowly traveling south to our neck of the woods bringing its biker and blues outlook with it. In 2004, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que set up shop in Harlem, and instantly became my favorite BBQ spot in the area, even though I had to travel into the city just to taste some of their delicious cuisine. In April 2012, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que made this foodie happier than a hippie in a hackie sack circle, when they opened the doors to their newest location in good old Newark, N.J.
Since July 4th is right around the corner and we are supposed to be celebrating America, I thought that a review of a BBQ joint was necessary considering that BBQ is about as American as Apple Pie and Capitalism. We arrived at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which is located at 224 Market St. in Newark, at approximately 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday and although parking was quite tricky, we did not have to wait for a seat which was a welcomed change from the Harlem Venue, which is always packed. As we approached our table, we noticed that the same biker/blues inspired theme could be seen in this location as the Harlem one. Pigs of all sizes adorn the walls made out of a variety of textiles, while movie posters from back in the day fill in the gaps. Behind our table, a wonderful hand-painted mural of Market Street complete with the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que mascot, the green Tyrannosaurus Rex-like dinosaur from the logo, crossing the street decorated the far wall.
As we scanned the menu, our waiter arrived to take our drink order. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, understands that although the food they serve is extremely important, one cannot overlook the magnitude of a truly prodigious beer menu at a BBQ establishment. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s beer list reads like a who’s who of the craft beer realm. From the old standards like Pabst and Budweiser to the craft beer locals like Brooklyn and Ramstein, anyone can find something to wet their whistle at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Zoe was particularly happy that she was able to procure her new favorite vice, Angry Orchard hard cider, which pairs with BBQ much better than wine.
Our guest foodie, Shamus Mc Haggis, and I ordered a pitcher of Ramstein while Zoe ordered her cider and then it was back to the insanely difficult task of choosing just one of the tantalizing offerings off the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Menu. Shamus and I decided to go with the four meat BBQ combination platter for $24.95. I ordered the ¼ chicken, St. Louis Ribs, BBQ Brisket, and Pulled Pork, whereas Shamus substituted the ¼ chicken for a homemade sausage link. As for sides, I chose Gumbo and Turkey Neck Greens, while Shamus went with the Gumbo and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s world famous Mac and Cheese. Zoe decided on the 10 oz. center cut Skirt Steak, BBQ spiced & grilled, served with a Red Chimichurri Steak Sauce for $20.95 with a side Black Eyed Pea Salad and of course the Mac and Cheese, which is why I did not need to order it because I knew I was going to steal some of hers. We also decided to order an appetizer to hold us over until our entrees arrived, which we decided would be Fried Green Tomatoes with a Smoke Shrimp Remoulade for $8.95.
With our food order in and our glasses full, we then began to wax poetically about the nonsensical things that were occurring in our lives. Our dinner conversation lingered while our libations were consumed, attempting to deal with the most horrific waiting period that befalls modern man, the time frame between the ordering of the food, you can smell permeating through the restaurant, and the moment it is delivered. No matter if it is 5 minutes or 50 minutes, it always seems like an eternity to me.
Our Fried Green Tomatoes arrived at our table complete with a pile of Smoked Shrimp, that impressed both Shamus and I. I was expecting ground up shrimp for flavor or small salad shrimp to be a part of this dish, but I was appreciatively surprised when I saw the heaping portion of moderately sized shrimp mixed with the remoulade, or tartar sauce-like concoction. Since Zoe does not eat shrimp, her dipping sauce was the standard sauce for these Fried morsels of yumminess, a Cayenne Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. The Green Tomatoes were deep fried flawlessly and were crispy on the outside while not too mushy on the inside. The addition of the Shrimp Remoulade which even Zoe tried, with some coercion, added just a bit of smoke and spice that catapulted this dish to new heights.
Shortly after eating our 1990’s movie appetizer, our entrees arrived as Shamus poured us another beer from the pitcher. Our food was placed in front of us and each one of us began to inspect the fine fare that was just presented. Some foodies believe that BBQ is an ugly dish, a plate that cannot be elegantly displayed and therefore not a true foodie find. To that I say, insert however you spell the sound that a raspberry makes here. I believe that it is simply un-American to not find a plate piled high with dead animal, unquestionably gorgeous.
I attacked my four meat combo with the strategy of a five-star general. First I poured out a small dollop of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s own Sensuous Slathering Sauce, a squirt of Wango Tango Habanero hot BBQ sauce, and a dab of Devil’s Duel Pepper Sauce onto my plate so I would be prepared for dipping. I decided to take on each meat separately, using a divide and conquer technique and then partake in the side dishes throughout the meal to cleanse my palate.
With the sauces ready for battle and my strategy intact, I approached the front line, the chicken which consisted of a leg and a thigh. There is something quite special about Bar-B-Que’d dark meat chicken, which cannot properly be described using the English Language. The skin was crispy and just the right amount of burned, while the inside was juicy and flavorful.
Dinosaur’s Gumbo was more or less a Chili-like blend that combined a Tex-Mex flavor with a New Orleans attitude. The base for the Gumbo had definite Upstate Chili roots but then the combination of the Chorizo sausage, Smoked Chicken, and Okra that complements the broth creates an explosion on flavor in each bite. A very good side dish, which they also serve as a small plate meal with rice and corn bread for $6.95.
After defeating the Chicken, I set my sights on the St. Louis Style ribs, which are making my mouth water as I think of how to impress upon you their awesomeness. People throw around the words fall off the bone or finger licking good all too often when recounting their experiences with ribs. Well, in this case, these ribs are smack your mother in the face good, which if you don’t know, is far better than fall off the bone according to the foodie colloquialism handbook. Seriously though, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s ribs are outstanding and if you have not tried them yet, you need to drive, take the bus, bike, hike, or skateboard tonight to Newark and strap on a feed bag.
The Turkey Neck Greens reminded me of some of the greens that I have had at my favorite soul food restaurants in Passaic or Paterson. The bold flavor of the collared greens mixes well with the onions and spices that Dinosaur has added to create this side dish. Meanwhile, the essence of the Smoked Turkey Neck enhances these probably unhealthy but wonderfully tasty vegetables.
With two ribs down and one saved for later, I pressed on towards the BBQ pulled pork. I once again reached for the Sensuous Slathering Sauce and applied it liberally to this small mound of meat that graced my plate. With each forkful I realized why I could never truly follow the Jewish or Muslim faith. Dinosaur’s pulled pork has just the right smoke flavor without being too much, and combined with their Bar-B-Que sauce it is simply divine.
After I devoured the final bite of the pulled pork, I focused my efforts towards the 14-hour smoked, hand sliced Bar-B-Cue Brisket. Brisket is by far the hardest of the Bar-B-Qued meats to cook in my opinion due to the tendency for it to get tough when cooked for long periods of time. Dinosaur’s Brisket does have a slight bite to it, which is to be expected from Brisket, but it is juicy and utterly delicious. With the addition of a small amount of Wango Tango Sauce and the house cured pickled jalapenos it is served with, it is a delightful treat.
I was lucky enough to be dining with friends that understand my passion for food, and Zoe and Shamus offered to allow me to sample the delicacies that decorated their plates that I had yet to try. Shamus gave me a bit of the Hot Link he had ordered instead of the Chicken, and I accepted it thankfully. The sausage itself was bursting with immense flavor, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it was housed in a crispy skin. Zoe allowed me to try both her Skirt Steak, which was expertly cooked and, when dipped in the Chimichurri Steak Sauce, brought me to flavor county, and Dinosaur’s Mac and Cheese. As stated before, I love the Macaroni and Cheese that is served at Dinosaur so I was grateful for this small addition to my meal.
Since I was almost full to the brim, I returned my focus to my plate and finished off my last rib, which I saved for last because I love them so much. After savoring my last rib, I placed the bone in the graveyard that my plate had become, and reached for the built-in dessert that is added to each and every Dinosaur Bar-B-Que dish, the Honey Corn Bread. I am a huge fan of corn bread, while Zoe would rather have any other type of bread in the history of bread, so I rarely get to eat it while we are at home. But at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que I get two, and that makes this little foodie very happy.
The amount of love I have for Bar-B-Que and for Dinosaur Bar-B-Que cannot be summed up in one article or blog. The true admiration I have for both this style of cooking and this restaurant cannot really be discussed, for I fear that this blog would forever have an NC-17 rating. Let’s just say that if you have not been to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and you are a fan of Bar-B-Que cooking you are doing yourself a grave disservice. The parking may stink at both the Harlem and the Newark locations, but any mild inconvenience is worth experiencing this amazing American tradition. Also keep in mind that this restaurant is literally around the corner from the Prudential Center, where the New Jersey Devils play so check the schedule before you get stuck in a hellish amount of traffic.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Taste: 5 out of 5
Presentation: 4 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5