Much has been made over time about the Dinosaur Barbque. In short, a traveling road show became a takeout joint, which became a full-on restaurant and now a corporate empire. My first experience was in the early 1990s when I was in high school. I went with my father for lunch after a job interview (mine, not his). He ordered me a pulled pork sandwich with fries and slaw. It was amazing and overwhelming, in terms of portion size and quality.
Over time, I’ve worked my way through the menu, introduced friends and family to the splendor, caught a healthy share of blues music and became a believer. And, over time, I have watched the Dinosaur change. This Syracuse success story was a study in socioeconomic diversity. On any given day, you would see bikers wearing cuts and men in $500 suits sitting next to one another. Today, the culture feels corporate. On the late June evening that The Wife and in went, the place was littered with families. Toddlers and strollers clog the aisles. Kids yell while their parents lay waste to ribs. The wait staff, formerly a rude batch of sass, attitude and biker tats, is now populated by cute girls who could work at any restaurant in town.
The portion sies have also shrunk. Everything seems measured. The Big Ass Pork Plate used to overflow with shredded pork strands and fought for space on a platter with whatever sides. Not so much anymore. But, everything costs more nowadays and the Dinosaur is now a corporate entity, so that can get a pass.
The Dinosaur has an exceptional beer menu, a mix of bottles and draughts, as well has a pair of signature drinks. The Dinosaur mojito and margarita are served over rocks with mid-level liquor. The Wife craved a mojito on this evening, her toast to the end of the school year. My beer, a locally-brewed craft ale made special for the Dinosaur, were nice complements to the fried catfish appetizer. The five freshly-breaded fish strips reminds you that no matter how many investors the restaurant has, the kitchen remains focused on quality.
The Wife is a fool for Dinosaur’s ribs, do her quarter rack fit the bill. The nicely cut, crispy ribs showed little evidence of fat. Rib plates, as well as the other entrees, are served with two sides–she opted for black beans and rice and fries–and the house Honey Hush Cornbread. I went for the Pork-sket, which is more of an event than a sandwich. Featured prominently on The Travel Channel‘s “Man vs. Food,” brisket and picked jalepenos meet pulled pork, cole slaw and melted cheese. There is no possible way to lift the sandwich to your mouth and really can only be enjoyed with fork and knife.
Had I been in a ribs mood, we would have ordered the Sweeheart Deal for Two: a full rack plus four sides (we usually go double fries, slaw and beans and rice).
On a nice night with no big events in town, we’ve happily waited 90 minutes for a table. On a similar night with graduations or other happenings, wait time can exceed 2-3 hours (I was once told to get takeout and go home by a hostess because the wait was close to four hours at 6 p.m.).
The food is exceptional, as it has always been. Since my first trip 20 years ago, the change in culture has taken away some of the cool. Ultimately that’s the saddest part.
The Dinosaur Barbque is intentionally misspelled and located on the corner of East Willow and Franklin Streets in Syracuse. Sister restaurants with their own individual nuanced can be found in Rochester, Harlem and Troy, N.Y. It will soon open the doors on locations in Stamford, Conn. and Newark, N.J.