Tag Archives: dinosaur

Top 10 CNY Restaurants (2014 Edition)

Photo May 02, 6 22 55 PMAbout 18 months ago, I wrote a list of my top 10 CNY restaurants. These were not necessarily the restaurants that I thought were the best, but the one’s that I would go to if I had to build a permanent rotation of places to dine.

Since I posted that list, much has changed in the CNY food scene. One of the restaurants, Circa, has closed. Last week Gentile’s, loved my many in this area, shut its doors. A new version of The Krebs is open in Skaneateles at the end of August.

As we approach fall and begin our CNY hibernation (coming out only for food and SU basketball), I thought I would update the list. These are not necessarily the best restaurants in town or really even my 10 favorites. This list represents the permanent rotation of the area’s 10 best restaurants that I would go to exclusively (in no particular order):

  • Moro’s Table, Auburn [website]. The alpha and the omega. If money were no object…
  • Asti Caffe, Syracuse [website]. The best red sauce restaurant* in Syracuse.
  • Pastabilities, Syracuse [website]. Great for lunch. Good for dinner. The second best red sauce in town*.
  • Dinosaur Barbque, Syracuse [website]. Their bad days are a lot better than my good days. Remember, it’s not the 10 best, but the 10 that I would go to exclusively if forced to pick.
  • The Mission, Syracuse [website]
  • Otro Cinco, Syracuse [website]
  • Zabroso, Oneida [website]. The past three restaurants are distinctly different takes on Latin-American/Spanish food. The Mission is Mexican/Pan-American; Otro is a Spanish/Mexican hybrid; and Zabroso is Spanish. All three are wonderful.
  • Laci’s Tapas Bar, Syracuse [website]. Eclectic and fun. One of the area’s best dining experiences.
  • Ironwood, Manlius [website]. Good pizza. Good beer. Really, I’m easy to please.
  • The Restaurant at Elderberry Pond, Auburn [website]. An impossible car ride to get there, but farm-to-table begins and ends there.

*Angotti’s is not the best restaurant in town, nor is it the best red sauce restaurant in Syracuse. But it has long been a gathering spot for my family. It’s like my kitchen away from home. It doesn’t make this list because it transcends this list. And because I can almost always get a table.


Al Dente on the Side: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Coleslaw

No children were injured during the preparation of this coleslaw
No children were injured during the preparation of this coleslaw

I made a righteous batch of coleslaw for The Kid’s birthday party last weekend. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd, I forgot to take a picture of it. I’m a dolt. However, the above photo of The Wife, The Kid and some of her friends during present opening time is much better than a bowl of shredded vegetables and dressing.

Coleslaw is a take it or leave it endeavor for me. Homemade coleslaw is usually good. I don’t like it if it’s too sweet, and I have never found a foodservice slaw that hits the mark. Most of the time, it’s served in a little 2 oz. plastic Solo-brand ramekin with a lid. And, I would imagine that 80 to 85 percent of the coleslaw served that way ends up in the trash. But, the slaw from Dinosaur is excellent, packing a good balance of acid and spice with a crispy cabbage and creaminess from the mayo.

I deviated slightly from John Stage’s original, but my adaptation honors the spirit of coleslaw as a necessary and required side for good barbecue.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: I took one terrible photo of the finished product with my iPhone. This is what happens when you drink a lot of beer while cooking.

2014-06-13 20.54.47

Adapted from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse by John Stage and Nancy Radke

  • 2 bags of cabbage shredded for coleslaw
  • 2 or 3 carrots, shredded, if the bagged cabbage does not have carrots
  • 16 oz. mayonnaise
  • 8 oz. cider vinegar
  • 4 oz. prepared bleu cheese dressing
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 large onion, grated
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dill seed

Add all but the first two ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk until well combined. Adjust flavors with salt and pepper if necessary. Fold in the cabbage until everything is well coated in dressing. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving so that the dressing can soak into the veggies.

Pickling Without Canning: Garlic Dill Pickles

IMG_4663Dill pickles have been standard summertime venture ever since I picked up my first copy of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse. I made my first batch while still living with my father, who hated the dill-vinegar smell that would hang in the house for the day or two following.

IMG_4653The project moved to my own dwelling(s), where it is something I put together once or so each year. Frankly, I can’t stand the steamed vinegar that hangs in the air either. However, the payoff is worth it.

I use a modified version of Dinosaur pickle recipe. I don’t know how to do it better than them, but I know that my primary audience (The Wife) does not like jalepeños with her pickles. Sooooooooooo, I try to balance it off with the requisite amount of garlic.

My past container of choice has been a 2-quart Rubbermaid container wrapped twice in plastic. This time around, I’m using a 2.5L sealed lockjar.

Continue reading Pickling Without Canning: Garlic Dill Pickles

The Wife’s peanut butter pie

There’s pie in there somewhere.

I got a look a few minutes ago. You see, I ate the last slice of peanut butter pie that was left over from Thanksgiving. I think The Wife was planning on housing it later, but you snooze, you lose, right? Actually, I think the look was more about the half-can of whipped cream I squirted on top. Either way, I had dessert for lunch.

If there is a most used cookbook in my arsenal, it’s the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse book published about 10 to 15 years ago. I’ve consulted it for just about everything from starters to sides to main dishes. The Wife uses it for the desserts, though she’s made the peanut butter pie so many times that it seems foolish for her to reach for the book.

Continue reading The Wife’s peanut butter pie

Dinosaur Barbque, Syracuse

Photo by MCK AssociatesMuch 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. Continue reading Dinosaur Barbque, Syracuse

Grill marks should be the result of heat (or the importance of a clean grill) PLUS MYO: Barbecue red rub


The last time this was cleaned there was a Progressive Party.

The barbecue is a requirement for this trip, mostly because of logistics. Each house we stay in features a third-floor kitchen, which means that running the oven leads to a 15- to 20-degree jump in temperature. As a result, we don’t vary our menus from year to year. Beef (typically in the form of a London Broil or flank steak), pork tenderloins, chicken breasts and hamburgers are regular entrants, with their flavoring or marinades changing. One of my favorites was a Jack Daniels marinated flank steak. My love for the caramel-colored whiskey prevents me from keeping it around in any quantity (another story for another day).

The problem with rental property in any locale is cleanliness. Last year’s house was disgusting, to the point where we were killing cockroaches by the end of the stay. The grill was one of the bright spots, a stainless steel number that did not flare up very much. Our first house had a brand new Char-Broil that was far too shallow and flared up at the slightest drip of grease.

This year’s shack in Nags Head is off municipal services like natural gas and sewer, so we have a large propane tank on the starboard side, and a septic tank somewhere underground. The grill is connected directly to the propane service, which is a nice perk. Unfortunately, its possible that the grill has not been cleaned since the Roosevelt administration.

The first one. Continue reading Grill marks should be the result of heat (or the importance of a clean grill) PLUS MYO: Barbecue red rub

Cooking Club: Hayley Goes It Alone

My sister’s friend Hayley is a Texan trapped in the oblong prison that is Long Island. I don’t know why she landed there. My best guess that she got drunk and woke up there one morning (they do everything bigger in Texas, or so I’m told). Anyhow, Hayley emailed me the other day with news that she struck out on her own during her latest cooking endeavor:

So I cooked dinner solo tonight, and this is my second time making this exact meal. The first time I forgot to take pictures, so I made up for it this time. I think if you are looking for something to blog about, this would be a great candidate. Extremely spicy, cajun style shrimp with linguine. I don’t have Emeril‘s essence seasoning, so I mixed all the ingredients myself. Drank water (I have a cold, and was hoping this would open up my sinuses). Continue reading Cooking Club: Hayley Goes It Alone

Kitchen Essentials: Spices and Spice Blends

New weekly series here at Al Dente — my recommendations for essential kitchen stuff.

There are just some things that every kitchen needs. Not that you want…need. For me, this breaks down to spices, tools, cookware and books. We’ll start with reading material.

Spices affect our food experience. Think about chicken for a second. Have you ever eaten plain cooked chicken? Probably, but you don’t remember it because it was boring. Salt and pepper notwithstanding, the spices you use speak not just your favorite flavors, but you style of cooking. Look at your spice rack. Is it the regular lineup of McCormick’s little plastic containers? That’s a good start. Now ask yourself this…when did you buy that container of marjoram? 1998? 2003? Yeah, see, diversity and having a lot of spices does not always translate to good cooking. It means that you wasted $4 on a spice that is so old that it doesn’t taste like anything. Continue reading Kitchen Essentials: Spices and Spice Blends