There’s a pattern I see played out every time I invite friends to my house for barbecue. When they arrive, the meat already has been smoking for many hours, typically started the day before. We gather. The women cluster around my wife, while the men, beer in hand, head for the yard to inspect what’s cooking. The smoker issues a thick, white stream of exhaust. I lift the top and more smoke cascades down around us. We consider the slabs of ribs, the hillocks of pork. We drink, we laugh, we study it some more.
The aroma of slow-cooked flesh enters the brain. Our conversations slip from multisyllabic intricacies to onomatopoeic grunts. We drink. We eye each other’s women. From there, it’s mere seconds until we’re bruising one another with fists and firewood, hollering obscenities, drawing blood. A fresh round of beer, and we’re all happily gnawing the bones of this dizzying fare.
Barbecue—an amalgam of African, European, Mexican and Native American fare—may be the most truly all-American dish. It has as many ways of preparation as there are grills and ovens, and as much partisanship as talk radio. It’s primal. It hits the brain’s limbic system in the amygdala, not far from the lobes that send you mate-hunting. Everything here works together: Fight with your mate and you can vent your pain by singing the blues. And so there are blues performers here.
High-flying avian males sport colorful plumage to encourage courtship. High-flying human males ride bikes. Motorcycles, that is. Preferably Harleys. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que began as a biker bar—began, actually, at a Harley Rendezvous near Albany in the early 1980s, when founder John Stage and a couple of friends put together a portable barbecue rig to feed their fellow enthusiasts. In 1988, the nomads put down roots, opening the flagship Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in downtown Syracuse; the owners tripled its size two years later, adding a full bar and full-service dining, along with live music. I reviewed the restaurant for this paper in 2001.
At the time, I asked Stage if an Albany Dinosaur might be in the offing. He laughed at the idea and said he was looking further down the road—literally to Manhattan, where a Harlem-based unit opened in 2004 and endured a recent relocation.
This may have slowed the Troy arrival a bit. Certainly the building—formerly the unlamented Fresno’s, and Castaways before that—shows the result of a needed makeover. The view of the river remains one of its most charming assets; the parking lot, especially for a busy restaurant like this place, remains a too-small nuisance.
I won’t go so far as to say that the Dinosaur smoked ribs recipe is the true and only way, but I’ll note that I’ve been smoking meat according to the recipes in the restaurant’s excellent cookbook for a decade now and see no reason to use any other. And when I don’t feel like mixing up dry rub for the rib racks, prepping the fire (which in itself takes an hour) and minding the 16-hour cooking process, it’s nice to know that I can score much the same thing so much closer to home.
At its heart, the menu has smoked ribs and brisket, pulled pork and barbecued chicken. Ribs by the rack come in clusters of six, nine or 12, with cornbread and two side dishes for $16, $21 or $25. The homemade sides include barbecued beans, which I believe I’ve ordered with every Dinosaur meal I’ve ever eaten, potato salad, whipped sweet potatoes (garnished with bacon, an excellent touch), barbecue fried rice, cole slaw and—I can’t believe our server talked me into this—mac and cheese.
Something about seeing my own offspring tuck into a bright orange pile of the stuff when she was little put me off it forever, or so I thought; here it’s the real thing, however, and while it may not be fettuccine Alfredo (my preferred styling), I enjoyed it more than I care to confess.
The core of my meal were a couple of old friends: sliced brisket, a pink, perfect vehicle for that particular cut of beef, and a pile of pulled pork, which is sui generis. I make my own sauce at home, but I don’t dare make anything like their Wango Tango Habanero sauce, which would piss off my wife because it’s very spicy and annoy my daughter with its presence of sugar. I piled it on.
There’s usually plenty of meat when we do it at home, so Susan is forced to find new ways to enjoy my pork. Putting it between two buns is a lively, if slightly messy option, but it’s addictive enough that she did it again at Dinosaur. The Memphis-style sandwich ($7.50, $10.50 with two sides) is a good-sized meal, made all the drippier with the addition of coleslaw, without which no such sandwich should be enjoyed.
Starters include fried green tomatoes ($6 for 3 pieces, $9 for 5), smoked shrimp remoulade ($9) and an excellent preparation of smoked chicken wings (13 for $13, with smaller portions available) with your choice of mild to medical-grade sauce. You’ll even find a unique preparation of deviled eggs ($4-$12).
We’re not even getting to the skirt steak, the rib eye, the catfish, the churrasco chicken. The fish is marinated in buttermilk and tabasco ($15), the $25 pound of rib eye is cold-smoked. And when you’re finished, they’ll try to sell you dessert. The selections are homemade, sweet and sometimes silly, like the chocolate icebox cake that was like dipping your face in frosting. But a serving of apple cobbler with ice cream hit the spot. After which my well-fed wife was happy. Friendly. Pliant. I didn’t even need a Harley at that point.
377 River St., Troy, 308-0400. Serving 11:30 AM-midnight Mon-Thu, 11:30 AM to 1 AM Fri-Sat, noon-10 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Entrée price range: $7 (pulled pork sandwich) to $25 (full rack of ribs)