99 Court Street, Rochester, NY 14604
Web: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Rating: [learn more]
A barbecue restaurant with both character and excellent food, strongest in the ribs and continuing through a number of other entrees and appetizers. Fun and generally good prices.
Desserts could use a little work. Parking can be a challenge, biker bar-styled ambience and salty menu language mightn't be right for all patrons.
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Barbecue NYC Rochester Syracuse
"While we've never seen a bottle of Dom on one of the tables, we've enjoyed plenty of great beer and a variety of barbecue plates that would win over even the most jaded foodie."
"Get down on your knees," begins Dinosaur Bar-B-Que's Good Eatin' Prayer, "and put up your paws. Thank the good Lord... for the use of your jaws." Amen, we say. With that, consider yourself warned: as the invocation suggests, Dinosaur is an unconventional Rochester restaurant, a biker bar with certain decorative touches and menu item names that may offend delicate sensibilities. But if you decide to keep reading, you'll understand why we find ourselves wishing we were chomping down there right now.
As we've learned in our travels, America's many forgettable barbecue houses are bookended by regionally famous places known either for unusually large portions and Southern-style hospitality - think Lucille's Bar-B-Que in California - or seriously strong meats in gritty atmospheres, like Dixie's BBQ in Seattle, and the original location of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse. The first type of place makes you feel welcome. At the latter, you may well have a sense that you're not even supposed to be there, that maybe you were supposed to be dissuaded by the rows of Harley Davidsons parked outside, the bathrooms that are completely covered in graffiti, the fact that the location looks as if it never finished converting from whatever it was before. Syracuse's Dinosaur, at least historically, was like this: the preppie college kids and their parents who keep coming back to the place are tourists - the bikers who founded it still dominate it.
The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que location in Rochester is, perhaps intentionally, more inviting to the washed masses. There's still an open yard in the front with motorcycle parking, the bathrooms are still covered in scrawls, and the menu still proudly offers a $13 "Big Ass Pork Plate," made from hand-pulled, smoked pig shoulder, $4-$7 servings of "Ass Kickin' Chili," and a couple of sardonically named expensive plates: one's the $37 "Big Shot Dinner For Two" with one choice of three steaks, a half rack of ribs, four side dishes, and cornbread; the other's a $165 "High Time Special," a full rack of ribs with a bottle of Dom Perignon. Are these dishes for occasional biker celebrations, or really just the owners laughing at squares who might pair pork ribs with a $140 bottle of champagne?
Having visited the Syracuse location years ago and the Rochester one a couple of times over the last few months, we can say with some confidence that while we've never seen a bottle of Dom on one of the tables, we've enjoyed plenty of great beer and a variety of barbecue plates that would win over even the most jaded foodie. Despite the environments - or, when they're playing live blues music, because of them - these are places you drive to with friends, a date, or even daring family members. The photos here illustrate a typical five-person meal, with the first one showing the BBQ Texas Beef Brisket and Ribs ($14), a plate of perfectly smoked meats - one off the bone, one on - slathered in Dinosaur's specialty barbecue sauce. Photo four is a plate of pure Texas Brisket ($13.50), the same pit smoked meat, with a couple of jalapenos tossed on for fun. Like most of the plates, these each came with our picks of two sides and one piece of delicious cornbread, a decent value for the price on quantity, but fully worthwhile on quality.
One picture you won't see here is the item we can't bring ourselves to order often enough: a plate of nothing but ribs. Dinosaur sells them by the 1/4 rack ($9), 1/2 rack ($14.50), 3/4 rack ($19), and full rack ($22), similarly with two sides and cornbread, and we've had them in the past, unaccompanied by other meats. The ribs, particularly when they're soaking in Dinosaur's sauce - also found in bottles on the table in case you didn't get enough - are just great, the right balance of flavor and nearly "fall off the bone" texture, but we're almost invariably won over by the desire to add something else. You will be, too.
If you're not looking solely for meat, the menu's choice of sandwiches runs through several types of sliced beef - brisket to reuben to prime rib - plus 10 chicken versions, six burgers, a portabello (shown, photo 6), and a pork and beef combo. Here, you can get just the sandwich for $6 to $12.50, with most at $7 or $8, or add a couple of sides for an extra $2.50. Dinosaur also offers a Mojito Criollo chicken steak ($13), barbecued chicken ($11), a N.Y. strip steak ($20), Cajun prime rib ($19.50), smoked rib eye ($20), or pan-fried catfish ($14) if you're not looking for ribs or brisket.
There are surprises, as well. Chilled, cayenne pepper- and beer-drenched Drunken Spicy Shrimp are served as appetizers ($6-$20), entrees ($14-$21), or add-ons to any plate ($6); we consider them to be one of the best variations on the Shrimp Cocktail we've tasted. Fried Green Tomatoes ($6-$8) inevitably start by generating predictable references to the famed book and Kathy Bates movie, then finish with someone at the table declaring that they need to replicate the recipe - tart, slightly sweet tomatoes, crisp-battered, then dusted with pecorino and romano cheeses - at home.
The only unpleasant surprise at the Rochester location is the disappointing condition of a dessert that we fell in love with almost a decade ago: Dinosaur's once-famous Chocolate Ice Box Pie, shown here in its present, less than special state. We recalled the Ice Box as a thick, near-frozen slab of mousse atop a barely softer chocolate cookie crust - so good that we hunted for the recipe and tried, almost successfully, to replicate it at home. What we've had twice recently, after a gap of six or so years, was a cosmetically similar facsimile: a slice of something closer to chocolate pudding with a huge ball of whipped cream on top, drizzled with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. It looked fine, but didn't taste like anything special, a shame because we saved our appetites for it. That's no easy feat, given Dinosaur's portion sizes.
We could almost - almost - forgive the loss based on Dinosaur's special Pumpkin Cheesecake, the rare slice found outside of the superb Cheesecake Factory to merit similar praise for both rich flavor and smooth texture. It's apparently not always on the menu, but the Chocolate Ice Box is, and really, desperately needs to be restored to its former glory. Perhaps they just do it better in Syracuse.
Our most recent meal at Dinosaur ended on an exciting note: having opened locations in Syracuse, Rochester, and New York City, we heard that the owners had already scouted a new location in Troy, New York, and the next stop after that would apparently be Buffalo. We'd hoped that such would be the case when we spotted members of the Dinosaur crew back in September at Oinktoberfest, a local barbecue competition. Should Dinosaur Bar-B-Que open here, we're all in for a real treat; until then, we'll be making occasional pilgrimages out to the Rochester location, saying a little prayer, and then getting on with the business of pigging out.