First Look at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Stamford
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a New York BBQ institution that's taken Connecticut by storm, making its first entry into New England on December 5. A couple of friends and I stopped in for their first weekend lunch service this Saturday and found the joint jumpin' at 12:30. There were very few signs of rookie jitters; on the contrary, Dinosaur performed to a packed house like a well oiled machine, thanks in part to an influx of talent from upstate New York.
Here's a quick run-down of what we tried.
Wings: I've never had a bad wing at Dinosaur Harlem—all have been good—but I have had moments when I wondered what all the fuss was about. A dozen jumbo, smoked-then-grilled wings well coated in Wango Tango sauce delivered the nirvana moment that I kept hearing about. These wings might have been extra sticky, but the flavorful sauce did not even come close to obscuring the delerium-inducing rub and smoke below. The exteriors were crisp (even with no deep frying), the interiors were tender and juicy, and char was just right. Not only were there more drummettes than wingettes, but they even went over the allotted twelve pieces by at least three. Simply put, these were among the best smoked wings I ever had.
Ribs: Included on two different 3-meat combos, the pork ribs were large of size, thick of rub and strong on flavor—but curiously, sausage flavor more than pork rib. Texture was softer (and therefore more sausagelike) than ideal, making them good instead of the hoped-for great. However, it should be noted that the ribs on some other plates passing by looked better, so I'm still eager to get back on the horse. In fact, the adjacent table had this very nicely stacked rack.
Pulled pork: This pork was so tender that I'd call it downright delicate; there's a good chance it came right out of the smoker with no refrigeration in between. Bark was minimal. While the ribs reminded me of sausage, the pork reminded me of turkey thighs: very moist but not very flavorful. The saucing was heavier than the minimal approach promised by our server, but that turned out to be more of a blessing.
Brisket: I'm not sure why, but when New Yorkers rattle off their favorite joints for brisket, Dinosaur never gets mentioned (ribs and chicken seem to be the recs), but this melt-in-your-mouth brisket—as had my last few orders at Dinosaur Harlem—was the highlight of all the entree meats. It basically had everything you look for in brisket: a dark and well rubbed crust that's not mushy, a bright pink smoke ring, plenty of juiciness with no steaminess, a strong beefy flavor without any pot roasty flavor, and good marbling that gives just enough fat to favor it but not so much that it's in the way.
Chicken: A half chicken had flavorful skin, excellent moisture and tenderness but no flavor—neither rub nor smoke—once you got more than a half inch from the surface. On the trip down I had been praising Dinosaur's chicken to my crawl mates, insisting that unlike at most barbecue joints, chicken should not be left off the agenda. I was wrong, at least this time.
Sausage: I only tried a bit of this and didn't find as much smoke as expected, but snap and overall flavor were decent.
BBQ Fried Rice: One of my favorite specials at Dinosaur Harlem made it as a standard side here, and it's just as good. Imagine Chinese American restaurant fried rice, but with barbecue meats thrown in. A one-two punch of pork fat and sesame oil lubricate this dish just as much as it needs.
Mac and cheese: This rendition is more old school and not a trying-too-hard gourmet version, but there are some nice touches. The basic cheese is liquid enough to be super moist but thick enough so that it doesn't move around. Black pepper is liberally sprinkled, and I think there's a hint of hot sauce in there to round out the flavor even more.
On this visit the pasta hit the sweet spot in doneness, avoiding both mush and al dente.
Potato salad: If you're not a fan of egg salad or heavy mayo, this potato salad might not be for you, but I enjoyed the intensely flavored concoction fueled by vinegar and myriad seasonings in addition to the miraclewhipesque mayo and hard boiled eggs.
Baked Beans: Sweet without being molassesy sweet, these beans had a refreshing peppery component and some shredded meat that made it yet another non-sausage item that reminded me of sausage. A good combination of meat, savory, sweet.
Final thoughts: There were some ups, some downs, some expectations unmet and others exceeded, but it's still early. What I expect is for Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to become synonymous with barbecue in Southern Connecticut. For me, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is already synonymous with first rate hospitality, and that's exactly what I experienced last Saturday. A formal review will come after I come back.
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