For those living beyond the confines of the Capital Region, or for those who have been hiding under a rock, yesterday was a big day for the city of Troy. The famous Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened its fourth restaurant, right on the eastern bank of the Hudson River.
The city of Troy worked hard to get them here, and now they occupy a beautiful building on the water that has been vacant for almost three years.
Even if you haven’t heard of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, it is famous regionally. Its original location is in Syracuse, a short 150-minute drive away from Albany. But they also have an outpost in Rochester and one all the way down in Harlem.
People have been known to make the drive for this food.
Opening day yesterday sounded like a madhouse. Reports came in that there was a line 100 people deep by the time the doors opened for lunch. Normally I would avoid crowds like this, but the savvy editors of All Over Albany had other plans. They hypothesized that there would be a lull in the crowd come late afternoon. So at 3:45 pm I showed up at the Dinosaur, ready for anything.
Even though the parking lot was completely full, the wait for a table was only about fifteen minutes. This place is huge. And I suspect it is going to do great things for Troy.
Here is the big question though. Is this Troy Dinosaur a bona fide Bar-B-Que joint or is this a proving ground for a solid restaurant concept that is ready to take on franchisees? I suppose another question is, if the food is good, does it matter?
Having not been to the Syracuse location, I cannot make a direct comparison. But I’m told it’s like a biker bar that serves better BBQ than one would expect in Central New York. I can tell you this though, given the size and scope of the new Troy restaurant, it feels a lot like a chain.
Maybe some of that has to do with its newness, and how the fixtures are designed to not look so new. Maybe some of it has to do with the perky and downright gracious service that was able to anticipate the needs of our table without us even asking. Maybe it was the vibrating buzzers at the hostess stand that let you know when your table is ready.
But to me these aren’t the downsides of a chain.
I believe chain restaurants suffer when they place conformity and standardization of the food over the quality of the food itself. Variability flies out the window, and while the food will never be bad, it will never be great.
For starters, even if you think of Dinosaur as a chain in its current configuration, I don’t think they are at the size and scale where they have had to make those kinds of sacrifices. Also having just eaten at the Troy location, I can attest to its variability.
A full review will be posted on Yelp in the days to come, but the brisket was a bit underdone, the ribs were just a hair overdone, and the pork was a little mushy. Let me reiterate, I find this very encouraging.
This means Dinosaur has not given up actual cooking for rote standardization.
Surely over time, the restaurant will get a better understanding of how much meat it needs to cook each day, and I imagine things will improve. But even with these minor nits, everything was delicious with a beautiful smoke ring around the meats, and I’m looking forward to many future meals here.
As is the case for a few other overly popular local restaurants, the key may be finding times when the crowds are a good bit thinner. Perhaps late lunches in the winter, after Saturday’s four-season Farmers Market across the street. It would be lovely to watch ice flow down the Hudson while contemplating the smoky depths of a hot link sandwich.
It’s really amazing, given how much waterfront there is in the region, how little of it there is to enjoy. For that alone, it is worth a trip to this casual and tasty place. Provided, of course, you can stomach the wait.
And maybe after a few more visits I too will catch the fever. In the meantime here is my current scorecard of how Dinosaur stacks up to my favorite local BBQ joint.
Pork: Cap Q > Dino
Beef: Cap Q > Dino
Ribs: Cap Q < Dino
Sides: Cap Q < Dino