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November 11, 2010

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

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 11:44 am

    I haven’t been yet, but to speak to the chain feel… The location is an old Fresno’s, which very much embodied all that is evil and unholy about chain food. They took the location (back in my day it was Castaways, a seafood restaurant), gutted it, and built a modern atrocity much like they did with the Ponderosa across from Crossgates, which is now a decent Japanese restaurant. When Dino bought the location, it didn’t appear that they were doing much with the interior other than Dino-ing it up. I could be wrong; again, I haven’t been there yet. I mean, why would they invest in a total gutting and re-design? Fresno’s needed to do that. Castaways was left vacant for years and was in poor shape even when open. But I imagine the half-life of much of the new material in that place was just fine for Dino to repurpose. I look forward to trying Dino out, but it’ll likely be a while. I don’t have too many opportunities for a 3:45pm dinner, and waiting 2 hours at the bar with kids is, well, I hate when others do it, and so do the kids who are waiting.

  2. Sarah M. permalink
    November 11, 2010 12:35 pm

    You should definitely make it over to the original Syracuse location someday (won’t even admit how many times we made the drive from Saratoga/VT). While it does have a bar and there are definitely bikers, it’s still a big-ish space that’s been largely taken over by Syracuse undergrads and their visiting families. Probably the leap to expansion won’t seem so strange when you see the real deal.

    Glad to hear Dinosaur made a good first impression on you– I remember a little flare-up when you suggested to one Mr. Sunshine that the food didn’t look particularly authentic. I’ve had really solid wings at the Syracuse location, too– not sure if they brought those over to the Troy menu.

    Y’all are lucky sons of bitches. I waited and waited for the location to open and it got pushed back until after I moved. Dinosaur is actually better than a number of the well-regarded bbq joints here in Travis County.

    Apparently I wanted to write 3 unrelated comments?

  3. November 11, 2010 9:30 pm

    First of all I love the title of this blog post – clever! I am not a chain restaurant person but have had my share of decent meals at chains. Am looking forward to checking it out myself but will wait for the initial rush to subside.
    Your lunch suggestion is a good one. I also read the All Over Albany post. That post and this one present a balanced observation of the place. I was surpised to read that the wait was only 15 mins for a table.

  4. Dave S permalink
    November 13, 2010 10:38 am

    Realistically it is a regional chain looking to grow.
    Geroge Soros doesn’t hold the majority share because he wants a new hobby.

  5. November 13, 2010 9:02 pm

    Dude, when was the last time you had sides at Capital Q?! I used to think they were just okay/meh, but they are so freaking good, especially for food kept under heat lamps! Mac and cheese = yum. Collards = oooh yum.

    But the beans at Dino are pretty freaking awesome, too. Chunks of pork! Can’t go wrong with that! If only I could have tried those brisket bites before you guys ate them out of house and home.

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