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Ride the Dinosaur

April 14, 2011

This isn’t a retraction, per se. But I do feel the need to set a few things straight.

At the end of last month I wrote about an unexpectedly bad experience at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy. I said that it was a mystery that I hoped would be solvable. And I also said that until that day, I would be in no rush to return.

I’m glad to say that the mystery has been solved, and now I’m actually eager to get back.

What brought the dramatic turn around? Well, Dinosaur took my experience very seriously, and I got to spend some time on the phone talking with the Director of Operations, Michael Varipapa. He confirmed after talking with the kitchen manager that indeed on the day I was in they had run short of sausage and unfortunate shortcuts were taken.

Still, Michael wanted me to come down to the restaurant for a face to face conversation and to show me first hand what they do to try and achieve consistent high-quality barbecue, every time. I was game, and AOA Greg was kind enough to come along.

Let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience.

For today, I’m going to focus on the meat, because in the hour that I spent at Dinosaur on Saturday morning I picked up enough material to write several posts. In fact, I’m working on one for AOA on the behind-the-scenes tour that will be complete with pictures.

The first big surprise of the day was that when Greg and I got to the restaurant, we were greeted by John Stage. He’s the owner of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and he’s been doing this for almost thirty years.

Without a doubt, when John and Michael are in the restaurant, everything is going to be perfect. It’s kind of like the time Chipotle was opening up their first restaurant in Albany, and they fed me, Albany Jane and Kristi Gustafson samples of their food prepared by their culinary-school-trained regional manager.

The conversation was a little bit tense.

Telling a restaurant owner that you had a bad experience with their food is like telling a parent that you think their kid has a behavior problem. John Stage has heard many complaints over the years, mostly stemming from people’s personal preference about barbecue styles.

But at least we discovered some common ground. We both agreed that:
1)    Ribs that fall off the bone are overcooked.
2)    Well-rendered fat and the crusty ends are the best part of a brisket.

John and Michael lamented that people often complained about barbecue that was perfectly cooked. And I share their pain. On one level it is about managing people’s expectations but on another it is about educating diners. Luckily they will not start overcooking their ribs. But the Troy Dinosaur has actually started trimming more of the succulent fat off the brisket before it makes it onto diners’ plates. What a pity.

While I’ve had good experiences with their ribs previously, the brisket I had tried in the past was dry and tough and didn’t impress me. However, the brisket that John had picked out of the pit was delicious. So now at least I know they are capable of making it well.

I believe the trick next time I go to Dinosaur will be to order the brisket fatty and to ask for the burnt ends. John told me that sends a message to the kitchen that they are dealing with a serious barbecue lover. One day in the future I hope to put this strategy to the test. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

My prior exposure to Dinosaur’s pulled pork left me flat. But I’ve got strong feelings and a clear preference for pulled pork from the Carolinas. That is not what John makes. I had assumed the texture of Dinosaur’s pulled pork came from sitting around in a holding tray for too long. But that turns out not to be the case. I tried a bite directly plucked from the smoked shoulder, and it had what I would consider to be a mushy texture. But this is how John likes it, he would call it moist, rich and tender; so I think we can chalk that up to stylistic differences.

Then it was time to try the sausage again.

To refresh your memory, when I first tried the Dinosaur sausage on the opening day of their Troy restaurant I had the distinct impression it was a hot-smoked sausage. This is different than a smoked hot sausage. Hot smoking is what you do to barbecue. Cold smoking is how smoked sausages like kielbasa are seasoned.  Hot smoking is how my favorite links from Everett & Jones Barbeque in Oakland were cooked.

Hot smoking deeply cooks the sausage interior to a deep dark brown, melting all the fat into the meat, and producing a bit of a leathery casing. I recently confirmed with Albany Jane that this was also her impression of the links from opening day.

Well, apparently those delightful sausages were overcooked.

Because when John’s sausages came out and we cut into them, they were pink all the way through! My heart sank a bit. I was confused and dismayed. These were remarkably similar to the sausages I had sent back. The returned sausages of infamy were still indeed undercooked, but Dinosaur’s sausage has a pink center because it is first cold smoked. Before being served it also spends a little bit of time in the hot smoker and then is finished on the grill. But ultimately the links of Troy are supposed to be more similar to a grilled cold-smoked sausage than a barbecued hot-smoked link.

They were very good. The natural hog casing had a nice snap. The link was juicy and had a tasty balance of heat and smoke. But they were not the links I was looking for.

There is going to be a good bit more on Dinosaur coming in the days to come. Ultimately, I left there with a much greater respect for what they do, and I’m eager to tell you more about it. But for now, know that if you get the sausage and it’s pink in the middle, that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2011 10:52 am

    First of all, after reading the title of the post I had to do it:


    The notable differences in your expectation vs their intention leave me wondering if their menu needs a bit of a content overhaul to educate the customer (and lock in a sale). Nothing wordy, but quick and colorful blurbs about the food would be great.

  2. April 14, 2011 11:05 am

    I’m eager to hear about the rest of your experience that day. I do have one point of contention to something you say that John said, and that’s in regards to sending a signal to the kitchen that they’re dealing with a serious BBQ lover.

    My belief is that every customer should be treated in the same manner and should not be served based on the kitchen’s perception of the diner. Accomodating for someone’s preference, such as offering burnt ends and fatty brisket upon request is one thing, but the implication that the remainder of the experience should be different just because that person “appears to know BBQ” is not something I’m on board with. Such a special request should not affect the quality of everything else on the plate.

    I admit that I may have read into the statement a bit much, but the mindset that the experience coming out of the kitchen be different for people just because they “know” or “don’t know” bothers me in general. To me, it doesn’t promote consistency and quality control.

    It’s like if someone orders a steak medium well at a place that they’re not familiar with. The diner may have personal reasons for ordering the steak that way, perhaps they’re reluctant to try a rare steak at an unfamiliar place, or whatever. But should that send the signal that that person doesn’t understand quality and the kitchen can slop anything on the plate for that particular diner? (I’m not condoning this, I’m just using it as an example)

    Teaser: wait until you see my post that’s in the works relating to the pulled pork we were talking about last night…

  3. Scott Bakula permalink
    April 14, 2011 12:14 pm

    “but on another it is about educating diners.”

    More arrogant nonsense from the most arrogant person in Albany. People enjoy different foods and you can’t educate someone to enjoy the same foods/preparations that you do. But go ahead and continue to look down on anyone who disagrees with you as them being “uneducated”.

    Right pig?

    • April 14, 2011 3:11 pm

      I will paraphrase –

      “You think yur’ better than me?!!?”

      • Scott Bakula permalink
        April 14, 2011 4:34 pm

        “Let me educate you so you learn to appreciate your eggs cooked sunny side up rather than over easy like a pleb.”

      • April 14, 2011 4:42 pm

        “It’s my opinion that my opinion is better than your opinion!”

        Ah, I understand now. Yes, this is absolutely worth belaboring. Let the venomous flaming continue.

    • April 14, 2011 5:43 pm

      People like what they like, sure. But if you order a poached egg, and send it back because the yolk is runny, that’s a problem. Overcooking ribs so that they fall of the bone is easy. Any fool can do it. The proper cooking of ribs is hard as hell.

      What is considered proper is not just my opinion, it’s barbecue fact.
      You can real all about it at the link below:

      Getting back to eggs for a minute though, I think I’m very open minded. Sunny-side up or over easy is fine by me. I’ve even recently adopted large-curd scrambled to my acceptable list of preparations. But almost everyone overcooks scrambled eggs, and that is a real shame.

      What I cannot abide are eggs over medium or over hard. Overcooking eggs on purpose borders on criminal.

      • Scott Bakula permalink
        April 14, 2011 7:40 pm

        A link to a website doesn’t make it “fact”. It’s still opinion.

        Next you’re going to tell us unwashed masses that there’s a “proper” way to cook a steak and that everyone needs to eat theirs rare. If you don’t like a rare steak, you’re just a moron that needs an education from Mr. Prissy.

        Give me a break.

      • April 14, 2011 8:29 pm

        Poached eggs are SUPPOSED to be really runny? Hm, that explains why every time I’ve gotten them out somewhere, I thought they were underdone. I like mine only a little runny. This is why I always order them over hard now — what can I say, really runny eggs give me the impression of undercooked, mostly raw, whereas over hard usually just reminds me of boiled eggs with yummy fried crispy parts. I guess I can stop being annoyed that restaurants can’t poach eggs properly.

      • April 20, 2011 2:32 pm

        Yes, I’m afraid SB has a point here, you can’t create a fact by linking to one blog, whether it’s or not. Especially a “fact” about taste. I know it’s common for blogs to use that kind of cross-referencing as an easy way to create self-validation chains, but it’s still cheap…

  4. April 14, 2011 1:51 pm

    Not only is Mr. Bakula rude but he misses the point of the comment, which I’ve hopefully addressed with mine. Given personal blogs (especially ones labeled “fussy”) are opinionated, I do expect some heavily weighted conjecture, which is fine. Likewise, expecting counter-conjecture in comments is also part of the social aspect. Given the tone of Mr. Bakula’s comment though, and not being a long-time follower, I can only deduce that there is some long standing bad blood here. While it happens – daily – it’s never a good idea to engage in it publicly.

    Back to the topic, educating the customer and setting expectations *is* important and is what all marketing organizations do on a daily basis. If there’s a shred of doubt, no matter how grounded in opinion, as to whether expectations are being met, then it’s on part of the company to explore that perceived doubt and make a judgement call.

  5. April 14, 2011 4:16 pm

    DB – I have never had the pleasure of dining at Dinosaur but I am wondering about their explanation for their sausages pink color. Yes, a cold smoke would account for it, IF it was not subsequently cooked again, which would darken it. My guess is sodium nitrate, which would be standard for many links – keilbasa, etc.

  6. April 15, 2011 4:44 pm

    When you order your brisket “fatty” does that mean you get served from the part of the cut that has fat running through it? Or that it has a layer of fat across the top of the slice?

    If the latter, you are paying for what in any decent Texas roadhouse would be sliced off by the server and tossed in the trash (prior to weighing, if you are paying by the pound). Having this proffered to you, if they did that, is hardly a sign of respect.

  7. Scott Bakula permalink
    April 25, 2011 5:38 pm

    “Especially a “fact” about taste. I know it’s common for blogs to use that kind of cross-referencing as an easy way to create self-validation chains, but it’s still cheap…”

    Too bad Danny boy never read this comment.

    I always find it amusing when non-technical people talk about “facts”. They never know what a fact is and how to separate it from an opinion.


  1. derryX Dines: Dinosaur BBQ – Troy, NY Reprise « detention with derryX

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