Jurassic Pork

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que | 646 W. 131st St. (at 12th Ave.) | 212.694.1777 | www.dinosaurbarbque.com |


IF I EVER want to start feeling old, all I have to do is go back through the neighborhoods of my childhood. For me, that’s right here in merry old New York City. And having lived here for all of my 44+ years, I’ve seen this city through several “eras”. When I’m around the Union Square area, I am taken back some twenty years to when I was a (brief) NYU student. The same creature students run the streets there, though when I did, we didn’t have the amenities of iPhones and computers. Just having an electric typewriter was considered a lucky advantage.

When I lived in the East Village after that, I nary had the luxury of safe streets and parks, much less the large number of eateries and pubs in which to relax and unwind that second-year models and middle income-earning hipsters get to enjoy, carefree.

And Morningside Heights, where I spent the first twenty two years of my life, was barren land north of 120th Street, where separate indigenous herds of young, innocent college students from the midwest would hardly want to impinge upon the territory of Harlem natives.

As I took the M104 bus up Broadway, maybe for only the second or third time this year (I took it twice a day between 1974 and 1989) I reminisced on times past long ago. A time when hoodlums would actually ride the outside of the back of graffiti-ridden buses, back then only one bus length and without the innovation of air-activated back doors or wheelchair ramps.

I was on my way to sample southern-style soul food—back then known less as a restaurant menu theme and much more as just “dinner at Grandma’s”—at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, located just three blocks from where I learned how to ride my bike (incidentally, Dinosaur was founded by a group of bikers from Rochester), was babysat by my Puerto Rican babysitter (whose children where my very first best friends), where, in second grade, I lost a fight to a girl because I refused to hit her back, and where my next door neighbor was fatally stabbed by a former fellow inmate right in front of my apartment door (I wasn’t home at the time).

That all seemed like a million years ago, and as a walked by the now wholly and diversified and populous denizens of this LaSalle Street/Tiemann Plaza/Clairmont Avenue area (and by the McDonald’s that, in 1980, was first opened and likewise employed me in my first paying job; I worked the “Quarter” Grill), I made my way to 12th Avenue right under the elevated portion of the Henry Hudson Highway—formally lined with abandoned buildings ideal for young boys to cause mischief and havoc—and found my destination on the corner of 131st Street.




As I walked in, past the outdoor diners, I was surprised at how cavernous the place was,
with a bar and seating to the right, and a long hall of space and seating to the right.




A long, looong hall, and full of people from all walks and of all ages, now happily co-habitating the territory and commingling the food.




I always have some idea of what I might order, but I took another last look at the menu above the kitchen for any other sudden inspiration, and found amusement in my table menu.




Somewhere, their as a discolored, scratched Polaroid of a seven-year old me enjoying deviled eggs at a block party outside my grandmother’s house on 130th Street and Madison Avenue. Wanting to feel young again, I guess, I ordered their smallest order Creole-spiced deviled eggs.




They were extra large—making me feel even smaller/younger—and delicious, though more mildly seasoned than I expected. The chopped scallions added a nice touch, them, and the yolk mixture had the firm set texture I prefer.

I knew I had a large meal ahead of me, after having just one of the deviled eggs, I offered the remaining two to the very sweet and kind daughter and mother customers seated at the table to my right. They happily obliged. Their names were Carol (daughter/mother of two) and Marge (Carol’s mom), and they were in from Goshen, NY, having spent an afternoon at the Met and now deciding to reward themselves with some good chow.

They ordered a house sampler platter called a Tres Hombres, which is a “spirited” (their quote) serving of barbecue pulled pork, sliced Texas beef brisket, and barbecue pork ribs. I ordered the Tres Niños, which is the “less spirited” (?!) serving of the Tres Hombres. It comes with two sides; I decided on the baked beans with pork—a childhood favorite—and the carrot slaw with raisins, a dish I hadn’t had in a dinosaur’s age, and likewise an old favorite.


"Tres Niños" Platter


The meal ranked very high on the “comfort” level, and was very tasty. For those of us who grew up on this, it takes us waaay back to our first memories of food. Way back then, it was just dinner. But, when it get it this good several decades later, it takes you out of your present and to a happy place from a long time ago.

I won’t even go into detail, since I was too distracted by just eating this yummy food to sweat the details. Yes, the ribs were tender and juicy and came off the bone effortlessly. The properly smoke-ringed brisket melted in my mouth. The pulled pork was especially good, since it had shreds of lean, and fatty pork, as well as some crispy bits of skin, which I usually find sorely missing from most pulled pork around the city.

The baked beans were a tad creamier in consistency than I was used to, but the beans kept their requisite shape and firmness, and had excellent flavors, as I tasted brown sugar, nutmeg, garlic, black pepper, and a host of other seasoning.

And I don’t think I’ve seen a carrot and raisin slaw in eons, this one perfectly free of too much dressing, and boasting red and golden raisins for a very natural, and almost citrusy, sweetness.

Carol and Marge were enjoying their Hombres so much, they decided to go nuts and order an extra side of macaroni and cheese, which came out looking irresistibly appetizing.




They offered me some, but I was already filling up, powering through the rest of my Niños since the taste buds had no intention of stopping the good time. I also had to make sure that I had enough room left to possibly enjoy a dessert slice of sweet potato pecan pie. My dad’s a lifelong chef and baker, and I’ve been enjoying his pies since my “hatchling” days so much that they have become the barometer by which every other pie has been measured. (I’ve adopted his sweet potato cheesecake pie recipe, much to the delight of my friends and neighbors.) I hoped the dish would taste as good as it sounded, encompassing my two most favorite pie flavors as it did.




I had just a spoonful (I didn’t want to push it) and gave the rest to Carol and Marge, and we all agreed that we would remember this wonderful slice of pie for the rest of our not young lives! The sweet potato bottom layer of the pie had great texture—much like a baked sweet potato, creamy and a little stringy, not overly processed to a custard-like anomaly, which happens a lot—and and had just enough sweetness without that cloying disturbances of gritty sugar or enamel-corroding syrup. The top layer of pecan pie abundantly crunchy with the caramelized nuts, and heartily supported by a crispy, flaky crust.

In what seems like a several lives ago, i could find this high quality of soul food theoretically behind every rock and the areas I use to roam. Now, I have to forage for it. And in the neighborhood where I grew up, twenty-something years later, only three of about twenty business one block street remain.

Most of the kids that now live in Morningside Heights do so beyond the necessity of campus housing. Many weren’t even alive when I last lived here, several phone numbers and ex-girlfriends ago. The landscape has changed, at the very least on the ground floor level. (While taking the bus back downtown, looking at the the buildings from their second stories and upward truly brought me back several “ages”.)

It was nice to go back home, where this old dinosaur roamed, and enjoy what this dinosaur used to eat. And as I do get older, and travel back to lands lost, it makes me appreciate, that much more, all the old dinosaurs that were here before me.




Bun Apple Tea!

.kac.

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Dinosaur Bar-B-Que | 646 W. 131st St. (at 12th Ave.) | 212.694.1777 | www.dinosaurbarbque.com |

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