A few weeks ago, I met up with the guy who runs the most excellent website, www.pigtrip.net
. He is Massachusetts based and writes about his experiences eating barbeque all throughout the Northeast. He is also pretty knowledgable when it comes to people in the barbeque business. We met up in front of R.U.B. BBQ in NYC, where he introduced me to the pitmaster. We talked for a bit and then headed up to our first stop, Rack & Soul, in the Columbia University area of NYC.
This place has been around for a few years now, but it seems to fly below the media radar and doesn't get a lot of press.
Our biscuits. I thought these were good, but not great. A bit of sweetness to them that made them more reminiscient of the kind used for strawberry shortcake.
We skipped appetizers and decided to get a few platters to share. Our pulled pork with sauce. This was really, really good. Not THE best I've ever had. I would have liked a stronger smoke flavor, but the texture was soft and there were some crusty pieces in there as well. I wasn't sure how I felt about it when it came out pre-sauced as I'm not a fan of that style but the sauce worked well here and had a sweet, slighty spicy balance to it.
And our fried chicken. One of the co-proprietors, Charles Gabriel is well-known in Harlem for his fried chicken. Good stuff. The crust clung to the chicken, was nicely seasoned (although I wish it had had more spice in it) and the meat was moist. I've eaten very little fried chicken in my life, so I have no idea how this stacks up, but there are many fried chicken places in Harlem, so further investigation may be necessary!
Sided with some mac & cheese. Very disappointing. There wasn't the gooey, stringy texture that I so love and I found it to be very bland with little cheese flavor.
The yams were excellent: soft and sweet and were great foils to the different meats.
Our second platter was a rack of baby back ribs that were tender and meaty, but a bit chewier than I prefer and not as meaty as the cut I am used to at the Dinosaur (a St. Louis cut?).
Sorry these rib pics are so dark, but they were the best of a mediocre bunch.
The collards with our 2nd platter were great. I've really come around to collards in the past few years, especially when they are cooked properly: soft, with just a slight crunch, earthy and full of flavor.
I wasn't a fan of the black-eyed peas and I think it was more personal preference than anything else. They tasted like dirt to me, similar to how beets have an aftertaste. Maybe it's just me.
Our third platter meat was a beef rib.
I cut off this piece of it and really enjoyed the beefy flavor. This is probably the second time I've tried a beef rib and liked it.
A creamy, mustardy potato salad with hard boiled eggs chopped up throughout. Very tasty.
These baked beans fell short for me as I thought they were too sweet and way to "busy" for my taste. Too much going on in them: meat, red peppers, onions. The flavors just didn't come together.
A portrait of Charles Gabriel, the "soul" in Rack & Soul.
The bar. The weird moment of the day came in the form of a guy sitting at the bar wearing a leg cast. I got the impression he had been there downing a few cold ones LONG before we arrived or that he was on some type of medication. Through a heavy-eyed glaze, he kept asking us why we were taking pictures of our food and asking us to take pictures of him, but didn't seem interested in having us send a shot to him. Maybe he wanted his likeness floating out there in cyberspace??
Inside Rack & Soul. It's a pretty small place and there were a few other tables eating away when we had arrived. There were some hits and misses for me and I do prefer a few other places over this one but I would definitely return to work through more of the menu.
Our 2nd stop was at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem.
We started out with an order of the "Chili on the Half Shell", which is a bowl of chili and tortilla chips. I used to get this a lot in Syracuse and the presentation was much different. It used to be a form oif nachos smothered in their chili, which I prefer as some of the chips wilt and some stay crispy. I was surprised they still refer to it as the "half shell". I had asked for a small empty bowl so I could split the order, but I think our waitress misunderstood and brought us a small bowl of the chili as well (gratis, I think).
Here is the full-on presentation of "Chili on the Half Shell". To be honest, neither of us liked this, at all. We took about 2-3 spoonfuls each and then we were done with it. I felt bad as the waitress knew we didn't like it and wasn't sure what to say to us. She was very nice though.
Where do I start? I was so bummed over this as I have a huge love for almost anything Dinosaur and I really wanted to love this! The main issue we both had is that it leaned VERY heavily on beans (kidneys, I think) and tomato flavor (not sure if it was sauce or cooked down tomatoes). I wasn't getting any taste of cumin, chili powder or chiles at all. Made with ground beef, I think the beef was cooked down so much that it really didn't have much of a presence or provide any discernable texture. Definitely the sweetest and tangiest chili I've ever tried and I just don't think that is how chili should be. I was looking for more layers and depth of flavor that just wasn't there. We both thought that it seemed to lean closer to a marinara sauce than to a chili.
Perhaps Roadfooder Cosmos
could help out on this as he frequents the Syracuse location. When I wouild get this chili in Syracuse, I remember it tasting different; spicier and bolder. I wonder if they have changed the recipe for the NYC location, changed the recipe altogether, or am I just looking back fondly on it all and my taste buds have simply changed?
The pulled pork sandwich. I didn't try this, but brought some back for my girlfriend as I had hit a "wall" about 1/3 of the way into this meal. I realized I can do multiple stops, but I really have to pick at small portions if I'm going to be doing this. Full portions are just too much.
The Bar-B-Que Brisket, Bacon, & Swiss sandwich. These elements came together nicely, even though the brisket was a wee bit on the fatty side on this day. I'd put that bacon up there against Peter Luger's anyday!! I'd love to see the Dinosaur offer it as an apppetizer or side!
I reaaly do love their french fries and they are some of the best that I have had in the city. Always crispy/creamy with good potato flavor, skin-on and perfectly salted.
I'm more of a vinegar slaw kinda guy, but their mayo based slaw is bright, crunchy and moist without being too drippy.
We grabbed a 1/4 rack of ribs to share and they were excellent as always.
I took some of the Syracuse Style salt potatoes for a little taste of home and they didn't dissapoint. Salty and buttery, these were great.
One of my favorite sides at the Dino is the Carrot-Raisin Salad. I can fool myself into thinking I'm eating healthy and it tastes really good too. Crunchy carrots, creamy mayo and sweet raisins provide a welcome counterpoint to the rich meats.
The cool moment of the day came when: 1.) We ran into my friend Cheryl, who was waitressing there that day, and 2.) When the long table in the back broke out into song repeatedly and we found out they were a group of French winemakers who were having a heckuva grand time! They hoisted their drinking glasses many times in what was reminiscient of a German beer hall sing along. I wish I could have recorded it as I found it to be powerful and moving.
<message edited by billyboy on Mon, 03/30/09 11:26 PM>