See that mural of three pigs spit-roasting a man over an open fire? It’s painted on the wall of the brand-new Brooklyn location of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and it’s ostensibly a joke about how the tables might be turned some day, with our porcine overlords knocking back beers and feasting on our sweet, tender flesh instead of vice versa. Taken another way, however, it could speak to a trend that’s becoming ever more clear in New York: the rise of the barbecue joint and the decline of the steakhouse as the meat restaurant of choice. What was once a city of pricey steakhouses, from the ancient Peter Luger to the modern BLT Steak, is quickly becoming a serious capital of barbecue. Having recently dined and drank at the new Dinosaur, I couldn’t be happier about this turn of events.
Brooklyn’s Dinosaur succeeds on so many levels. First of all, owing to the family-heavy nature of its Park Slope neighborhood, it’s kid-friendly, but in a way that keeps the peace with date-night couples and groups of meat-loving friends. It’s loud enough to drown out all but the shrillest shrieks, there’s plenty of fun stuff like the above mural and a massive, spinning bottle sculpture to keep the kids giggling at their surroundings, and it’s the kind of food kids love anyway, so they’ll be nice and quiet while they’re chowing down on their kids’ menu brisket sliders and mac ‘n’ cheese.
Second, the food’s great. I’m not a barbecue expert, I’m a barbecue enthusiast, which means I don’t discriminate between Texas, North Carolina, or Kansas City ‘cue, I just want it to taste good. We had brisket, St. Louis ribs, and pulled pork, and it was, as our waiter assured us, "all legit." The sides were great too, particularly the BBQ beans with pork and the A.K. chili.
But finally, it’s such a comfortable atmosphere, the kind of place I love to hang out. Sure, I know the building, just a stone’s throw from the Gowanus Canal, wasn’t originally a southern smokehouse, and that all the exposed wood and barbecue bric-a-brac was trucked in and bolted to the walls, but I don’t care. The decor doesn’t need to be authentic as long as the food is. And it’s fun all the same. We were there at noon on Sunday, and within 20 minutes every table around us was filled. Voices were raised, barbecue sauce was slathered, and pints of cold beer were clinked to toast the best new meat spot in the neighborhood.
Dinosaur joins a growing, and glowing, set of Brooklyn barbecue joints. Within a ten-minute walk, there’s Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, with its massive, amazing barbecue pit imported from Texas. There’s Fort Reno Provisions, with its daily specials and country shack ambiance. And there’s Pork Slope from the Talde crew, which claims to be a bar first and barbecue joint second, but the food’s great all the same. I love every one of them for different reasons, and hope the neighbors will support them.
I think they will, and not just in Park Slope, not just in Brooklyn (big ups to Fette Sau in the ‘burg), but in New York as a whole. Why? Because barbecue, in all its forms, falls squarely in the category of what you really want. It all but defines that category for me, and, having enjoyed many of New York’s new barbecue restaurants, my thinking has been altered. When I used to dream about where I really wanted to go out to eat–healthy food choices and trendy atmosphere be damned–I dreamed about going to a steakhouse. Now I dream about barbecue.
I’m sure I’m not alone. Done right, everything about a barbecue meal is a direct hit to the pleasure centers. Delicious, abundant, mouthwatering food. Satisfying drinks (beer, whiskey, lemonade) to wash it down with. A casual atmosphere where you’d be strange not to eat with your fingers. And a downright reasonable check at the end of it all. New Yorkers might be snobby about some things, but they’ve come around to admitting that country folk sure do know how to eat well.
As for steakhouses, I do still love them, but what I remember about Peter Luger is how the waiter drops the check on your table from a height of six inches, and you’re supposed to be honored that he served you at all. What I remember about Keens is that I can only afford to eat there once a year. What do I remember about Dinosaur? Everything.
Don’t worry, steakhouses, we’re not breaking up. Certain times will call for a massive porterhouse or chateaubriand, and certain business dinners wouldn’t quite work in a honkeytonk atmosphere. But for now, it’s my goal to eat in every barbecue joint in the five boroughs, and I can’t wait to hit the next one.
[Related: BlackBook Guide to NYC Barbecue Restaurants; Listings for Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, Fort Reno Provisions, Pork Slope, Fette Sau; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]