A dinosaur rides into Newark on a Harley .... It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it's actually the beginning of a beautiful relationship! John Stage, renown pit master and founder of Dinosaur BBQ has stomped into Newark and brought his competition class Bar-B-Que with him.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que began as a mobil concession in 1983 by Harley-Davidson enthusiast John Stage. The first brick and mortar Dinosaur Bar-B-Que location was opened in Syracuse in 1988, and soon tripled in size, adding a full bar, full service dining, and live music. In 1998 Dinosaur Bar-B-Que set up shop in Rochester, then a Harlem location followed in 2004, and a fourth location in Troy in 2010.
The location in Newark, which opened in May 2012, marks the first out-of-NY-state location for the Dino. Located conveniently next door to the Prudential Center, the acclaimed, east coast Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has embraced Newark's underdog chic and brought out it's best. It's no surprise that Dinosaur Bar-B-Que choose a behemoth of a space for their first NJ outpost. What is surprising are the lengths Stage and the rest of the Dino team went through to pay homage to history and preservation.
Though it was not the ideal space for a restaurant due to specific challenges like parking accommodations, the Dino team fell in love with the bones of the building at 224 Market Street. The building, formerly a haberdashery and later a distillery, posed many structural and aesthetic challenges. When the building was being renovated, tin ceilings were harvested from another floor in the building, then used for the ceiling throughout the first floor restaurant space. The long bar at Dinosaur is also composed of reclaimed beams native to the building.
But what about the food? Scott Kleckner, vice-president of operations at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que gave us a big taste of the "full scratch" restaurant. Being a "full scratch" operation, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que makes everything on site - well, almost everything. Dinosaur Newark which employs over 160 people on staff, most of which are locals, sources their Portuguese rolls from local Newark bakery, Teixeria, and the chorizo in their gumbo is made by a local smokehouse.
According the Kleckner, the most important elements of the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que fare are "hickory wood and time." There are several "points of perfection" that the Bar-B-Que must meet before any of the food reaches the customer. Among these criteria are the visual char of the meat, the feel of the meat and the temperature.
The tasting began with sausage and cheese crackers (and yes, even the crackers are made on site). The thin, crispy, cheese and black pepper cracker was topped with tangy pimento cheese, pickled onions and a slice of "hot link" sausage. Next we had the Dinosaur's deviled eggs that were creamy and pleasantly spicy, followed by fried green tomatoes with a smoked shrimp remoulade. We also tried the BBQ salmon fritters made with house smoked salmon that were served with creole mustard and house-made red cabbage. The salmon fritter was exactly what you'd expect of a salmon fritter, but the red cabbage was unbelievably bright and fresh. Here's a tip: order extra red cabbage.
We moved onto the BBQ "Peel and Eat" wild Gulf shrimp served with a buttery, grilled cornbread, which made the perfect dipping vessel for every last drop of sauce! Next came the jumbo BBQ chicken wings. At Dinosaur, the wings are spice rubbed, pit smoked, then finished on the grill. This method, believe it or not, yields a crispy, moist wing - no gag-inducing flaccid skin at all. We then sampled the Sesame Hosin wings and the Wango Tango wings that were hot, but not too hot.
Next, we were served tangy Mac and cheese made with Cheddar, pecorino and other cheeses, and a very good chicken and sausage gumbo that was smoky and rife with okra and chorizo. We also had a great corn meal crusted catfish preparation served with "Texas Caviar" a flavorful Black Eyed Pea salad. We also had a Churrasco Chicken Steak, brined then smoked, and served Chimichurri sauce.
The carnivorous barrage continued with a combination platter of St. Louis Ribs, BBQ Brisket, and Pulled BBQ Pork. St. Louis Style ribs were smoke-penetrated-pink, competition style (not "fall off the bone" style bbq), and not overly sauced. The Texas Bar-B-Que Brisket, which is pit smoked up to 14 hours, though definitely smoky, left me wanting for moisture. And the Pulled BBQ Pork was moist, and again, full of smoky flavor, but seemed to need a little more oomph to distinguish it from the other meats.
Overall, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a great establishment, and I am very impressed with their dedication to their style of bar-b-que, and notably, their dedication to Newark. I was pleased with most of the side dishes, and would particulary recommend the very meaty wings. I would not opt for a combination platter, as the flavor profile, specifically hickory, simply becomes too dominant, no matter what variety of sauces you apply.
For more pics from inside the Dinosaur, check out the gallery.