Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Road Trip: Eating and Drinking in Rochester, New York

Nicole and I recently made our way to Rochester, New York, to see fiery haired chanteuse, Neko Case. Of course coffee and junk food were consumed on the way; it was a road trip after all, but nothing terribly remarkable. Although, I will say that McDonald’s ice cream is actually much better than I remember it being, same goes for their caramel sauce.

Anyways, after the 4 hour journey, give or take, and a brief respite at the hotel, we ventured out in search of food. Whereas we could’ve roamed the streets of Rochester for hours looking for some tasty vittles, Nicole had planned things out ahead of time and we made a b-line for Dinosaur Barbeque!

After parking, mostly just on-street parking, or in our case on-bridge, we were greeted by numerous motorcycles roaring off into the night, a loud, but by no means dubious, indicator of what we were in for. As we got closer and the motorcycle exhaust dissipated we could smell the smoke. If you’re ever headed into a barbeque establishment and you can’t smell smoke of some sort, run. But the smoke was pungent at Dinosaur Barbeque so we ventured on.

Entering the building we were met by a large room of boisterous guests eating, drinking, and enjoying their evening. There was classic rock and Americana on the stereo, and a couple dozen beers on tap. So far, so good. We ordered a pitcher of the house brew, Dino-Ape I believe it was called. A light refreshing ale that tasted like, well, beer. A beer that tastes like beer doesn’t seem that strange but if you consider what is mostly available at bars and restaurants these days beer flavored beer is a bit of an anomaly. Choices are usually between rich, heavy micro-brews and bland, watery macro-brews. While the former certainly has a time and place, that latter leaves little choice when it comes to something tasty and simple. Luckily Dinosaur Barbeque has seen to it that their delicious `que is complemented by a tasty but not overwhelming brew.

Finally seated, my biggest complaint with D.BBQ was the fact that while waiting to be seated it was incredibly difficult to hear the names called over the PA, with music playing and people behaving as if they were at a backyard barbeque it’s hard to hear your name being called, some of those vibrating pager/coasters might be a better caller here, but I digress. In a table with menu in had we poured over the options. As a BBQ joint Dinosaur’s has struck a balance between too-many and too-few options. A few platters of their specialties, a selection of sandwiches, a bevy of burgers, and appropriate appetizers made the choosing a little easier, but not much since the whole place stinks of sweet, wonderful `que.

Platters, it was stated, arrived with a choice of two signature sides and honey cornbread. Wanting the most bang for my buck I knew that my destiny was in platter-town. But which to choose: Brisket? Pulled pork? Ribs? Ultimately it came down to the either the ribs or the pork/brisket plate, and the ribs won out. For sides I picked the BBQ beans and Mac-n-Cheese. Nicole supped on pulled pork with mashed-potatoes-and-gravy and beans-and-rice. While we waited we drank and talked and examined the décor. Dinosaur BBQ as opted for a kitschy, throw-back vibe, so the walls are adorned with old advertisements for movies, beer, alcohol, movies, and so on. Charming and laid back, really the only appropriate set dressing for a BBQ restaurant.

Our food arrived and it was well worth the reasonably short wait. The beans were rich and spicy, having cooked for who-knows-how-long in a meaty sauce spiked with jalapenos. The Mac-n-Cheese was creamy and delicious, topped with a spicy dust I fell pretty certain is the house rub. Oh, and the ribs? Well… they were pretty good. I guess. If you like ribs, at least. And I do. Like ribs that is. Especially these ribs!

All kidding aside Dinosaur BBQ does what they’re supposed to and they do it right. Their meats are marinated of 24 hours, then dry rubbed, smoked and sauced. All this means a succulent, meaty, smokey, fall-off-the-bone, juicy rib. The real key to all this is the smoking. Yes, you can make great ribs on a charcoal or hard wood fire. Yes they are delicious. But for a truly special rib, slow-smoking is the way to go. It’s the only way to really infuse that “BBQ” flavor throughout each bite, not just in the bark, and it’s the only way to give the meat that pinkish ring just inside the crust that lets the eater know that this has been slow-cooking for a while. And I know there are some out there that say a dry rib is the only real rib, but truth-be-told I kind of like the mess of a wet rib, finding myself slathered in sauce, in search of post-meal wet-wipe is all part of the barbeque experience. I managed to sneak a few bites of Nicole’s meal and discovered the pulled pork (Boston Butt, natch) to be just as moist and tasty as my ribs, while her beans and rice were spicy and still had great texture. So often beans an rice become starchy mush while sitting in a warm pot all day. These, however, were superb.

Sated by pork and beer we toddled off to the show where we were treated to one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year (and I’ve seen a few this year). Case’s voice filled up the venue, blanketing guests in her velveteen sorrow. Her band did what seemed impossible at the beginning of the show, and made the large, high-ceiling concert hall seem like a much smaller, more intimate venue. Instead of trying to fill the space with sound the restrained and made the room seem to shrink, like each of us was getting a private performance. Case and her band worked through the bulk of her two most recent releases (Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood) and a handful of older tunes. Simple, direct, and one of the best live acts around, Case’s sorrowful songs are delightfully counterpointed by her disarming stage persona and wonderful sense of humor.

Post show we were still in the mood for some night living so we trekked a few blocks to Lux Lounge. At 666 South Avenue, Lux plays up their eerie address, with dark décor and Halloween leftovers. Cute, charming, $1.50 PBRs, and a hell of a juke box, Lux is a great late night stop in this sleepy little New York community.

After a good and well deserved night’s sleep we awoke to hungry bellies despite the previous evening’s repast. Breakfast was further mapped out by Nicole and we drove to the Highland Park Diner. A diner in the most iconic sense, Highland Park offers all the standard breakfast and lunch diner far you could want, with a few surprises. Nicole opted for an omelet, bacon and cheese, which was tasty but nothing terribly new. The English muffin that accompanied it, however, was something altogether different. Dwarfing in size most commercially available English muffins, this thing had nooks for days and crannies for weeks. My choice was the Mexican Alarm Clock. A tortilla muy grande topped with refried beans, cheese, and scrambled eggs making a sort of open faced breakfast burrito. Both breakfasts came with sides of seasoned potatoes which, oddly, had a certain fishiness to them that neither of us could put our fingers on. The Highland Park Diner also serves a pretty decent cup of coffee which, thanks to the friendly wait staff, I never saw the bottom of.

Well fed once again and with a long journey home we pulled up stakes and made for Ohio. While we didn’t find much in the way of afternoon entertainment in Rochester, NY, we certainly ate and drank well during our few hours of vacation.


VisitRochester said...

So glad you had a great time in Rochester! Hope you will return soon, We have a lot more delicious eats. Thanks so much for the link to VisitRochester.

template by suckmylolly.com