Jim Morrison believed the ghosts of American Indians jumped into his head as a child and gave him spiritual direction for the rest of his life. I had a not totally dissimilar experience the night of Dinosaur BBQ's soft opening party after I returned home, wherein I undressed and found the ghosts of several pigs, cows and hickory trees inhabiting my shirt. The sign on the window said "Private Party" and there were people checking names at the door, but the attendance must have been close to 200. Owner John Stage seemed to have prepared for twice that number, thus accounting for the volume of aerosolized meat and wood, which, in their previous and more solid forms, were of course what brought Dinosaur to Stamford, the crowd to it.
The restaurant itself is very easy to find on Canal St., just past Fairway and standing on its own amongst the smooth new blacktops of the rapidly gentrifying post-industrial brick and glass landscape of the area. Once inside, though, the aesthetic transforms - the visual cues are softer and warmer than the exterior setting. A bifurcated row of booths stretches across the middle of the space's open plan and manages to separate the attention-grabbing bar from the restaurant proper. The reclaimed barn wood, discussed in CTbite’s first look , glows from the dozens of tungsten light bulbs and hanging fixtures and lamps, which throw soft light around the space. The back wall, one of the spaces still showing concrete, is painted in a dark olive green and tattooed with winged wheels, a laughing skull, a grinning devil, and the obligatory swine with its outlined cuts of meat - the work of painter Elliott Mattice. A slammed '49 Mercury would not look out of place parked next to this tableau. I can dig it.
In one of the back corners, behind the bar, the designers have constructed a sort of hangout: a den with comfortable and funky seating, adorned with hung paintings and old show posters. This last isn't really part of the restaurant so much as it's a built-in cocktail lounge. The bar itself is a dominating presence within the space, and the only part seeming to acknowledge its existence within the digital age. A few TVs are set in behind the bar, but its real anchor is the giant, copper gleam of the WWII-era Bevador beer cooler.
"Beer," you say? Yes, and whoever stocked it was paying attention. The menus hang on chalkboards over the bar, and start with Dino's house brews - Ape Hanger and Syracuse Pale Ale - both from Middle Ages Brewing in Dino's home locale. From there, apart from standard macro-brews, Dinosaur offers a pleasant selection of beers on tap at the time of this writing. Local beers are very well represented, both from Dino's home state (Brooklyn Lager, Sixpoint Sweet Action cream ale, Blue Point Toasted Lager, Ommegang White), and its new home. Connecticut beers are announced on their own board, in fact, with representatives like Burnside Ten Penny Scottish ale, City Steam Naughty Nurse, Thomas Hooker Hop Meadow IPA, and both Bright Ale and a seasonal offering from Half Full. Belgian ale Duvel and hop-tastic Americans Dogfish Head 60 Minute and Victory Hop Devil round out the selection. You want a buzz? They have one for you.
Stage and his staff outdid themselves with the enormity of the smoked meats that were offered. My favorite was the Brisket, definitely the Best in Show for the night. The meat was perfectly smoked with a few slices layered on a roll with a touch of the spicy sauce. The sandwich was incredibly juicy and over the top with flavor. The pulled pork was presented with artistic flair. First the deep-colored bark was removed, the meat hand-pulled and then mounded on a roll. Again a little sauce accompanied the meat and roll onto the plate. Like the beef, this sandwich was full of great flavors with just a little heat. Unfortunately the execution of the ribs was not up to the high standards of the other dishes. My slab had some issues. The bark was way too thick and the bones themselves were broken. It was next to impossible to eat, forget about picking up these beauties. There was a nice dry rub and then a thin layer of sauce. The good news was the meat, when you could get to it, was scrumptious. When I returned to snap the photos the other slabs looked more to Dinosaur’s standards. Another enjoyable item was the chicken wings. These were served already separated into two pieces with one overlaying a BBQ sauce and its companion in a Buffalo sauce. The rub had a nice kick to it, and dipping in either sauce was equally delicious. An order of these would be a great start to a meal with some beer.
The side dishes were full of flavor but confusing. The classic Macaroni salad with tuna was a cold version of the classic which brought back bad memories of eating its heated cousin growing up. But Dinosaur’s version was delicious; it had great flavor and offered a refreshing element to the spices that the smoked meats carried. The macaroni and cheese was fantastic; creamy and full of flavor. To finish the dish they sprinkle a spicy and smoky dusting on top to increase the heat. The smooth and creamy cheese sauce and the spicy topping were perfect together. The cole slaw was very good, creamy and performed the task that cole slaw is supposed to perform with BBQ, add to but not distract from, the main course. And then the fried rice; OK…Why? Why is a BBQ joint serving fried rice? But it was enjoyable, offered a totally different flavor profile than every other side and was full of flavor. Did it go with the BBQ, unfortunately I would not order this side on subsequent visits; it just was a confusing dish.
There's really no need to even sit down, though, if you want a fly by for a takeout. Above and to the right of the front doors are more chalkboard menus, these advertising takeout. General categories include ribs, pulled pork, Texas-style smoked brisket, smoked spicy sausage, churasco chicken and smoked turkey, and a landslide of hot and cold side dishes.
It's all up, running, and there for you to check out. Smoke de jour perfumed clothing is standard, and offered at no additional charge.