1/2 Who says advertising doesn’t work? After my first two subway sign encounters with the words Dallas BBQ superimposed over the familiar red flames, my attention was peaked. And Rego Park? Queens’ first outpost definitely required investigation.
The most sprawling, modern and mildly clubby—glass-encased liquor bottles as room dividers are a prominent design feature—incarnation yet, this branch right off the LIE is part of a relatively new shopping complex that houses a not crowded Century 21, an awkward to get to Costco and bare bones Aldi, Trader Joe’s no frills German parent company (I only bought American cheese, bratwursts and a box of frozen cheese wontons).
Clearly, the area was desperately in need of cheap ribs and colorful drinks because even on the early side of Saturday night, the industrial-carpeted foyer was crammed with the antsy and expectant. By the time we left, crowd control was in full effect and a hostess had brought out the bullhorn. Stampede!
Sam Sifton’s recent multi-culti portrait of Red Rooster painted a feel good image of the new Harlem. I’ll give you a celeb restaurant in an underserved neighborhood and raise you a Dallas BBQ. There’s no more NYC a restaurant than this. Staten Island is now the only borough suffering without one. Sure, it’s a chain, but it’s our chain and we love it. Applebee’s and Chili’s could learn a thing or two from them.
Just in my noisy corner of the complex sat Korean-American dudes with pitchers of beer, their dates barely touching their food, frozen drinks melting. To my left was a black, teetotaling mother and daughter downing chicken fingers and giant goblets of cola with nearly an entire jar of maraschino cherries floating in each. On my other side, colorful drinks for all four diners and two massive double cheeseburgers destined for one hungry woman. A multigenerational Chinese family sprawled across four pushed-together tables while an elderly couple conversed in Russian. No one thinks twice about looking like a glutton and men aren’t afraid to order pink cocktails. Merely convivial or debauched, it’s hard to say. The judgmental aren’t welcome at Dallas BBQ.
For me, at least, the fruity, neon frozen drinks overshadow the food. As someone who has to minimize my sugar intake and prefers a dry, stiff cocktail anyway, their pantheon of syrupy “Texas-sized” concoctions provide a welcome respite. It is wholly possible to burn out on artisanal moonshine, mole bitters and hand-carved ice. I nearly succumbed to our server’s promotional recommendation of a passion fruit-swirled pina colada served with both a shot of Alize and Hennessy (they also serve Hennessy wings and the spirit is prominently featured in the above mentioned wall displays—I don’t know if they’re getting kickbacks or if they’ve merely determined that their audience really likes a particular cognac). Instead, I started with the Texas-sized pina colada, then wisely moved onto a regular-sized Blue Hawaii with a shot of rum in a green plastic test tube half-buried in the creamy surface. Less slush, more alcohol is the sweet spot.
I’m glad that they now serve a smaller version of the onion loaf, which shared between two will still knock you out. The matted stack of thinly sliced battered rings is a must. Could you eat at Outback Steakhouse and ignore the Bloomin’ Onion? You’d better not say no.
I don’t want to say the namesake barbecue is superfluous, but no one’s going to mistake their pulled pork, beef brisket or babyback ribs for lovingly smoked meat in the style of Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, North Carolina or whichever region you prefer. Tangy-sweet, saucy to the point of ensuring stained clothing and tender, the ribs are perfectly edible, even if they’ve never seen the inside of a smoker. Normally, I would get the $11.99 (most of the menu is under $12) ribs and chicken combo, but we already had a box of Korean fried chicken sitting in the car. I definitely did not need the fried shrimp with tartar sauce. Fries (you can have yellow rice—so very Latino—or a classic American baked potato as a side) and a square of cornbread ensure you get your recommended dose of starch.
When I talk my love of chain restaurants, Dallas BBQ exemplifies what I mean. You go for the experience, not for culinary fireworks. I only ate a fourth of my ribs (which of course I took home for later) because absorbing the genuine New Yorkness while picking at fried onions and sipping sweet, highly alcoholic drinks is fun in itself. The fat and sugar may be gnawing at my organs, but it’s emotionally nutritive being in the thick of things—even when the swell of humanity can be grotesque.
Dallas BBQ * 61-35 Junction Blvd., Rego Park, NY