If you are a chow hound like myself, you are keenly aware of Erie’s location within one of the greatest food deserts in the country. With a predominant reliance on national food chains that regularly serve food that can be classified as mediocre at best and a decline of local joints with quality tasting food, any new restaurant to the tri-state area is greatly appreciated.
No exception to this Erie statistic is barbecue. Aside from the basic (and, in my opinion, lower quality) Smokey Bones and Famous Dave‘s, Erie truly lacks a quality barbecue restaurant to satisfy the tastes of high demanding clientele. The opening of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in the Liberty Center (formerly the Liberty Plaza) has given Erie the opportunity to solve this barbecue drought and provide a safe haven for the greatest of barbecue lovers, or at least those who are exiled in Erie. Despite being America’s largest franchised barbecue chain with over 530 locations in 43 states, the Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Pit prides itself on serving authentic Texas barbecue prepared and smoked on site.
The restaurant’s opening on Thursday, April 7, brought in lines of hundreds of Erieites wrapping around the parking lot waiting to get a first taste of the freshly-made barbecue concoctions. The long queue continued far into the weekend, but I arrived very early Sunday morning to taste the food for myself in an attempt beat the crowd. Having just returned from a trip to Texas a few months earlier, my expectations from Dickey’s were high and I had hoped to taste some comparable quality barbecue closer to home.
One of the many assets Dickey’s possesses is the freshness of their meats. When you order your barbecue in increments of 1/2 lbs., the meat is carved on a cutting board directly in front of you so you can visually inspect the meat products as they prepare them. At this time, I purchased (using my dad’s credit card) 1 pound each of jalapeño cheddar sausage, pulled pork and beef brisket. Along with my meal came a buttered roll on the side and a bowl of Dickey’s Original Barbecue Sauce. Dickey’s also offers barbecue chicken, turkey, pork ribs, sandwiches, salads, as well as eleven different sides and desserts, but I unfortunately was unable to sample them all in one sitting.
After I acquired a drink from the restaurant’s Coca-Cola Freestyle Machine, I first sampled the the sausage which was served cut into several slices. As one would expect, the sausage was very spicy thanks to the jalapeño, but the peppers were not overpowering as the juicy taste of the sausage meat contributed to much of the flavor. In addition, the hot melting cheese greatly complement the succulent taste of the meat and the spice of the jalapeño. I finished the entire pound in less than five minutes.
Next I sampled the pulled pork straight up. The shreds of pork were a bit dry and contained less flavor compared to pulled pork samples I have had at other barbecue joints (not in Erie). To compensate for the dryness, I added some of the Dickey’s Original Barbecue Sauce to the mix. The sauce was primarily tomato- and vinegar-based and not as sweet as most people would picture barbecue sauce to be. In fact, the Dickey’s Original was comparable to other barbecue sauces marketed as Carolina Barbecue, which caught me off guard at first taste. However, if you don’t mind or are a fan of the more vinegar-reliant sauces, Dickey’s Original does a justice and was a great addition to the pulled pork, giving it some much needed extra flavor.
Finally, I sampled the beef brisket which I consider to be the cornerstone of any barbecue restaurant. Enjoying the sausage, but less satisfied with the pulled pork, I knew that the brisket would determine whether Dickey’s was a hit or miss. I was not disappointed. The sliced brisket contained a large amount of fat, which is my favorite part of the brisket due to the additional juice and flavor it brings to the table. Too many times I have tasted barbecue at lesser chain restaurants only to be served lean cuts with little or no fat and a need to be drenched in barbecue sauce to satisfy the lack in flavor of the meat. The smoked taste and juice of the brisket meat was so flavor-filled that it would be a crime to contaminate the luscious taste of the meat with any foreign additives, barbecue sauce or others. For the beef brisket alone, I found myself returning to Dickey’s three additional times over the course of the next week as it far beat my expectations for any barbecue brisket to be available to the people of Erie.
The atmosphere at Dickey’s did give off a pleasant rustic feel. However, when you are eating such great tasting barbecue, the atmosphere could be that of McDonald’s and it would not make a difference on the experience. In addition, while I was refilling my big yellow cup of Coca-Cola on the way out, I did notice that Dickey’s has a barbecue self-serving station with three different flavors: Original, Sweet, and Spicy. I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to taste the Sweet or the the Spicy sauces, but I plan to return in the future to sample them.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit far outpaced my expectations with amazing sausage and brisket, great sauce, and their pulled pork could be considered the best in town. If you ever are in the mood for great barbecue and don’t know where in Erie to go, Dickey’s is pretty much your only option.