Pros: cheap, fairly flavorful food
Cons: apparently attracts undesirables at night
Dallas BBQ, located on 3rd avenue near 73rd Street, between 6 Train subway stops on the East Side, occupies a large footprint in a building somewhat elevated from the surrounding area, up a few steps to the front door in its own little plaza. They've been serving up barbecue dishes for, geez, longer than I've been here, that's for certain, and they're probably never leaving.
Inside is a mass of basic banquettes, four-tops, and everywhere mirrors. Mirrors on the columns, the far walls, the near walls, the ceilings... well, not the ceilings. But it does make the space seem even larger than its enormity.
Every so often, something cowboy-y hangs from something on the ceiling. A saddlebag here, a hat there; the decor is more of an afterthought than anything else.
Le Menu, Pardner
Dallas BBQ is known for fairly good, and inexpensive, basic barbecue staples, and a stupid-cheap Rotisserie chicken Early-bird deal: two half-chickens for $10 before 6pm (5pm Friday-Sunday). Regularly, a quarter-chicken is $4.99 and a half-chicken runs $5.99; all-white meat will run an extra dollar for the quarter, $2 for the half, and honey-roasting or barbecue sauce is extra as well. But you get cornbread and chicken vegetable soup as well, so it's a great deal.
Those barbecue staples: brisket ($8.99), (Western) Carolina pulled pork ($8.99), and baby-back ribs ($10.99) are rather inexpensive. The only things on the menu over $12 are the Wild West Special combos ($16.99), which give you three different entrees among chicken, ribs, shrimp, and steak on one big plate, or a fish filet, crabcake and shrimp platter -- and the steaks and steak combos.
My dining companion ordered the pulled pork "sandwich" ($8.99) while I opted for the Combo plate, which included the pulled pork and brisket. Each dish comes with coleslaw and choice of potato, which we both decided should be a baked one.
The pulled pork comes piled high on a poppyseed bun, doused with that sweet and tangy red sauce but not swimming in it. The pork itself was tender and juicy, and this was really one of the better barbecues I've had in New York.
For the combo, the other half of the bun is piled high with brisket, in this case thin Julienne-style shaped slices of meat, with the Dallas BBQ barbecue sauce. The sauce itself isn't all that exceptional -- really a slightly spicier version of your average supermarket barbecue sauce. The brisket wasn't dry, though, and the smaller slices make it easier to chew and give the perception that the meat is tender, though this cut isn't exactly known for that.
The baked potatoes were fine, and came with a side cup of sour cream and scallions. The coleslaw was swimming in its creamy sauce, but it was good enough to finish off, a rarity around town.
Neither dish came with cornbread, an oversight I would have corrected had I noticed on the menu that it was not included. Big rectangles of the bread were visible on other diners' plates and made me wish I a la carted myself a chunk. Ah well. I suppose I'd eaten enough anyway.
Other choices include standard burgers, ranging from $7.99 to $10.99 with extra everythings. Getting a special "BBQ" barbecue-sauce cheeseburger, with bacon and onions runs $9.99. Turkey burgers are also on the menu at about the same prices. And you can start with a wide variety of the standard appetizers, from chicken wings and fingers to crab cakes and other seafood dishes.
I suppose if you wanted salad at a barbecue joint, the many simple choices here (ranging from just greens to topped with various meats) would work out well for you. Plus, they ranged from $2.99 for a simple salad to $9.99 topped with steak or shrimp, so they wouldn't break the bank.
Basic sodas and unsweetened iced tea are available for a buck-fifty, per glass (like a lot of places here, there's no such thing as a free refill).
They boast "Texas-sized" Margaritas and Pina Coladas, and boy howdy, you get a HUGE one, in a range of flavors: Raspberry, Tangerine, Mango, Strawberry, "Blue" something or other, for $7.50. $5.50 gets you a reasonably-sized one.
Beer choices are very limited, and include a couple of domestics at $3/$4.50/$11.50 per 10-ounce, 20-ounce, and pitcher; Bass or Molson for $4/$5.50/$14.50, and a few basic bottles for $4.
Intriguingly, Corona is listed as a "Fine Imported Bottle from Mexico" to justify its $5 price tag. I had iced tea.
Service, Other Curiosities
The service here was probably best explained by the signs everywhere in the restaurant, on the placemat menus, and even the bill: "Please Tip Your Server 15%." Apparently the Dallas BBQs in the city have problems with cheap people and the younger set ("No ID No Alcohol No Kidding" signs adorned a few poles as well) who don't tip properly. And the restaurant sets the bar kind of low; in New York City and, I suspect, elsewhere, 20% is the unwritten baseline for good service, and at a place this inexpensive, the difference between 15% and 20% is less than a dollar per meal. At least it wasn't forced onto the bill, although after 8:30 pm (again written everywhere) it is indeed added to the bill.
The guy did his job well, giving us time to look over the menu, promptly bringing drinks, taking our order, and checking back a couple of times. He "refilled" my iced tea when I agreed that I'd like another. He did disappear after he cleared the dishes, however, so we sat and talked for another ten minutes while we waited to catch his eye for the check.
At $27 and change for the two of us, plus our greater-than-15%-tip, the check was definitely a good value. Most of the food was surprisingly good, and the service was perfectly fine. We didn't seriously check out anything from the bar, a small section of the floor with muted ESPN playing, but I imagine that they serve their share of people looking to while away the time with a large quantity of meat in front of them.
They offer delivery via a limited takeout menu (they have a fleet of delivery bikes on the patio) and also cater corporate events. So they can handle a family without a problem, too.
Will I go back? Certainly. I can't normally make the Early Bird special, but I would like to try the rotisseried chicken even so. Apparently it's very good, judging by the patrons who were tucking into their half-chickens nearby. Dallas BBQ has been around town as long as I can remember, and I don't see their red-and-blue neon signs disappearing any time soon.