For food-lovers everywhere, it’s all too easy to turn our collective nose up at chains without first having experienced exactly what it is that the company in question offers. Don’t get me wrong: Plenty of them are exactly what you expect and pander to lowest common denominators: There is, indeed, a very special breed of stomach-churn associated with the goo that passes for butter sauce at a certain crustacean chain, a unique fog to the soul-crushing faux-Italianness of another. But that doesn’t mean that all chains fall down that particularly onerous rabbit hole, and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is a phenomenal example of all that can go right when a chain in general is well-conceived, and when a particular location is not just well-run but operated with real passion and conviction.
Dickey’s—which opened up its doors and began perfuming its excellent array of meats with ambrosial hickory smoke back in February—is a phenomenal addition to the neighborhood. Owner Ka-Ron Thomas brings a deeply personal touch to the proceedings, welcoming guests with gusto and overseeing everything with the kind of detail-oriented level of concern that makes all the sense in the world when you discover that he was a culinary arts teacher (and will be again this fall) at the Art Institute of Philadelphia: He is a seasoned pro, and it shows.
But, of course, it’s always the food that will dictate success of failure, and the product being offered at Dickey’s is very good, indeed. Pulled pork is moist and kissed with smoke but not clobbered by it, the better to highlight the meat’s inherent flavor. Pork ribs pair Dickey’s signature hickory smoke with deeply seasoned flesh and a generous layer of sauce, tangy and sweet and balanced. Brisket could have been better a bit less lean, but still managed to avoid the shoe-leather consistency that befalls too many other versions: My most carnivorous friend and I still finished it all happily. Polish sausage, sliced into medallions, were compulsively poppable and impossibly moist. All of it can be eaten as-is or anointed with any of three barbecue sauces: Original, a sweet one and a spicier version that packs an unexpected kick.
Macaroni and cheese was pleasant but just a bit too heavy for my taste, as was potato salad, dominated by sour cream and dill. But there are plenty of others to choose from, and there’s surely enough range here to satisfy whatever craving hits you on any given day.
It is, overall, exactly the sort of place I can see myself visiting with frequency. And even if I cannot possibly imagine an instance where I’ll have room remaining for the free ice cream on offer, hope springs eternal: Maybe next time, assuming I don’t drink a car-gas-tank’s worth of sweet tea (which I’m sure I will), and assuming I stop gorging myself on all this lovely meat before I’m completely topped up (doubtful, I’ll admit), I just may have the space. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine it’s a nice way to end a meal—either that or one of the pies on offer.
Dickey’s, then, is a winner, and I’m putting my doctor on notice now: Expect my next cholesterol test to spike a little. There promises to be a lot more barbecue in my future.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
650 South St. 267.273.0364. dickeys.com
Cuisine: Pit smoked meats and sides.
Hours: Daily, 11am-9pm.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014