I’ve been eating through America while on my Orange County: A Personal History book tour: Haitian fried goat in Manhattan, Minnesota’s bizarre taco pizza, Denver green-chile breakfast burritos, Indian fry bread outside Phoenix, and the Tex-Mexiest food in the world at Herrera’s Café in Dallas—you’ll never understand the wonders of this cuisine until feasting on a soft cheese taco. But the dinner that forever changed my tastebuds was in Austin, where former Weekly photo editor Tenaya Hills took me to a barbecue joint. While she chomped down on wondrous, flaky baby-back ribs, I focused on my ham dinner—three slightly salty, thick slabs coupled with beans, raw onions and a slice of white bread, all for six friggin’ bucks.
We got great ’cue places ’round these parts—Beach Pit BBQ, Burrell’s, Blake’s Place, among others—but none approach what I experienced in Austin. Not even the county’s first outpost of the DICKEY’S BARBECUE PIT empire in Irvine can dream of matching the real deal. Dickey’s is a Texas institution, their 32-ounce, yellow soda cup as integral to the state’s culinary heritage as Shiner Bock and Big Red soda, best-known for humongous portions and a sauce featuring an ideal mix of heat, sweetness and tang. But for such a hyped product, I found the offerings at Dickey’s maddeningly sparse—brisket, kielbasa, pulled pork, piggy ribs and chicken. You could get it as a platter or as a sandwich—and that’s it. The sides were what you expect from a barbecue place—potato salad, beans, cole slaw and the like. And though the portions will feed you for days, the cost reflects its Irvine address.
Nevertheless, Dickey’s is worth the price. The Polish sausage is crisped on the outside, juicy within the skin and not too fatty. I’m not a big fan of pulled pork, but aficionados will enjoy its vinegary undertones. You’ll enjoy the smokiness of the brisket and ribs, but that faint effect tends to drown under the sauce—you can mitigate this by applying the elixir judiciously, but that’s not likely to happen. A better option than the meat platters is Dickey’s stuffed Baker—a baked potato topped with your choice of meat, cheese and other goodies worth the extra bucks.
Don’t think Dickey’s is gouging you, though. Paying a bit more gets you free, unlimited vanilla ice cream and access to a jar of obscenely big dill pickles—take a bunch home. But do complain to management about the ridiculous wall fountain near the entrance—betcha removing it will shave off a buck from your order on your next visit.
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Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, 5435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 679-0050; www.dickeys.com.