Dining With Denise Neil

Review: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit satisfies suburbanites’ appetites

Two meals from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: Above is a pork-and-tangler baked potato, and below is a three-meat plate with turkey, brisket, pulled pork, mac and cheese, waffle fries and a yeast roll.
Two meals from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: Above is a pork-and-tangler baked potato, and below is a three-meat plate with turkey, brisket, pulled pork, mac and cheese, waffle fries and a yeast roll. The Wichita Eagle

It’s hard to get excited about a chain barbecue restaurant rolling into town, especially when Wichita has so many quality places owned by local folks – Pig In Pig Out, Two Brothers, Bite Me, Delano Barbeque Co., B&C, When Pigs Fly and Hog Wild just to name a few.

But Dickey’s Barbecue Pit seems to fit in just fine in the far northwest Wichita home it found last fall, when Topeka resident Ryan Wenrich opened up a franchise in a strip center on the far north edge of the NewMarket Square growth on north Maize Road.

The restaurant is part of a Dallas-based chain that has more than 400 stores across the country. Newton also got one last May, and another one should open on Wichita’s far east side, at 2244 N. Greenwich, by the end of this year. The restaurant was founded by Travis Dickey in Dallas in 1941 with a simple menu offering brisket, pit hams, barbecue beans, chips and beer. The founder’s sons took over in 1967 and began expanding the restaurant across Texas. Dickey’s began franchising in 1994, and now is run by the founder’s grandson, Roland Dickey Jr.

Dickey’s specializes in slow-smoked, Texas-style barbecue, including ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, turkey breast, chicken breast, honey ham and both spicy cheddar and Polish sausage. It’s famous for its buttery yeast rolls, its free soft-serve ice cream and its barbecue sauce, which is kept hot and put where customers can dish it up themselves. (The chain also had long been known for its free pickles and used to let customers serve themselves whole ones from a giant pickle jar. That practice ended a while ago, though, and now there’s just a small container of dill slices near the soda machine.)

The restaurant seems to fit a needed niche: barbecue that’s convenient for Wichita suburbanites. Many of the home-owned favorites listed above are in or near downtown. Several are open only for lunch or famously close early in the evening, urging customers in their jingles, “Don’t be late.”

But Dickey’s is open until 9 p.m. daily, and the growing neighborhoods nearby appear to be filled with barbecue lovers. We saw several older couples and families filling the restaurant on our visits.

The barbecue is good, too, and we especially enjoyed the ribs, which were served dry and were seasoned and cooked until they formed a perfect, crispy, caramelized crust. We also loved the turkey, which we ordered as part of a three-meat plate. The white meat was sliced thick and was so moist. There’s no better way to describe it, especially if you’ve suffered through as many overcooked, dry-as-sandpaper Thanksgiving turkeys as I have. I added the original barbecue sauce (it also comes in sweet or spicy) to both the ribs and the turkey and liked that the temperature of the sauce reheated the meat.

A note about that hot sauce: It’s a nice perk, but the heated serving vats keep the sauce extra hot, and it’s easy to dribble some onto your finger as you ladle it into the tiny plastic cups provided to transport it. And that hurts. Also painful: Holding the little plastic cups, which conduct heat immediately, as you take them back to your table.

The honey ham had a pleasing, sweet flavor but was cut a little thin. And we also approved of the spicy cheddar sausage, filled with bursts of injected cheese and spicy enough to linger on the lips. The brisket was another favorite and was served shredded rather than sliced. It had lots of browned edges, which added a nice crunch, and absorbed the sauce perfectly. But the amount of it served on our three-meat plate was a little disappointing.

We thought the pulled pork was just OK. It was a little dry and bland, but it was a nice addition in the pork-and-tangler baked potato we ordered from the “baker” menu. Those who haven’t tried barbecue meat stuffed inside a baked potato are missing out. It might sound strange, but a split potato piled with meat, sour cream and barbecue sauce and topped with coleslaw is one of the best flavor combinations known to ’cue. (That particular dish is more Memphis than Texas, though, as I was reminded when the Dickey’s folks stared at me blankly when I asked for a side of coleslaw with my baker.) The tanglers in the dish were little fried shoestring onions, which were a nice but unnecessary accompaniment. The menu also lists bakers with beef and cheese, plain or with choice of other barbecue meat. I’d try the brisket next time.

The list of homestyle sides at Dickey’s includes standard barbecue beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, green beans with bacon and potato salad. It also offers more inventive choices, including jalapeno beans, fried okra, waffle fries and baked potato casserole. All of the meat plates are served with a choice of two sides plus one of those heavenly yeast rolls, made more decadent when the staff paints melted butter on top just before they’re served. Those dense rolls were easily the best of the sides, though we also liked the baked potato casserole – essentially skin-on mashed potatoes topped with shredded cheese and diced chives.

Dickey’s asks customers to order at the counter as they enter, but the process is somewhat confusing. The counter is extra tall, so it will be hard for shorter customers to see behind it. Dickey’s wants customers to first specify which type of meat they want and then continue down the line to announce their choice of sides. But first-timers won’t know that until they’ve mistakenly placed their whole order at step one.

The meats are retrieved from warming ovens, where they’re wrapped and waiting, and placed on paper-lined metal trays before being sent down to the sides station. Customers pay at the end of the line, get their meals, and sit down at one of several tables topped with blue-and-white checkerboard table cloths. Plastic silverware, wet wipes, pickles, soft drinks and barbecue sauce are all self-service in the dining room. Customers also are expected to bus their own tables.

The area behind the counter wasn’t very attractive, with too many messy metal appliances in full view, and it seemed a little dingy and sticky for being in brand-new construction. Otherwise, the dining room was nicely decorated with wood and barn metal covered walls.

The kids loved the self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine in the back of the restaurant, which offers users a choice of a cake cone or a dish. And we loved a sign notifying us that if we brought them in on a Sunday, they’d eat free from the kid’s meal. One child 12 and under can qualify for the free meal per paying adult, and the kid meals (normally $4.95) include choice of chicken nuggets, a barbecue sandwich or a meat plate. Dickey’s also offers a “Deal of the Day,” when different meals are on special for $8.99. Monday’s deal is a pulled pork barbecue sandwich with two sides and a drink, for example.

Review

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit

1/2 out of four

Where: 2768 N. Maize Road, suite 100; 316-773-9922

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Type of food: Barbecue

Cost: Dinners served with sides range from $8.95 to $12.95. Sandwiches are $3.95 to $7.95. Potatoes are $6.50 to $7.95. Half rack of ribs are $11.95, and full racks are $21.95. Meat also can be purchased by-the-pound for $12.50. Family packs range from $26.95 to $54.95.

Alcohol: Not yet but the restaurant will add bottled beer in the next several weeks

Website: www.dickeys.com

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