Comfort food for hot weather

Even though it’s not officially summer for almost another two months, Sunday in the city felt like summer had come early.

Up till now, warm days have still brought a cool breeze with them, the kind that have you toting around a light sweater or give you goose bumps if you sit in the shade. But not this Sunday. Even as the sun slipped away for the night, the air felt thick and hot. The slight breeze, like when you turn a fan on in an unairconditioned New York City apartment, didn’t do a lot in the way of cooling.

When the weather starts to get hot like this, I generally don’t like to do much. Movement equals sweating and sweating equals cranky, frizzy haired, shiney-faced Angie. But if there’s one thing I think is only made better by rising temperatures and sticky afternoons, it’s eating barbeque. The sweet tanginess of barbeque sauce smothered over a hunk of meat and the refreshing bite of a cold beer were absolutely made for enjoying in hot, humid weather. When the weather gets sloppy, turn to sloppy food.

Which is why on Sunday, when the sun poured into our bedroom while dust bunnies collected in the kitchen cabinets, Flaneur and I decided to venture north to Harlem for lunch at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

The walk to and from the subway and through the quiet streets of Harlem under the Riverside Drive Bridge was enough to get a healthy sheen of glistening sweat going on our foreheads. As we turned the corner on Dinosaur’s street, the thick, sweet smell of barbeque wafted out, heavy on the warm air. This had been the best idea ever.

We started off our uninhibited Sunday lunch feasting with an order of fried green tomatoes, a Southern staple, and another food that conjures up images of slow, summer afternoons for me. They came battered and fried in a golden, not-too-thick layer of crispiness and were topped off with shaved Pecorino romano, a strong, salty cheese that played off deliciously with the unripened tomatoes inside. Usually I’m not crazy about ranch dressing, but the cayenne buttermilk ranch dipping sauce that came with these added the perfect little kick to each fried tomato bite.

Fried green tomatoes

With every server that walked by, arms extended and strained under plates stacked high with ribs, mounds of potatoes and cornbread rolls, my stomach growled louder and louder.  The smell alone was driving me crazy.

So crazy in fact, that the first thing I did when our food arrived, on two large sectioned plates loaded with barbeque comfort deliciousness, was to accidentally knock my cup over and send the last couple inches of ice water remaining gushing over Flaneur’s half rack of ribs. Clearly, the heat does things to me. Bad things. Things that result in hot meals being doused in cold water.

Luckily, due to some fast thinking, quick spooning out of ice cubes and the speedy response of a dozen napkins, the ribs were salvaged and we got to eating.

I opted for the pork brisket plate, which came with both pulled pork and sliced brisket in addition to two sides of my choosing. I’ll be honest and say right now, that while I enjoy barbeque, I’m more of a sides-fan than a meat lover. I went with the mac and cheese, which was thick and creamy with a warm, off yellow color, instead of being a garrish school-bus yellow. The thick cheese baked on top was a nice contrasting touch in textures and was topped off with just a light sprinkle of deep red cayenne pepper. My other side was roasted whipped sweet potatoes laced with a spicy hint of cinnamon and topped with ground nuts. It was almost mousse-like in its consistency and the taste was buttery and smooth. But the main attraction at this celebration of meat was the soft, juicy pork. The pulled pork, which came topped with a bit of salty, sweet barbeque sauce, was tender and flavorful. Each bite literally melted in my mouth and seemed to soak deep into my taste buds.  The sliced brisket was just as soft and juicy, with the rosy pink color I love in meat. (Well done? Blegh, yuck.)  Just a little bit of fat on the side made it burst with flavor without being too fatty or gummy. And finally, there was the cornbread roll, which although it was a little dry, still had a sweet, buttery taste. By the time I got around to it I was so stuffed, it wouldn’t of mattered how good it was. I had to stop eating.

Pulled pork and sliced brisket with whipped sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, and cornbread

Flaneur, never one to shy away from getting down and dirty with his food, ordered the messiest of all menu items: ribs. The half rack of pork ribs were wide and intense, a meal only for a serious carnivore. He gave me a rib and I ripped off a chunk of meat, getting barbeque sauce all over my fingers and face. It was thick and juicy, dripping with the smoky flavors of carefully seasoned meat cooked over a fire. I think I made the better choices when it came to sides selection but his weren’t bad either. The Creole potato salad was chunky and thick, with fat hunks of potato rolling in an onion-y, spiced mayo, sprinkled with “Creole powder” which tasted like a blend of spices like cumin and cayenne pepper. His other side, another Southern classic, were greens, cooked and served in a buttery, oily blend of spices. These were much better than the potato salad because of how packed with deep, rich flavors they were. Plus, you can get potato salad at almost any deli on any street in any neighborhood in this city, but good greens, now that’s not as easy of a find.

Half rack of ribs, potato salad, greens and cornbread

I had originally wanted to get dessert because there seemed to be some promising items on the list (including a banana and coconut cream pie) but after our plates were taken away with only cornbread crumbs, faint smears of sauce and in Flaneur’s case, clean bones, there was no way I could fit anything else in my stomach. As the sun beamed down on the concrete outside and the warm air blew in through the window, all I wanted to do was take a nap in a hammock somewhere, preferably on someone’s wrap-around porch. But there was none of that. We were a pretty decent way from home, and so with the content lethargy of people who’ve eaten entirely too much,  we started a slow meandering walk on a hot afternoon in Harlem.

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