First things first: not only is Dickey's a national chain, but the outpost I visited was a mall food court representation of said chain, so expectations were understandably low. Factor in the Sunday noon visit time and they're even lower, but this was more of a stumble-into-it-because-it's-there visit than sought-out destination. Yeah, excuses excuses. This is strictly over-the-counter, with common mall food court seating nearby.
I figured as a food court operation, Dickey's had to be bringing in pre-smoked meats, but not true—there's a 700lb capacity Southern Pride smoker right in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, outside the stand stood a young female employee with a tray of samples, clearly defying established food court samples practices: she wasn't Chinese, the food wasn't Chinese (or Chinese pretending to be non-Chinese) (or the "Chinese-American" abomination pretending to be Chinese), didn't come with toothpicks and wasn't named Bourbon Chicken. The sample on my visit (sampled after my meal) was pulled pork. If I wasn't already predisposed to trying Dickey's, this certainly wouldn't have convinced me: tender but dry, stringy, not that smoky and not that flavorful.
Barbecue standards are surprisingly myriad, with pork ribs, pulled pork, chopped and sliced brisket, chicken, turkey, ham and two kinds of sausage, all available for inclusion on platters of one or two meats, or in sandwiches of varying sizes. Though options are fairly easy for mall traffic appetites and budgets, almost nothing's in the $5 range. But there's still value, with kids' meals, meats by the pound ($11.95) and various sized family packs ($24.95 to $47.95). Also available are fried chicken, stuffed baked potatoes and a few different salads.
Spotting the barbecue sign out of the corner of my eye, I offered to let my young bride shop at JC Penney unimpeded by my stifling presence. As soon as she crossed the threshold I made a quick beeline to the counter, hoping to keep my sneaky snack undiscovered. (Not wanting to part with my collectible drink cup, I 'fessed up.)
This was a quick visit, so there wasn't an appetizer round. Not that there were appetizers 'round.
Ribs: Two decent sized St Louis cut ribs from the 2-meat combo ($10.50) had a nice grain to them and a crust probably formed as much from sauce as from smoking, with very tender (but not too tender) meat beneath. It slid off the bone without much effort and had a steamy element that screamed reheat. Flavor carried extremely little if any smoke or rub, with most of that flavor coming from the sweetness of the sauced crust and quickly becoming bland further down. If I didn't know about the smoker, I would have guessed these ribs were cooked in an oven. They didn't exactly impress, but considering the type of place and the budget-friendly combo price, they didn't exactly suck. But I didn't exactly finish them either, so draw your own conclusion. My conclusion? Below average.
Brisket: For my second meat on the 2-meat combo, I let the counter person make the selection. I said, "Make it whatever you think you do best," and without hesitation he said, "Brisket." I said, "Done." I probably should have said to make sure it was the sliced and not the chopped, and to make sure the sauce was on the side and not on it, but sometimes I like to just let fate play itself out.
The pile of chopped, sauced brisket would have been enough for a sandwich. Bark level was decent and texture was more than decent, bringing a little resistance to the bite while still being fully tender. Flavor didn't just come from the sauce this time—the beef had a mild but noticeable smokiness and strong beef flavor, though no discernable rub. The brisket wasn't steamy, wasn't juicy and wasn't dry; I'd call it nominally moist. For me, the sauce was a little too sweet, but I generally have a much lower tolerance for sweet with brisket than with the other meats. Overall, a minor victory—partly from again factoring in the locale and setup, but given how much bad brisket I've tried, I'd place this brisket somewhere around average.
At least at this location, there are no squeeze bottles or different varieties you can select. Whether that's representative of the entire chain, I'm not sure. The same sweet, slightly thick, free flowing sauce accompanied both the ribs and the brisket. It had more of a "red" fruitiness than the more common "brown" hickory flavor, so that was a bit of a plus (those KC sauces always seem to burp up the next day).
Potato salad: Fittingly served in an ice cream style cup, the big ice cream scoop of homogenous-looking potato mash had a significant condiment that added moisture and zippy flavor from abundant vinegar and dill. The texture had just the right amount of sturdiness and give, and you've gotta love that the cups keep the mayo away from the meat.
Cole slaw: Another ice cream scoop, with cabbage chopped similarly to the Colonel's, but that's where the comparison ends. This had much less moisture and much, much less flavor.
Dinner roll: By far the standout of the plate and the only thing I finished, this had the width of an iPhone with at least twice the height. I really liked that the surface was crispy and slightly buttery while the interior was soft and squishy like a miniature pillow. If I ever have the brisket again, I'm making it into a sandwich using this mini roll, and I’d order extra if I could (it's not listed for separate purchase on the menu).
With purchase of a meal you can bring your receipt back anytime that same day and get a free ice cream dessert.
All of the staff seemed knowledgeable and friendly.
I’d heard of Dickey’s before but didn’t realize how much the chicken was a part of their repertoire and name (see the first photo). Maybe that’s just a reactionary measure to counter the nutrition police, but still: any serious review of Dickey’s should include the chicken. This is more of a quick look than a serious review.
The plastic cup is environment-friendly and makes a nice souvenir.
The Bottom Line
Given the low expectation hurdle, Dickey's trampled over without too much difficulty. The brisket had flavor, the roll was a nice surprise, the sides were substantial and it's hard to argue with friendly people offering free dessert. But it's not cheap, and the ribs and cole slaw had minimal flavor, so let's not get too crazy. This is fast food barbecue, so any victory here is over other fast food, not other barbecue.
Would I try Dickey’s again at a full fledged location? Sure, but more for the three C's—curiosity, convenience and content—than desire. Still, I'll keep an open mind and add two more C's: chicken and to be continued.
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