Dickey's Barbecue Pit
27059 McBean Parkway
Valencia, CA 91355
Chain restaurants almost always have standard menus. That's pretty much the main benefit; if you go into a Chili's in Rapid City, South Dakota because you're famished and there's a massive thunderstorm making driving impossible, you know what you're going to get. If you have a hangover in Rome and the idea of a streetcart panini isn't appealing, you know the Big Mac at the massive, two-story McDonald's is going to taste the same as the one you ate a few days earlier in Pasadena.
But real barbecue is made over long periods, with different woods, with different methods. Many of my good friends make barbecue, and none make it the same way. A piece of barbecue is as disparate as a snowflake.-
So the idea of a chain of barbecue restaurants seems ridiculous on its face. I think back on places I have loved and remember the people: the man working the smoker in the parking lot of Mr. Tibbs Ribs who tossed me a friendly wave as I got out of my car. Or the chef at Spring Street Smokehouse who took me in the back and showed me his system for placing meat in the smoker; the owner's manual for my digital camera contains less detail. How do you replicate that passion into every restaurant in a chain?-
The answer, of course, is that you can't. I have had some good meals at place like Famous Dave's or Tony Roma's, but overall they are places where I find myself enjoying their sauces or their fried appetizers more than any barbecue item on their menus.-
Last summer I read about Dickey's plans for expansion and was intrigued. Unlike some chains, their prices are lower, almost like a fast food version of barbecue. I hoped they must be good to be undertaking such a large expansion. Either that or they are lousy, catering to people who think drowning any piece of meat in sauce makes it barbecue. Yesterday I had to go up to Santa Clarita for something, so I figured I would stop by the Dickey's location in Valencia and give it a try.-
It was not good. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with fries and cole slaw. Elizabeth had a smoked turkey sandwich with the same sides. The cole slaw was quite good, a tangy, large portion. The fries were lousy, basically the same waffle fries as Carl's Jr., only undercooked, soggy, sorry excuses for fries. It never ceases to amaze me when restaurants can't properly cook fries.
But the meat is the most important thing. And my pulled pork was terrible. There was no smoke ring at all. It tasted like it came out of the oven. It was a semi-moist, flavorless mess. I put some of the slaw on the sandwich and a healthy amount of their sauce, which was actually a good, thin sauce. Elizabeth's turkey was better than the pork, but it was still not very good and she only ate half of it.
They have a free soft-serve ice cream machine and we helped ourselves to a large bowl. That is a nice touch, I guess, but not nice enough to erase the taste (or lack thereof) of our lousy food. This was the most disappointing barbecue meal I have had in a long time. From what I can tell, Dickey's is absolutely the kind of place that hopes the customers are so busy drowning their food in sauce and helping themselves to free ice cream that they don't notice the terrible quality of their food.