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Published January 03, 2012, 11:30 PM

Restaurant review: Dickey’s smoked meats worth a visit, but barbecue chain misfires on attempt at nostalgia

Do you remember when it was a big deal to get a souvenir plastic cup that you could take home and never use again? You can get one at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.

By: Eric Daeuber, Special to The Forum, INFORUM

Restaurant review

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit

3402 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Cuisine: Barbecue


Food: 1 1/2

Service: 2

Ambiance: 1 1/2

Do you remember when it was a big deal to get a souvenir plastic cup that you could take home and never use again? You can get one at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.

Remember macaroni and cheese – with a color and flavor that don’t exist anywhere in the natural world – served in a paper cup? You can find it at Dickey’s, the restaurant on 13th Avenue in Fargo.

For some, these items are a blast from the past. But Dickey’s isn’t a 21st-century fast-food barbecue joint nostalgic for the ’40s. It’s a 1970s fast-food joint trying to look nostalgic for the ’40s.

And whatever good came out of the ’40s – some of which you can find at Dickey’s – not a lot good came out of the ’70s, quite a bit of which you can find at Dickey’s.

As a franchise with more than 200 locations, Dickey’s is accessible.

Its prices are reasonable. The meat is mild, smoked on site and easily customized by one of several house sauces. The portions are substantial. And for $10 you can get a meal including two selections of nicely seasoned meat.

Even if you find the food uninteresting, you won’t find it unacceptable. The sliced brisket and the pork ribs are good facsimiles for authentic barbecue, but you don’t get the same biting smoke flavor that you might from the kinds of applewood smokehouses at other franchises.

Dickey’s Polish sausage stands out a little from the crowd in that it has an interesting northern-European-almost-potato-sausage flavor. If you find it all a little bland – and you probably will – you can dress these pretty decent meats in one of Dickey’s sauces ranging from mildly spicy to mildly mild.

This is where things go a little wrong for me.

Everything, after the meat, at Dickey’s is commercial. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a family restaurant of decades ago. This isn’t bad by itself, but it means that any opinion on any flavor you’re likely to encounter requires the caveat “if you like that sort of thing.”

And lots of people do.

Sadly, I don’t.

There is no real kitchen at Dickey’s. It’s an open setup where you order and watch them assemble the meal in front of you.

Except for the meat smokers, there’s nothing to suggest that anything is cooked from scratch on site. Fried okra comes right out of the freezer into the fryer. Other sides, like the mac and cheese or the slightly vinegary and just a little too thin baked beans, come off a steam table.

What you end up with is pretty decent meat that can be dressed-up with standardized commercial sauces and enjoy it with what amounts to bar foods on the side, if you like that sort of thing.

Once again, I don’t. Your opinion may vary.

What I’ll do in the future, though, is pick up polish sausage and brisket from Dickey’s, run down to Cashwise for a half pound of salad and a couple of rolls, and see what I can find in the way of a decent sauce. I won’t be able to benefit from the enormous photo of the founder of Dickey’s enjoying barbecue with Ronald Reagan in 1978, but I’ll still end up with a plate of what Dickey’s seems to do best – smoke meat.

Dining details

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

Phone: (701) 232-1040

Reservations accepted: No

Alcohol: No

Dress: As you like

Credit cards accepted: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.