Central Arkansas has its famous barbecue joints, places we can point to and say, "Now there's some good Arky 'cue." Sims and Whole Hog come to mind. But sometimes, you know, you've got to give Texas a try.
Enter Dickey's Barbecue Pit, a Lone Star State-based chain that's just set up shop in Bryant.
We showed up bright and early on a brisk Sunday morning in hopes of beating the after-church crowds that flock to family-friendly joints like Dickey's — and we managed to do so by about 15 minutes, as the place filled up not long after we placed our orders.
Ordering at Dickey's should be familiar to anyone who has ever eaten at Chipotle, Moe's, or Subway: You tell the folks behind the counter what you want, what sort of meats and sides you want with it, and they slap it all together right in front of you. For a place that hasn't been open terribly long, the Dickey's crew was very quick, processing our orders with a friendly efficiency that had us tucking into plates of barbecue in no time flat.
Wanting to put the place through its paces on the basics, we started with the Two Meat Plate ($11), picking pulled pork and sliced brisket for our proteins alongside a bowl of barbecue beans and a pile of small onion strings called "Onion Tanglers." The Tanglers were the best thing about the plate, and although we admit that it's hard to go wrong with fried onions, these were dropped fresh right when we ordered them and came out piping hot. The beans were passable, but wouldn't stand out in a lineup of any other barbecued beans we've ever had.
As for the meat, well, it was fine. Good, even, if not spectacular. The pork and beef were both moist and tender, and lean without being dry. What was lacking was any spark of the rich, smoky flavor that marks really transcendent meat. Barbecue is, unfortunately, a style of cooking that's hard to do well on a large scale — there's simply too many things that go into really excellent 'cue, and it often takes years of experience and a ton of time to get a feel for the intricate play of fire, smoke and meat that only a true pitmaster possesses. Still, for a quick plate of decent barbecue, this will do fine in a pinch.
We followed up our plate of meat with one of the giant baked potatoes that seem to be the hallmark of all these chains. The Pork Tangler ($7) was gigantic, a sort of mutant Andre the Giant-sized potato that had us wondering just how these things are grown. Despite its size, the potato was baked well, with a steamy, mealy middle and a crisp skin that impressed us given the amount of these spuds Dickey's must have to make daily. The potato was piled with butter, sour cream, cheese, pulled pork and more of those onion tanglers, and while it was good for a few bites, we admit that there was just simply too much going on here for us to really get a handle on one specific flavor. Again, the meat was good, if unimpressive, and the crisp-fried onions made a nice topping that spilled over the sides of the mammoth potato onto the tray.
We followed our meal with a slice of prepackaged coconut cream pie that, like everything else at Dickey's, was perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable. But all that's not to say we didn't enjoy our meal: It was relatively cheap, extremely fresh, served up quick, and since kids eat free on Sunday, we foresee a bright future for the joint as a family destination in Saline County.
Dickey's Barbecue Pit
3213 Main St.
Tucked in just past the soda fountain and the barbecue sauce station is a small soft-serve ice cream machine and a cone dispenser. Be sure to grab yourself a cone or two after you eat -- this ice cream is free every day of the week.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
All major CC, no alcohol, online ordering available.
CHAIN PIG: Pulled pork at Dickey's.