When a Dickey's Barbecue restaurant opened in Davenport toward the end of 2008, my long-distance, yet local friend Burt Gearhart predicted it would close within a year. Burt lived for a long time in Texas and frequented the original Dickey's Barbecue places in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He told me after visiting the one in Davenport, "It's nowhere near the quality of the original Dickey's. And I even told them that when I was in there."
Burt's premonition about Dickey's not lasting long grew some teeth when locations in Cedar Rapids and a location in Coralville (Iowa City) all closed within a couple years of opening. The Coralville location was only open months before it was forced to close. I held off going to Dickey's on Utica Ridge in Davenport (see map) for well over three years, figuring that it was probably going to close at any moment. However, business keeps going on at that location and the local franchisee opened a second Dickey's location in Moline in 2011. So it appears that the Quad City Dickey's locations aren't going away any time soon. One day earlier this spring, I had to go out to a tree farm on Utica Ridge and decided to stop in to Dickey's for lunch.
The original Dickey's Barbecue started in Dallas in 1941. Founder Travis Dickey, Sr. had a single goal when he opened his doors: "Serve the best tastin' barbecue imaginable, just the way people like it. And don't make 'em wait too long to get it." The original Dickey's started out as a one room operation and served beef brisket, ribs, and pulled pork. In later years during Thanksgiving and Christmas, Dickey began to smoke hams and turkeys, as well. Dickey's also made their own barbecue beans, cole slaw and potato salad.
Dickey's two sons, T.D. and Roland, took over the operation in 1967. Two years later they opened two more small locations around the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. By 1972, Dickey's was the largest barbecue chain in Texas. In 1994, the brothers decided to start franchising the Dickey Barbecue concept and began to sell franchise rights. Today, there are over 170 Dickey's locations in 39 states. The company bills itself as the largest "fast-casual" restaurant in the nation. "Fast-casual" means that you order at the counter, they give you a number, you go sit down and they bring the food to you.
Local owners Bruce and Judy Norden opened the Utica Ridge location in November of 2008, then with partners (and General Manager) Bill Jensen and Chris Banks, they opened the Moline location in May of 2011. A kitchen fire at the Moline location toward the end of December closed that location until March of this year. But it's back up and running with full bore barbecue.
It was around 1:30 when I got into the Dickey's on Utica Ridge. There are a number of tables and booths throughout the place. The colors on the walls were subtle earth tones and the large windows on the east and south side of the building gave it a bright and appealing atmosphere. A couple was seated at one table and a group of construction workers were seated at another table - all of whom were drinking from one of Dickey's "Big Yellow Cups", a large 32 oz. fully recyclable and reusable fountain drink cup that has become somewhat of a signature item for Dickey's over the past few years.
I went up to the counter, not fully knowing what was going on and took a look at the menu that was sitting on the counter in front of me. One of the guys in the back said he'd be with me in a minute. That gave me time to go through the menu to figure out what I wanted.
I usually get a sampler plate when I try a barbecue place that I'm not familiar with and Dickey's only had a two meat plate on their menu - and you couldn't order ribs as one of the two meats. You had your choice of chopped or sliced beef brisket, pulled pork, ham, sliced turkey breast, marinated smoked chicken, Polish sausage or something called spicy cheddar sausage, which is sort of a Dickey's signature item. You could order ribs, but they were only available on their own platter.
When the guy came out to take my order, I ordered a two meat plate of sliced brisket and the pulled pork. He said, "You get a couple of sides along with that." The sides included barbecue beans, waffle fries, okra, jalapeno beans, mac and cheese, and green beans with bacon just to name only a few of what they offered. I went with the barbecue beans and the mac and cheese.
He asked what I wanted to drink and I sort of looked around for a beer cooler. When I didn't see one, I just said, "Oh, I'll just have water."
The guy must have read my mind and he said, "We have beer, too."
Well, I LOVE beer with my barbecue. I got a couple beers to go along with the meal. After I paid, he gave me a number and said, "We'll bring it out to you when it's finished!"
I found a seat in a booth in the center of the restaurant. It wasn't more than five minutes when one of the other guys brought out my plate of food. There were ample portions of pulled pork and sliced beef brisket on the plate, covered with a generous amounts of Dickey's Original barbecue sauce. The mac and cheese and the barbecue beans were in small containers. And, quite curiously, along with sliced pickles, there was a raw onion ring on the platter. A biscuit-style roll came with the meal.
Once again, not knowing the drill at Dickey's, I found that I didn't have any silverware. I went over by the front counter and found the silverware - along with small vats of Dickey's regular, spicy and sweet barbecue sauces. I grabbed one little tub each of the barbecue sauce, grabbed a fork and a knife and headed back to the table.
From my first bite of the beef brisket, it was fully apparent that I didn't need the knife. The thick sliced brisket fell apart when I put a fork to it. It was very tender and I immediately liked the original Dickey's sauce, although it was a little too runny for my liking. I tried some of the sweet sauce next with the brisket, but I couldn't really tell a big difference between the original and the sweet sauces. But when I tried the spicy Dickey's sauce, that got my attention. It had a nice kick to the taste, lingering on the tongue for a moment with a subtle hot spice flavor. Once again, other than it being a little too runny for me, it was good. I liked it a lot.
The pulled pork was equally as moist and tender as the beef brisket. I ended up going back to get more of the spicy and sweet sauces and I poured the spicy tub container over the pulled pork. It was pretty damn good.
The barbecue beans were just OK, even after I popped more of both the sweet and hot barbecue sauces in with the beans. They were very runny - something that I don't care for in barbecue or baked beans. But they were OK, nonetheless. The surprise of the meal, though, was the mac and cheese. I don't know why I get mac and cheese at places like this because it's usually not very good. But I have to say the mac and cheese was well above average. It was thick and cheesy, and had a very good taste quality to it. I couldn't eat it all, but I was pleasantly surprised with the mac and cheese at Dickey's.
The roll was actually pretty good, too. I found myself dipping it into the barbecue beans and sopping up some of the extra sauce on my platter. The roll was sort of light, but chewy. Quite honestly, I couldn't find anything to bitch about with my meal. I was pleasantly surprised with my barbecue platter at Dickey's.
Another tradition at Dickey's is free soft-serve ice cream. I don't know how I could have enjoyed any ice cream after the lunch I had. I did finish the meats on my platter and made a serious dent into both the barbecue beans and the mac and cheese. The roll was very good dipped in the barbecue sauce. After all that food and a couple beers, I was stuffed.
I have to say that I was very impressed with my first visit to a Dickey's Barbecue. Look, I'm sure the family run locations around Texas are probably better, and I'm sure that's what my friend Burt is basing his opinion of the Davenport Dickey's upon. But I've eaten at a lot of barbecue places (as you can see by the number of barbecue places I've visited around the Midwest) and I think I know what is good and what isn't. Even for a chain, I was impressed with Dickey's Barbecue. As you know, I'm pretty much down on chain restaurants, but I understand that even though there is a standard menu for all Dickey's franchises, each local franchise owner gets to put their own little stamp on the food. The meat was tender and flavorful, and I did dig the mac and cheese at Dickey's. I think I'd go back to Dickey's before I'd go back to a place like Famous Dave's, which, too, isn't bad barbecue for a chain.