Hickory Barbecue and Smokehouse
WHERE: 743 Route 28, Kingston. (A little over an hour from Schenectady via the Thruway). Telephone (845)338-2424. Web site: www.hickoryrestaurant.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards. Handicapped accessible. Children’s menu available. www.hickoryrestaurant.com
Hickory Barbecue and Smokehouse, on Route 28 in the Catskills between Kingston and Woodstock, is rightly proud of its smoked meats, and you can find it all here — St. Louis-style spare ribs, barbecued chicken, turkey thighs, sausages, pulled pork and sliced brisket of beef.
They accompany their meats with comforting side dishes, all the standards: mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, barbecued baked beans, french fries and macaroni and cheese, potato and macaroni salads.
And it’s not all about red meat. You can also bite into a cornmeal-crusted shrimp po’ boy with lettuce, sweet pickles and fries or a blackened catfish sandwich with lettuce and a remoulade with fries. There are also dishes for vegetarians, though I can’t say this is a place I’d frequent if I were really not into eating meat. The epic portions of ribs and other smoked meats flying out of the kitchen might be a little disconcerting. (Still, you’d surely be tempted by the Hickory’s grilled portobello burger on a focaccia roll with choice of cheese, french fries with skins on, sweet pickles and “Ma Hickory’s Slaw.”)
The restaurant features a rustic decor with knotty pine walls and galvanized buckets hanging as lampshades over each table. The dining room is spacious and comfortable, with booths along the windows. There are additional rooms behind the front dining room, and there’s a bar on the other side of the building where you can listen to live music on Saturdays.
The business was founded in the early 1970s by Michael and Carol Slutzky — who call themselves “Doc Hickory” and “Ma Hickory.” Today, it’s owned and run by their son, Steve, and his wife, Jill, who’s in charge of the front of the house. But “Doc” and “Ma” still drive up from New York on weekends and, in fact, she visited our table for a little chit-chat, telling us that everything they serve is made on the premises “except for the hamburger rolls.”
Doc Hickory developed his own dry rubs, sauces and seasonings over the years while Ma Hickory was responsible for creating the house cole slaw, potato salad, and the desserts.
Dinner choices include entrees of St. Louis-style spare ribs with “Doc Hickory’s famous rub,” priced at $14 for a half rack and $20.95 for a whole. Smoked roast beef with Texas toast is $16, and a pulled pork shoulder platter will cost you $15. A free-range chicken ($15.50), hot smoked Atlantic salmon with remoulade ($16) and a grilled 16-oz. ribeye steak with garlic-paprika butter ($16) are among the possibilities.
I was intrigued by the Hickory’s Barbecue Feast, which the menu says is “For the Pork Avenue Crowd.” It’s a sampling of the restaurant’s smoked meats and sausages with a choice of four sides. The cost is $49.95.
I asked the server if it would serve two people and he said “three.” Well, four or more people could feast on this big platter of meat and not walk away hungry.
We decided to go for it, but declined the “Eat the Feast Challenge.” The challenge is for one diner to consume the entire platter of meat and sides in two hours. There’s a plaque on the wall identifying the few who have managed to do so over the years. But, I’ve never understood why the ability to eat a lot of food in a short time is worthy of recognition. I wanted the feast because it would allow us to try all, or most, of the Hickory’s smoked meats, and it certainly did. It also caused us to be an object of curiosity among our fellow diners as we munched our way around the big platter.
There was a pile of spare ribs featuring the house rub, a massive smoked turkey thigh, half a barbecued chicken, sausages, a pile of pulled pork and another pile of sliced brisket of beef.
We chose french fries, barbecued baked beans, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and the Hickory mac and cheese for our sides. (A la carte sides are $2.75). I wished later that I had selected the roasted potato salad, but you can’t taste everything on the menu even though we made a gallant effort.
I tasted all of the smoked meats and liked the brisket best, especially in combination with a great mustard-based barbecue sauce that was one of three or four on our table. The pulled pork got a “B” from me — it was not as moist as I would have liked, but the chicken was succulent and delicious as was the monstrously large turkey thigh. The sausages were good — all savory and smoky with crackly skin — but I kept coming back to the brisket.
The sides were all tasty, but not exceptional. The mashed potatoes were suitably garlicky, and the baked beans had a nice barbecue tang. The french fries were of the shoestring variety, with skins on, and were warm and hard to leave alone.
My least favorite was the macaroni and cheese, which I found to be lackluster. It was macaroni in an orangey cheese sauce with a hint of smoke. I prefer a more classic style with a béchamel base and some good Gruyère cheese, or really sharp cheddar, or both. That’s a minor criticism, however. By and large, our experience at Hickory was first-rate.
The place is not all about dinner. You can stop for a drink and a snack or you can have lunch. Appetizer choices include a Hickory nacho platter with pulled pork, chili and “all the fixin’s” for $9.25 or hush puppies with maple butter for $4.95.
Salad choices include a Hickory barbecue salad with choice of pulled pork, smoked turkey or slow smoked roast beef with seasonal vegetables and house dressing for $7.95.
Our tab for dinner for two with sodas came to $70 including tax and tip. The dessert choices were tempting (things like key lime pie) but there was no room, even though we had enough barbecue left over to haul home a big bagful.
We picked a great day for our road trip to the Catskills. The skies were sunny, the temperatures warm enough to ride with the windows down. We took the Thruway most of the way and were once again struck by how you seemingly enter into a parallel universe once you pick up your ticket and pass through the toll gates. Gas prices were 8 to 10 cents higher per gallon, and my co-pilot paid more than $4 for a modest-sized iced coffee at a Starbucks. But the highway itself was in great shape which made the trip pleasantly efficient.