ROTTERDAM -- Returning from our trip out West, we did a double take upon spying a caravan of pioneers on the corner of Burdeck Street and Mariaville Road: three wagons, assorted draft animals pulling them, a pig, some cows and a handful of life-sized people. The tableau was startling at first and then impressive.
A patio outlined with a fence made of grapevines enclosed round tables and tractor seats for chairs. It was located just outside the main entrance which was protected by what appeared to be the front half of a covered wagon. Just inside the door, a full-sized Rooster Cogburn (a.k.a. John Wayne) greeted guests. Above Rooster was a real moose trophy, and beyond that a wondrous museum dedicated to the pioneers who helped build this country.
Inside Wagon Train BBQ, John counted at least 70 muskets and rifles, most of which were suspended from the ceiling. A collection of pistols hung in a shadow box on a barn wood wall, while a black buffalo hide was draped on the back wall behind a carousel horse. Large high shelves held a taxidermist’s dream: wildcats, a turkey with its proud plumage spread above him, mounted trophies of deer and mountain goats. A Remington replica of four horseback riders was wedged in amid the stuffed creatures.
Old photos and Wild West memorabilia too numerous to list festooned every available nook of the rough-hewn board and rock restaurant. Our server explained that the immense collection was amassed by owner Frank DelGallo.
Katie showed us to a table for four next to a window, leaving us with menus. She returned almost immediately with a soft drink for my dinner pard’ner, a red wine for me and a small bowl of popcorn.
The laminated menu was predictable: many variations on a barbecue theme, several combination dishes for people (like me) who are unable to make up their minds, burgers, sandwiches, chicken, ribs, salads, seafood, hot dogs, steaks and chops. A Train-wreck Burger ($14.95), topped with Swiss cheese, ham, roast beef, cole slaw, horseradish mayo and chipotle ranch [dressing] shared the outrageous category with the Tombstone Burger ($16.95) which substitutes pulled pork and a fried egg for roast beef.
Johnny C ordered a half rack of KC (Kansas City) ribs which was served with a square of cornbread and one side (collard greens in this case) for $15. He added an order of Saratoga chips ($3.95). I chose a combo -- a half rack of “naked” (dry rub) ribs and a half chicken ($22) with a side of Jalapeno Bottle Caps for an additional $1.50.
Our meals arrived in minutes, which ordinarily would have been welcomed. Instead, it shot up a red flag. How could hot food be delivered so quickly?
Wagon Train’s menu describes its half chicken as “plump and juicy Perdue slow smoked chicken.” I had no way of ascertaining whether or not the chicken came from Perdue Farms, but at 6 p.m., it was neither tender nor juicy.
I did not see the kitchen, but my guess was that the meat may have been barbecued in time for lunch and by 6 p.m. when we ordered, the chicken had been reduced to pemmican. Two varieties of barbecue sauce graced the table, but liberal shots of them did little to solve the problem. Ditto the ribs (although microwaved the next day made them tender, even juicy).
Happily, the jalapeno “bottle caps” were hot in both senses of the word. I used the accompanying small cup of remoulade to prevent them from scalding my palate.
John ordered his ribs Kansas City style (sauced) and, while they were moist, he said they did not taste fresh. The chips were salty and crispy. The collard greens, although flavorful, were presented with so much liquid that the side was more like a soup than a side of vegetables.
Desserts were recited. We requested an order of espresso cake to share, but alas, after a trip to the kitchen, Katie returned to explain there was none left. The Turtle cheesecake ($6.95) which was our second choice satisfied my sweet tooth with two bites. Our check identified our dessert as “homemade.”
Two final thoughts: Someone hankering for barbecue should consider arriving at the Wagon Train earlier in the day. And bring the kiddies. They will enjoy the memorabilia as much as you will. There are lots of photo-ops, and you can sit in a real tractor seat on the outside patio.
Wagon Train BBQ
WHEN: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $55.55, with 2 coffees and 1 soda, but without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Large parking lot, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, kids’ menu; catering including whole roast pigs