Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Brooks' House of Bar-B-Q
5560 State Highway 7, Oneonta, NY 13820
(607) 432-1782 / Toll-Free: (800) 498-2445
Review by MaceVindaloo, SuSu
Feeling sophisticated, we never referred to what we'd grown up with as barbeque again ... but that's not so for many people, especially those so far from the Mason-Dixon line that the South never knew we existed. Well, that's not completely fair ... this area of New York State is near Binghamton, the location of a Civil War prison, where the term "deadline" was coined (cross that line, you're dead ... as in shot).
Founded in the 1950's during the heyday of the American suburban backyard grilling, Brooks' can't help that their food preparation is misnamed. It's part of their name, so no matter what you think of its featured cooking technique being a misnomer, it's simply the name of the place. So, it's not a surprise that disappointment might be normal if you're looking for a more southern style cooking experience.
It's seems like a large barn with dining sections. There is a bar up front, which as far as we can tell, is not really an alcohol bar, but a place to sit one to three people who may not want to wait for a table. The wait during a weekend rush is maybe 15 minutes, but they will not seat you till your whole party is present. I never liked this, but that's the way restaurants control turnover many people refuse to order till their whole party is there, and why take up table time that someone else can use? Bah. This is Oneonta, and there look to be 300 or so seats here, and people eat quickly and leave. It's not a lingering sort of place, as noisy and clattering as it is. There is also an outdoor area where you can watch them grill huge quantities of chicken (that overhead photo shows a haze of smoke from the grilling area).
Despite the animal-head game decor on the soffits, the featured item is something called Cornell Chicken. The chicken is marinated in a vinegar based sauce which has an egg beaten into it. The egg is reported to make the marinade "stick" to the chicken. It softens the meat and lends it a tangy flavor; at it's best, it's novel and a bit like having a chicken marinaded with Italian-style salad dressing. At its worst, the meat is broken down so much that it's a bit like eating mattress-stuffing textured sour meat.
The meat is served sloppily with a round ring which is startlingly red. This is apparently a cinnamon apple; it looks like it came out of can, and there appears to be no reason for it to be on the plate. There was a container of sauce / gravy (don't know why the container, when the sauce was splashed all over the plate), and the rest of the plate was jammed with barely adequate french fries. The plates are piled on top of one another when brought to your table, and at first, appeared to be the dirty dishes full of uneaten leftovers to be taken back and thrown away (see photos). We assume there is an art to stacking these things, but I kept wondering if they washed the bottoms of their plates adequately, since my dinner would have met the butt of someone else's dinner, too.
We also ordered ribs, which seemed boiled and served with the same thin, vinegary sauce; no option to put it on yourself, to taste. The damned sauce was pooled at the bottom of every plate.
Salads were unimaginative a bowl-full of romaine topped with pre-grated parmesan and sliced up grilled chicken.
The best part of the meal, food-wise, was the stuff that came free with the meal: the bread and the salad bar. Even so, the bread was white and soft; it was served with "spread" rather than butter. The salad bar was like any college salad bar, but at least there was an element of choice.
The restaurant had once been a farm, and had been purchased by the Brooks family in order to create the restaurant. They also have a log cabin that you can rent for banquets and weddings. They do a lot of catering; their largest was a 4500-serving IBM company picnic, according to their website.
Perhaps it was disappointing because it was touted as "the best of Oneonta," and we'd hoped that a town like this would have more to offer. People came through here as a prelude to a "big night," including local kids at a music camp prior to their concert performances. It was a nice social gathering place (especially while you waited in line for the rest of your party to arrive), and the food was generally inoffensive in that kind of white-bread, bland, institutional kind of way. It was okay in price the bill came to about $12.50 per person (including kids), which is pretty cheap. But ... don't come for the food.
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