Growing up in Central New York, I ate my share of chicken barbeque at church suppers, firehouse fundraisers, and family picnics. On a recent trip to Central NY with some friends, we had the occasion to eat dinner at a longtime local favorite, Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q. This place really brought back memories of all those dinners for me. They have been in business (and family operated) since 1951.
Even before we stepped out of the car, the smoky perfume of charcoal-pit cooked chicken was thick in the air and had my stomach growling. It is marinated in a vinegar-based sauce (made with eggs and spices) and cooked in the pit until the skin is dark and crispy and the meat is tender and moist. On this visit, we ate with about 40 others in the Brooks’ Roost Banquet Room and had all-you-can-eat chicken, ribs, and roast beef along with coleslaw and potato & macaroni salads.
Upon first glance at the chicken, one might think that it is burned based on the hue of the skin, but don’t be fooled. I usually don’t eat the skin, but it would be a crime to waste it here. This is packed with some serious flavor! The side potato and macaroni salads are quintessentially Central NY. Mayonnaise-based and creamy, with each ingredient having its own moment to shine, no chicken barbeque dinner would be complete without them.
Another high point of Brooks’ (second only to the food): the interesting signs. Atop the main dining room is a sign that invites diners to see the charcoal pits. I, of course, did so and was rewarded with some amazing sights and smells. The pitmaster was very gracious in answering questions as well as letting me take some pictures. He said their chicken is similar to the “Cornell” style of the region, but they do it a bit differently. The classic Roadfood sign, though, is the one that beckons potential customers from the street (as if the smells weren’t enough!). In neon, it depicts a cook in a cook’s coat and hat swinging an axe while chasing a chicken on the run. I just love that sign! If you want to have a true Central NY experience, drive through Oneonta in the fall as the leaves are changing and stop in for some truly great chicken barbeque at Brooks’.