Iowa isn’t exactly what you would call a hotbed for barbecue, and when it comes to barbecue joints in Ames, pickings are rather slim. As I have come to expect from recent life in the Midwest, I temper my expectations when it comes to proper cue’ in these parts. Hickory Park, however, was a welcome reprieve from the strip of chain restaurants pervading downtown Ames, so I was eager to sample what the city had to offer.

The recommendation for Hickory Park came courtesy of my friend John, an Iowa State alum whom I spent a summer with in North Carolina. As such, he’d developed some savvy taste buds during our time in Raleigh, as we ate our way through some of the best swine in the BBQ laden Tarheel State. This experience, coupled with his prolific appetite, meant we were in for quite a feast.

Hickory Park as I learned, is an institution in Ames. Cavernous inside, the restaurant has been in operation since 1970 and shuffles hundreds of patrons over at a time. Typically, mass popularity and proper barbecue do not coexist. My skepticism was raised even further when the waitress couldn’t tell me what kind of wood they smoked with – not exactly a stumper when “Hickory” is on the sign out front…

Regardless, John and I rolled the dice and promptly ordered up the sampler platter featuring the full array of their offerings. A tray arrived a few minutes later, weighed down with hefty portions of chicken, ribs, brisket, sausage and pork.

To my surprise, the ribs were actually well prepared. Although a touch on the dry side (excusable given the busy weekend traffic), they were well smoked throughout and pulled easily from the bone. Chicken was equally satisfying, with beautiful color on the lightly seasoned skin. While the brisket showed signs of care, with a nice reddish smoke ring around the edge, it had been trimmed prior to cooking and perhaps spent a bit of time under a heat lamp and left to dry out far to long.

In the end, by Midwest standards, Hickory Park actually dishes out some pretty decent BBQ. It’s a game day institution in Ames, and one of the few non chain options in town, so certainly worthy of a stop next time you are in Ames. Finally, the portion sizes are approved by John himself, a truly rare honor, so rest assured you will not be leaving hungry…

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