If there's one type of food people get passionate about, it's barbecue! Dan Kaercher headed into Hickory Park in Ames for big flavor and big portions.
Kaercher: If there is one type of food people get passionate about is barbecue. I am headed into Hickory Park for big flavor and big portions. From near and far the folks cozying to booths and tables for great barbeque here at Hickory Park know the real meaning of tried and true.
Krough: Every time we come to Ames we always eat here.
Kaercher: Why do you keep coming back?
Krough: We love it. He always has the pork tenderloin and I have the ribs and chicken.
Kaercher: Same thing huh?
Krough: Every time.
Readel: A lot of people tell us hey, you know we have been coming here for 20 plus years. We love that things haven't changed. We love that we know you. We ask for the same server and we have had her for 20 years. I think people like that consistency and they like to know that we know them.
Kaercher: From babies on up, patrons appreciate all the traditions at Hickory Park. From the seasoned staff to the seasoned specialties on the extensive menu. Pit Master Mike Damske smokes thousands of pounds of beef, pork, turkey and chicken each week. A huge job.
Damske: All right. This one is ready to be loaded up with some more wood. Open it up here and I usually adjust my wood a little bit that is already in here. Throw a couple in. Shut it back up.
Kaercher: As you may have guessed Mike uses hickory wood in his smokers. It lends a very distinctive taste and aroma.
Damske: It just gives it a really nice mellow flavor. Not really woody like an oak. An oak would be really a woody taste to it and we just don't like that. This gives it more of a mellow smoked flavor instead of so harsh like oak and other woods.
Kaercher: With hungry customers packing in to feast on barbeque, cooking is a constant for this pit master.
Damske: Well, we cook pork five times a week. We cook chickens five times a week. We usually cook beans three times a week. We do all these meats right here three times a week.
Kaercher: Mike has been smoking meats here for over 20 years. He credits his training to Hickory Park owner David Wheelock who recalls a time when these modern day smokers weren't around yet. Back then there were a couple of challenges.
Wheelock: Well, both that open pit and the old bakery ovens are quite prone to catch on fire, you know? The new ones you don't have that kind of trouble and one Sunday I was summoned out of church that the pit was on fire and fortunately it didn't do a whole lot of damage. But kind of scary anyway.
Kaercher: Now in its third location in over four decades, Hickory Park brings back fond memories for those who have come here for years.
Griffin: Most of us are Iowa State graduates and then we like coming to Hickory Park because it has got good meat, fast service.
Kaercher: It is also a place to make new memories. Kylie, what is your favorite thing to order here at Hickory Park? The baby back ribs? Get it? Baby back ribs? Hey, I am not going to let the babies have all the fun. I am hungry. By the way in case you haven't noticed portion sizes are a big deal here.
Tarter: They look down at the food and it is like oh, my gosh. You know this could feed my whole family. But we have to-go boxes. So it is all good.
Kaercher: Let me show you what I am having for lunch today. Pure carnivore heaven here. This is the combination dinner. So, we have chicken. Hickory Park's own kielbasa. Ribs, of course and then underneath all that are slices of smoked turkey, pork, and beef. And then I couldn't leave without having their famous Saucy Southerner which is a mixture of pulled turkey, pork, and beef in sauce. And it looks like a little macaroni salad on the side. Oh, I got to go for these ribs. That they are just taunting me. So good. I think I pretty much conquered the whole animal kingdom right on one platter. Ok, now I just want to jump over to the most popular sandwich here at Hickory Park, The Saucy Southerner. Oh, yeah. Besides the main menu which has over 100 items there is an added selection of temptations, ice cream. Behind an antique counter the ice cream fountain adds a charming centerpiece to the restaurant. The owner's roots as the former operator of the Dairy Queen carried over to his barbeque business and in my opinion ice cream and barbeque are a match made in heaven. Just let me show you this. This is the ice cream menu alone and that is all their ice cream creations. So, you try making up your mind. Huh? The perfect way to settle your stomach after over indulging on a barbequed pig out. I can't help but acknowledge that the food here certainly lives up to its delicious reputation. But there is another more subtle secret to Hickory Park's longevity and success.
Drury: I saw a line one day that said you need to earn your reputation each and every day and that is completely him. He is here every day, all day from morning to night, and making sure that everyone is earning the reputation of Hickory Park.