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3313 Riverside Dr Cincinnati, OH 45226 (513) 307-8318
I drove by Eli’s Barbeque on a Friday afternoon by happenstance. A line was out the door, around the block, a sea of people. I don’t fare well in steaming crowds of sweat soaked people. Let alone consider it appetizing. So, I waited until Sunday to stop by. It was bustling but far from what it was on Friday. The interior was chock full, squeeze past folks to order kinda thing. After ordering rib tips, pulled pork, corn bread, grits, cole slaw, baked beans and mac & cheese I asked how long have they been open? “Over a year” the cashier replied. “Has it always been balls to the walls like this? “No just for the last month” she said. It seems the recent blog posts, food review sites and local media has catapulted Eli’s from semi-obscurity to nearly overcrowded.
We’re doing our part to help out the cyber fire fueling the frenzy as well. And do they ever deserve it. I’ll skip to the meat of the article, for the lazy. Eli’s may just be, (it is very likely) the hands down best BBQ in Cincy. No doubt about it.
Media attention really helps to draw in customers but it’s not the secret to Eli’s success from where I see it. What I see is so simple and so sweet. $5 sandwiches, $8 plates (2 sides). That’s it. The whole menu. That’s beautiful.
Pulled pork, smoked turkey, ribs and a hot dog are the meat choices. Jalapeno cheese grits, mac & cheese, baked beans, jalapeno corn bread and cole slaw are the sides. I tried it all (except the Nathan’s hot dog. I’ve read the ingredients and I’ll pass). Everything (else) on the menu was savored then devoured. It would take to much space and time to go into it.
The meats were refreshingly excellent. Ribs - perfect pull - deliciously tender, deep seasoned dry rub, beautiful bark - slight crunch. Pulled pork - tender & moist, amazing addicting charred ends. Slightly spicy sauce - rich & bright - well balanced. The meat was simply perfect in every way. I’m nearly certain there is no better BBQ in town.
The sides were stellar, every single one. Beans - rich gravy, sweet yet spiked with a kick. Grits - cheddar loaded - super smooth & creamy, well seasoned - thin jalapeno slices on top. Mac & Cheese - real cheddar and American flavor - perfect saucy smoothness - incredibly creamy. Slaw - fresh, crisp and traditional - “grandma would be proud” perfect - with a bit more bite than usual. Buy any side for $2. I only wish they sold it in quarts like chicken joints! Even the jalapeno corn bread was succulent. Slightly spicy, yet solidly sweet. Velvet cake like texture, so moist, flavorful it needs zero butter.
Pair staggeringly good soul food with $5 and $8 price tags and you have a crowd. It’s crazy to think the place was basically just getting by until a month ago. If I was the owner I would have been speechless during the first year. Eli’s kept on smokin’ and their day has come to shine. If they keep it up, keep it cheap and keep it this simple, they will always be balls to the walls.
Summer time is the time to go. A huge covered seating area, garden, and backyard “park” is absolutely awesome. A perfect place to sit and enjoy the BBQ. When winter hits and the tiny dining room is the only shelter, it must be a different animal. They will need a separate take out cashier / area. Or lose some serious sales. I’m confident they will figure out how to get BBQ to folks that want it. They figured out how to best the so called best, and do it for $8 to boot. If they could franchise this joint, it would be the Chipotle of BBQ.
The whole place seems too personal and individual to franchise though. I can say one thing, I don’t have a single critique, let a alone a complaint. For the first time in a long time I reviewed a perfect restaurant.
All this talk of the best BBQ in the city has me thinking now that our Burger Battle is over we should have a BBQ Battle. Who’s on board?
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