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Archive for February, 2011

The founders of the original Montgomery Inn. Can people this adorable be trusted?

I was in kindergarten in 1972, and thanks to the foggy forces of nature that continue to confuse so many voters in the swing-state of Ohio, I was under the impression that Richard Nixon would make a mighty fine President.

I submit as evidence why 6 year olds are not allowed to vote: About half the kindergartners would stand on the playground shouting “Nixon, Nixon! He’s our Man. That other guy is in the GARBAGE CAN!!! HA-HA-ha HA-ha-HA!!!!”  And the other half of the kindergartners had some equally hilarious chant supporting the honorable, Blue State BBQ representative George McGovern.   Poor George, I can’t even remember his futile playground rhyme. 

Well, in 1972, 82, 92, and so on, there was another battle much more closely contested by people of all ages in Cincinnati: Which restaurant made the best barbecued ribs in town? Just like our unreasonable, completely uninformed kindergarten-style political debate, there was no compromise. You either you loved Walt’s Hitching Post completely, or you were devoted to The Montgomery Inn.

As I wrote previously, mine was a Walt’s family. But Walt’s permanently closed its doors last year for reasons unknown.  So, on my first trip back to Cincinnati since, I decided I should give The Montgomery Inn a fresh look.  I should be open minded, right?

Here is a transcript of my text messages to my sister:

Me: Hey…I wouldn’t mind going to Montgomery Inn tomorrow … I want to give their BBQ another try in the post Walt’s era.  Does that sound terrible to you?

My sister: Yes.

Ok, so apparently, I could learn something about loyalty from my sister.  But, after looking at the menu, and determining that there was fish on the menu, she kindly agreed and made reservations.   My father, my brother and his two kids also joined in, so it was a family affair.

THE REVIEW STARTS HERE: Please forgive my longer than usual preamble, as I’m stuck in a hotel room without much to do other than write this review.

The newer of the two Montgomery Inns is this big, modern looking building in one of the most beautiful locations you could ask for in Cincinnati.  It’s not what you expect a barbecue joint to look like. It’s right on the river with a 180-degree view of the water, the bridges and the shores of Kentucky.  If you’re from the area, then you know how genuinely nice it is to be downtown, outside, watching the big river flow by.  It was nice enough out there that we hoped to sit outside under a portable heater, but it wasn’t doable.

Just as well though because, hey, word to Mr. Montgomery — that half-ass attempt at putting a tent around your patio cigar lounge works not at all.  Half of Hamilton County can smell those damned Camacho Corojos, and it’s nauseating no matter what Stogie Review says.  I would not have wanted to sit downwind from that for very long.

Inside, is smoke free, and I’d say it looks as though a local sports bar won the mega-millions.  Vintage pictures of The Big Red Machine absolutely everywhere, TV’s full of basketball games, a huge bar upstairs, and baseball hats for sale.  But, at the same time, it’s a large, relatively classy environment featuring more-than-one-fork wrapped in linen, a B2B clientele, and a friendly, efficient staff all of whom have full sets of teeth. It’s a classy joint, no doubt about it.

I ordered the Smoke House Trio. Pulled pork, brisket and barbecued chicken all on one plate.  And I would rely on my brother to let me sample the ribs he ordered.  So lucky me, I got to try four Montgomery Inn specialties in one meal.

Results were as follows. 

Both on the Web site and in real life, the ribs come pre-doused in sauce. Oh, btw, those chips were really yummy.

The ribs are clearly the best of what I tried. I was surprised, really surprised, because they were much better than I remembered. But by the time I got back to my hotel room, I finally figured it out:  The rib my brother gave had very little sauce on it.  

The Montgomery Inn always dumps their sauce all over everything, versus serving it on the side. And bluntly, the Montgomery Inn sauce is average. I’ve had worse (Floyd’s), but I’ve had better (Jones), and I can’t believe they sell caseloads of the stuff. Without the sauce, the rib was pretty darned good. I could definitely taste something interesting in the seasoning that I still haven’t quite deciphered.  A dry mustard maybe?  I’m not sure, and I need to think more about it.

So my tip (big surprise, coming from me), order the ribs, skip the sauce.  Based on that, I think Montgomery Inn is probably worth a trip for the view and a slab.  But that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

The next best thing was the pulled pork.  Not bad at all. But I’d also say it was very typical of restaurant-prepared pulled pork – good flavor, but too mushy. I’m starting to think this is the curse of ordering pulled pork at establishment barbecue joints. It’s hard to screw up one of nature’s most delicious foods, so it’s typically passable.  But there’s just nothing quite like the texture of pulled pork when you do it yourself, fresh off the cooker. Thank you Stan’s in Seattle for delivering that home-cooked experience for me, because thanks to you, I know it’s possible for a restaurant to pull it off.

Next: The barbecued chicken. It came shredded. Oy.  My fault for not reading the menu more carefully, but I had a bad attitude upon seeing it.  I had to ask which was the chicken and which was the pork.  Bad sign.  And a worse sign? The waitress wasn’t sure, either.  The chicken was sugary and mushy, like the barbecue you’d expect from a Shoney’s Build-a-Sandwich Bar.  Although, that may not be fair to Shoney’s. I don’t even know if they have a Build-a-Sandwich bar.   Come on, Montgomery Inn, you can do better than that!

But as disappointing as that was, the only truly terrible thing I ate was the brisket. It looked like skinny old strips of black bacon someone accidentally left on the stove. And it came soaking in a paste-like, dark brown goo. I knew it was going to be bad just seeing it on my fork. Then, of course, it was indeed awful. Chewy, sticky and it tasted like something, but not brisket.  I’d have 100 of their chicken-from-a-can sandwiches before ordering any more of that poor beef brisket.  Blech.

So to my kindergarten class of 1972, I have this to say:  It is indeed worth getting to know the opposition, no matter what the catchy chants say. The Montgomery Inn is both better than I remembered it (pretty good ribs), and in some ways, even worse than I thought (brisket spawned from the hellmouth).

Good ribs or not, someone from Cincinnati, help me. There just has to be better barbecue somewhere in the tri-state area.

By the way, my sister’s fish was pretty good. Thanks again to my sister for setting us up, my brother for treating us to dinner, my dad for ordering those blasted fried onions (yum), and to all of them for putting up with my ridiculous habit of photographing my food — and in some cases their food — before eating it.

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Wings and Football

Who needs hot dogs?

Sports talk radio is a guilty pleasure of mine, right up there with my love for Ho Hos, Jethro Tull, and a B-movie called “Moron’s from Outer Space.”  So when my favorite station started to talk about the Super Bowl AND chicken wings at the same time, well, commute heaven.

But here’s the thing ….  They reported that 1 billion (yeah, with a ‘b’) chicken wings would be consumed during the Super Bowl.  As in, the scrawny parts of 500 million chickens. I’m sorry, but that just sounded too improbable to be true, and I was right.

The correct number is 1.25 billion chicken wings. Stupid sports guys!

The National Chicken Council reports that 1.25 billion wings, or 100 million pounds or so, will be eaten during the Super Bowl weekend around the world.   Just for the sake of good context, that’s like  barbecuing 11,000 African elephants.  Or, like eating 15,000 Cadillac Escalades.  Or dipping 308,000 Shaquille O’Neals into ranch sauce. 

Wow.

Anyway, if you’re going to do wings, might I suggest again this really good recipe for Apricot Chicken Wings

And for those of you looking for ranch sauce, it’s really easy to make your own.

As for the game, I don’t (entirely) wish for Ben Roethlisberger to choke on a chicken wing, but I do very sincerely hope he chokes in an embarrassing fashion on the field.   Go Packers!

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