Brews News

Eli's BBQ

Cincinnati

Chad W. Lutz
It's fairly easy to miss Eli's BBQ. The establishment sits along an all-too ordinary road just off U.S. 52, with the restaurant itself inhabiting a fairly inconspicuous, cream-siding row house. The sidewalks in the surrounding area are cracked, the pavement is pockmarked with potholes, and a neighboring retaining wall wears several shades of graffiti. Signage featuring the white silhouette of a pig against a black background hangs off the front of the building. Those who have been there before know exactly what the insignia hails. For others, it's merely an unrealized existential checkpoint, much like how a first kiss is seen years later after the eventual marriage looking back.

The images certainly do not paint the picture of a desirable area of town, but I would be lying if I said I didn't completely enjoy Eli's BBQ my first visit. That's why I won't. I will admit, however, that I was skeptical at first. I even made the comment to my brother, who insisted I try the place, that I felt like we were out in the boonies and about to stop off at Jebediah's for lunch. Behind the building sits a dirt and gravel parking lot; behind that are broken down sheds and the eerily silent but ever-ominous Ohio River. I felt like I had arrived in a West Virginian mountain community. That was before I stepped out of the car.

The smells hit me all at once, wafting over from the white smoke tents just off to the side of the building; The Beatles’ Revolver playing over loudspeaker as we approached. The staff was friendly and greeted us the instant we walked through the door. Their demeanors were inspiring, as was the overall energy of the place. I suddenly got the feeling I was at a family reunion and everyone had been waiting patiently for my brother and I just to arrive…What was that about the look of the joint? Oh, that? Never mind that. Let’s get down to business :sniff sniff: What chu got to eat?

The specials for the day were slow-roasted smoked turkey breast on a “grilled honey bun” and choice of two sides, which included homemade mac and cheese, slow-cured, brown sugar baked beans, coleslaw, or red potatoes mashed. I was sold when “turkey” passed through the hostess’ lips, although she honestly had me at, “Hello.” My brother, falling right into the same trance, though a former and frequent patron, instantly made for his standby: Hickory pulled pork slow-cooked onsite in the white tents out back, also served on a grilled bun and accompanied by two sides. They gave us our number, showed us to the dining room, and left us to salivate under the extreme duress of the smells wafting in from the smoke tents and off of other peoples’ plates.

The interior of Eli’s has a sort of log cabin feel to it. The floors are wooden, and the ceilings bear their wooden trusses in places. The dining area features portraits of American heroes: Elvis Presley, Hank Aaron, Johnny Cash, and Jack Kennedy. Old typewriters and petrol signs for gas stations long-since extinct add to the vintage feel of the BBQ haven. The restaurant also, exclusively, plays music off of an old record player. As mentioned before, The Beatles greeted us; The Cars bid us farewell. Our food entertained us in between moans and groans as we came up for air. The meats were juicy, and not too overly smoky. They held just the right amount of juice blended with excellent spices sourced locally from Findlay Market. The way they were prepared had my turkey and my brother’s pork falling off of our respective sandwiches in tender messes.

Oh, baby.

Although somewhat out of the way for those living up Clifton way or in areas around Ludlow and further north, most Cincinnatians can find their way to Eli’s BBQ within 15 to 20 minutes. Travelers to the Queen City looking for something a little delicious and away from the typical hustle and bustle of the City by the River should definitely punch the address to Eli’s into their GPS devices. Or, if you’re looking for the full, vintage, Eli’s BBQ experience, print out a map or simply hop on 52 and hope for the best. At worst you’ll find Eli’s, and that, I promise, won’t leave unsatisfied.
Eli’s BBQ
3313 Riverside Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226
(513) 307-8318
Mon-Sun: 11:00am – 09:00pm
Prices: $5.00 to $8.00
...photos courtesy of Google Images