- 3313 Riverside Drive, Cincinnati, OH, 45226
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
- Official Web Site:
While driving through the East End recently, I caught the outlined drawing of a pig hanging on a sign over what looked like a recently renovated row house. In an area not known for many restaurants, I was surprised when I also caught the exquisite aroma of barbecue wafting from the pig-signed place.
I was intrigued; what was this oasis without a name that I had stumbled upon on the old Eastern Avenue (rebranded as Riverside Drive)? One small internet search later (thanks, Metromix!) I discovered it was the newest location of Eli’s BBQ, once a staple on Fountain Square. And after that one smell, I knew I had to stop in immediately.
The vibe: Two bright yellow bathtub planters frame the entrance to what looks like was once a modest two-story house. Large windows take up most of the front wall of the space, which is helpful in attracting people accustomed to using Riverside Drive only for commuting. It’s near the busy confluence of Delta/Kellogg/Eastern Avenues, but you can park right in front of the restaurant (but not from 4-6 p.m. weekdays). Eli’s also has a large lot behind, and to the side, of it.
You actually access the parking lot by turning on to Setchell Street, and by avoiding neighbors’ hand-drawn “No Parking” signs. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see three huge barbecue smokers full of pork hugging the side of the restaurant. Try not to drool.
It’s not a huge space inside. There are only seven tables, and seating for 30 or so. The place exudes a laid-back, antique-filled vibe, with some ramshackle, vintage decorations mixed with paintings of music legends from a recently opened art show.
Eli’s has a record player plugged into an old Marshall amp, and patrons are encouraged to rifle through a pretty stellar collection of LPs (Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead) and play some tunes for other diners. It’s kind of like a free, DIY jukebox. Just be sure to put the record back into its sleeve when finished (as the sign reminds you).
The food: You place your order in the back of the restaurant, next to a classic Coca-Cola refrigerator full of bottles of soda pop. Eli’s BBQ is cash or check only (which meant a slight detour upon my visit), but prices are very reasonable.
My wife ordered the two-rib plate ($8) and I went with the two-all beef hot dogs plate ($8).
Plates are served with two side dishes, and I ordered baked beans and jalapeno cheese grits, while Erica ordered the mashed potatoes and jalapeno corn bread.
Our meal was delicious. The ribs were dry-rubbed (with Eli’s secret rub), hickory smoked, fall-off-the-bone works of art. They looked so good, I actually went back and ordered two of them myself ($5). They had a slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor that didn’t even need Eli’s homemade barbecue sauce — made available at each table — which I could have sucked directly from the bottle, if I weren’t in public.
My hot dogs were the best I’ve ever had. The grilled bun and beef of the hot dog combined decadently with toppings of creamy coleslaw, Eli’s BBQ sauce, and pieces of lightly fried, pulled pork (called crispins).
Each side dish offered an unexpected twist: the beans were smoky, and tangier — almost spicy — than sweet. The jalapeno in the cornbread and grits brought the Southern staples to a modern level. And the mashed potatoes had an amazing texture and flavor, seemingly cooked in a cast iron skillet over a fire.
The drinks: Eli’s doesn’t serve alcohol, but you really don’t need it since the food is so solid on its own. We were in a self-induced, barbecue high afterward. I washed my meal down with a bottle of Ale-8-1, while Erica enjoyed a bottle of Orange Crush (both $2).
The verdict: Eli’s BBQ is a treasure. Its cozy charm and vintage ambiance is only surpassed by the delicious food it serves. Bring cash (or your checkbook) and take a chance on a place in a neighborhood not necessarily known for restaurants.
There aren’t a lot of vegetarian offerings here, but you can probably piece together a pretty filling meal on some of their meat-free excellent sides.