I can't believe that it's almost been a year since barbeque passed my lips. After of BBQ panel for CityBeat's 2007 Best of Cincinnati issue, we all pretty much swore off the stuff. Six stops in almost in many days ... who wouldn't be satiated?
I was astounded by how easily the word "yes" slipped out when my editor suggested a review of one of last year's contenders: Walt's Barbeque. (He was a panel member, so I was just as surprised by the origin of the suggestion as well!)
Our Best of Cincinnati issue gave Walt's high numbers in the food category, but it slipped in the service and atmosphere departments because the place was so small and crowded -- service was frazzled and elbows were plentiful. Granted, our visit did fall on an All-You-Can-Eat ribs night, so it should have been expected.
One of the great things about Walt's now is the new addition, which increased the seating from 36 to 175 and includes a bar and patio. Longtime customers shouldn't worry -- the amazing pig figurine collection is still there. When I stopped by for carryout the other day I counted well over 100 curly-tailed butts behind the Plexiglas shield.
The space is a bit cavernous, like a great big red barn with red-checkered tablecloths as far as the eye can see. Customers no longer hover over tables as other diners finish their meal to grab the next free table.
The servers all seem to take the jump in business in stride -- that's just the way things are at Walt's now, especially on a weekend. And why not? The food is very affordable, the service is friendly and there's lots of gooey sauce to lick off your fingers.
All of Walt's meat is pecan-wood smoked in a huge outdoor smoker. The brisket and pork cook for 14 to 16 hours, ribs for four to six hours and chicken for three hours over wood he trucks up from down south. I didn't see the variety of sauces we had last time, but we did have an original sweetish sauce and one with a little more spice that I liked.
Once seated it did take our server quite a while to make her initial stop. I'd gotten a little antsy and peeved by that time, but she was so nice and calm that I lost the attitude and had an excellent service experience through the rest of the meal.
All I sampled on my last visit was various incarnations of animal flesh, so I decided to branch out a bit this time. We started with some classics: Beer-Battered Spicy Pub Pickles ($4.99) and Onion Chips ($4.79). The sweet onion chips were good, but I liked the pickles better -- they had just a hint of spice and blast of vinegary dill. Both appetizers were served on a bed of multi-colored tortilla chips that helped soak up some of the grease. It was a very attractive way to handle the excess oil that often comes with fried dishes.
For an entrée I decided to "just get a salad" and chose the Barbeque Taco Salad ($6.29), which came with pulled pork or chicken, greens, onion, tomato, jalapenos, cheese and tortilla chips. (It ended up lasting me at least three meals that week.) I guess once the smoky wood from the smoker hit my nose in the parking lot my fate was sealed. I had intended to skip the meat, but my subconscious carnivore came out in the end anyway.
My mom choose the Pulled Chicken Sandwich ($4.99) with German Potato Salad as a side -- not a traditional BBQ side choice, but it makes sense locally given the number of Brandhorsts and Schmidts running around. My step-dad moved farthest from the BBQ theme with the Belly Buster Haddock dinner ($8.99), a 10-ounce fried filet that comes with two sides. He picked collard greens and baked beans. We also got extra sides ($1.99) of green beans and mac-n-cheese because it seemed outrageous to leave these perennials out of the mix.
All of the sides were good -- the mac-n-cheese creamy, the green beans stewed with bits of pork and the collard greens had a little bit of a kick. The German potato salad fell a bit short, but it's hard when you're up against my grandmother's recipe.
I liked the Southern-Southwestern combination of flavors in my salad, which used a choice of barbeque sauce for salad dressing, and mom's pulled chicken sandwich was smoky and tender. The belly buster? It was truth in advertising.
Walt's offers a range of desserts that include a homemade peanut butter pie, but here's what I would suggest for dessert: the Sweet Potato Casserole side dish. The combination of sweet potatoes, pecans, brown sugar and butter is like a mini sweet potato pound cake and hits just the right spot. ©
Go: 6040 Colerain Ave., Northgate
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, chicken, fish, veggie burgers