Comfort Food Classics

Revisiting some of the city’s historic barbecue and chicken joints

click to enlarge Ollie's Trolley
Ollie's Trolley

Comfort food and homestyle cooking may be trending, but people have enjoyed the spoils of the South for years — especially in Cincinnati. Ever heard of our ribs? And while Montgomery Inn may be one of the first things you think of locally when you think of barbecue-sauce covered meats, the Queen City has a rich history with chicken and pork — breaded, fried, smoked, pulled and otherwise. Each of the following historic eateries has a rabidly loyal fanbase, so we won’t pick a favorite; you can do that part on your own.

BBQ Revue

At home in a dated-but-repurposed Frisch’s with a giant-ass Pepto-pink pig statue out front, the smell of hickory wood hits your olfactories before you make it in the door. The on-site meat smoker is in the parking lot, and inside it’s definitely a no-frills operation: paper plates, plastic forks and ordering at the counter, cafeteria-style. The ribs are dry-rubbed with a spicy mix prior to smoking, the barbecue sauce is tangy, not smoky, and die-hard fans freak out about the brisket. Plus any place that offers a brownie as a side is A-OK in our book. $3.50-$19. 4725 Madison Road, Madisonville, 513-871-3500. NOW CLOSED

City BBQ

Recently named one of the best in America by Men’s Journal, this regional barbecue chain hickory-smokes high-quality meats daily. Seasoned by hand and served with the sauce on the side so you can mix and match, City blends the best regional tastes in the country, serving up Texas-style brisket and sausage, St. Louis-style ribs and Southeastern pork shoulder. Slather with your choice of an original tomato-based sauce, a vinegar- and onion-based North Carolina sauce or a South Carolina mustard sauce. They also serve housemade cobblers for dessert. $7-$30. Multiple locations including 2760 Alexandria Pike, Highland Heights, Ky., 859-415-4544; citybbq.com.

Greyhound Tavern

Fried chicken is gospel at this Fort Mitchell institution, open since the 1930s. On Mondays and Tuesdays, it’s Family-Style Fried Chicken Night; you get half a chicken, rolled in a secret herbed flour mixture and fried, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, coleslaw and biscuits for under $20 — with free refills. Other tavern classics include comfort dishes like a Hot Brown, meat loaf, fried pork tenderloin, chicken livers and fried green tomatoes. $10-$29. 2500 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, Ky., 859-331-3767, greyhoundtavern.com.

Hyde Park Hitching Post

In the 1960s, the Hitching Post was a franchise of fried chicken joints that boasted the “World’s Best Fried Chicken.” Although the franchise is now defunct, the Hyde Park Hitching Post — owned by brother and sister duo Frank and Peggy Kahsar since the ’80s — still uses the original recipe, hand-breading fresh chicken and frying it to order. And while the diner does serve up breakfast and other homestyle dishes like liver and onions, plus a lot of “country-fried” options and open-faced sandwiches, fried chicken is king. Grab a dinner pack: nine to 20 pieces of fried chicken with rolls and choices of sides, including mashed potatoes with homemade gravy and homemade coleslaw. $4-$13. 2715 Madison Road, Hyde Park, 513-871-9201, hydeparkhitchingpost.com.

The Hitching Post

Another former Hitching Post chain location, the Kellogg Avenue chicken joint was established in 1968 and still boasts the awesome vintage diner sign with a black horse head, ’60s-style lettering and a big-bulb flashing arrow. If you like crispy chicken, this is your place: The poultry is breaded and fried in lard, so it’s extra crispy. Get it fast-food take-out style, in a bucket, with anywhere from 9 to 100 pieces (for $100). They also have breakfast, chili, whole pies and grandma’s-recipe homemade salads — potato, macaroni and coleslaw — at this family-run restaurant. $6-$100. 4535 Kellogg Ave., California, hitchingpostkellogg.com.

Ollie’s Trolley

Opened as a chain in the 1970s by Kentucky politician John Y. Brown, there were once about 50 Ollie’s Trolley locations in the nation. Now there are three, including our own, which opened in December 1993. (The other two are in Washington D.C. and Louisville, Ky.) Helmed locally by Marvin Smith, who was granted all rights to the franchise by Brown (including its secret recipes), Ollie’s seasoning spices up everything from its famous burgers and barbecued turkey tips to its all-vegetarian sides. Menu items are made fresh daily, from the ribs and pulled pork to the chicken and the deep-fried turkey, which Ollie’s pre-sells about 1,000 of at Thanksgiving. True comfort food, the homemade macaroni and cheese, lemon pound cake and black-eyed peas — along with everything else on the menu — is cooking that feeds your soul. $3-$45 (for whole turkeys). 1605 Central Ave., West End, 513-381-6100, facebook.com/olliesburger.

Ron’s Roost

Ron’s Roost is a West Side landmark, literally because of the giant white fiberglass rooster on the roof and figuratively for its longevity. Opened in 1964 as a, you guessed it, Hitching Post, Ron’s sells more than 10,000 pieces of chicken each week. Family-owned and operated since it opened as a 20-seat diner in 1960, this ever-expanding restaurant specializes in chicken more than a dozen ways — including their Taste of Cincinnati award-winning fried variety. But you can also enjoy the hot bacon slaw (a West Side staple), an entire German menu section, their famous mock turtle soup, barbecue ribs and homemade cream pies. $10-$20. 3853 Race Road, Bridgetown, 513-574-0222, ronsroost.net. 

Schoolhouse Restaurant

Classic American fare served family-style in a Civil War-era schoolhouse, with a menu written on an ancient blackboard. Each table features a lazy susan to make it easier to share entrees. Among your choices: homemade fried chicken, country fried steak, meatloaf and roast beef. Multiple generations operate the restaurant, which celebrated 50 years in 2012. $9-$17. 8031 Glendale-Milford Road, Camp Dennison, 513-831-5753, theschoolhousecincinnati.com.

Silver Spring House

Opened on April Fool’s Day in 1988, the Silver Spring House knew it would focus on chicken from the beginning. Dubbing itself “The Chicken Joint,” its succulent, organic chicken is marinated in citrus juices and spices, then grilled just for you. If you’re not in the mood for chicken, you can choose pork ribs — which are made in-house daily — salmon, burgers and a variety of sandwiches. $11-$25. 8322 E. Kemper Road, Montgomery, 513-489-7044, thesilverspringhouse.com.

Walt’s BBQ

What started as a Father’s Day gift in 1996 — a Brinkmann smoker — has turned into a local barbecue chain. The menu is made for meat lovers and includes many slow-smoked specialties like pulled pork, ribs, roasted chicken, brisket and more. Their sauces come in regular, spicy and a mustard-based Carolina Gold, which have all won awards at past National Barbecue Association conferences. For a challenge, try Walt’s Pig Out: If you can eat half a chicken, half a slab of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked sausage, two sides and four corn muffins in an hour, you get a spot on the wall of fame and a free $40 meal (the five-pound one you just ate). $6-$20. Multiple locations including 6040 Colerain Ave., White Oak, waltsbarbeque.com.

Walt’s Hitching Post

Opened in some variation since 1942, Walt’s Hitching Post is known for its signature secret sauce, salted rye bread and chicken livers. Bronson Trebbi and Donny Arnsperger took over in 2012 after the death of the former owner, and they’ve lightly tweaked classic menu items, adding fried green tomatoes to the chicken livers and increasing the steak quality. They also serve up country comfort favorites like fried frog legs, mac and cheese in a skillet, and hickory-smoked ribs, pulled pork and chicken. $12-$30. 3300 Madison Pike, Fort Wright, Ky., 859-360-2222, waltshitchingpost.com.

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