Critic's PickIn desperate need of a sit-down meal at your Southern Grandma’s house? Comfort food to soothe your soul? A pit stop at Woe Is Me/Three Boys & Stella Barbeque might be just what the doctor ordered.
Armed with a smoker and her 97-year-old grandmother’s recipes, Rhonda Royster and her family have a simple mission: Bring Carolina-style barbeque to Greater Cincinnati. Initially a plan for their retirement years, the dream shifted into overdrive when both Rhonda and her husband, Big Mel, suffered job losses with the closure of the Ford plant in Batavia. Self-starters with a vision, the Roysters decided to open a concession truck last summer at Findlay Market.
“From there, things just fell into place,” Rhonda explains. “We really expected to spend between five and six years building our reputation as a pulled pork barbeque vendor, but we met some great people and our five-year plan was fast-tracked in six months. The owner of the building where we currently operate has been instrumental in launching our restaurant. He has supported us and really believes in our ability to offer great barbeque to Cincinnati.”
And what about the barbeque? In a word: righteous!
Slow cooking in the smoker makes this barbeque joint stand out from the rest.
“We begin by marinating the meat for 24 hours in a special recipe we developed in our home kitchen,” Royster says. After that, the ribs are thoroughly coated in a dry rub (another family recipe) and then take a nap with apple and mesquite woodchips in the smoker for four hours. The result is tender, mouth-watering racks (half rack for $9, full rack for $16, with platters costing $2.50 more) that will make your knees buckle.
But it’s the pulled pork sandwiches ($4.25) that keep locals coming back for more.
“We cook marinated pork loins for our sandwiches in the smoker too,” Royster says. “Once tender and juicy, it is hand-pulled and sauced before serving, just like our ribs and chicken."
If you aren’t from the South, you might not fully appreciate the home-style quality of the dishes offered at Woe Is Me. Lucky for me, I grew up in a family of Southern country cooks, and I'll admit to being just the teensiest bit giddy when I walked into the dining room, which, incidentally, reminded me of my Grandma’s entire house, complete with every picture and knick-knack her seven children, 23 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren have ever given her proudly displayed on the walls, counters and tables.
Picking your side dishes might be challenging with so many strong offerings, but these are the ones I tried and recommend:
• Seven Cheese Macaroni. Seven! The Roysters refuse to take shortcuts on this dish. A blending of parmesan, mild cheddar, sharp cheddar, colby, mozzarella, provolone and Monterey Jack create this signature comfort food side.
• Collard Greens. Any Carolina barbeque menu would be incomplete without this slow simmered Southern staple. Woe Is Me serves fresh (never frozen or canned) greens that have been quietly humming with a hunk of hog jowl bacon on the back burner for at least three hours.
• Baked Beans. Best described as “unexpected,” these beans are married with house barbeque sauce, chili powder and cumin for a truly unique bean bouquet. I prefer mine sweet, not spicy, but my husband loved them; they were a welcome twist on the standard presentation.
• Corn Pudding. If you aren’t from the South, you might not understand corn pudding right away. Try to wrap your brain around thick, buttery, cream sauce lovin’ on sweet kernels of corn with a hearty dose of black pepper. Are you there yet?
• And as if all this hearty home cooking weren’t reason enough to check out this welcome addition to Cincinnati’s East Side, I have one more reason for you to consider: pie. Not just any old pie. Full-flavor-authentic-made-from-scratch-just-like-my-Grandma’s pie! So good, in fact, I had to eat two slices: one piece of Key Lime ($2) and one piece of Sweet Potato Pie ($2). Both are made with family recipes and are definitely worth sacrificing a few extra calories.
If you're looking for the type of deep-eating satisfaction that comes from home-cooked, made-with-love fare, I feel confident you’ll find true Southern comfort at Woe Is Me. And if you're looking to bring it home to your friends and family, catering is available.
WOE IS ME
Go: 960 Kennedy’s Landing, Eastgate
Hours: 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 a.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-7 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $2-$20
Red Meat Alternatives: Side dishes
Accessibility: Fully accessible