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Eli’s BBQ (Review)

No-frills affair is all about the food

By Eli Samuel Johnson · March 13th, 2012 · Diner
ac_food_elis_bbq_ckPhoto by Cameron Knight
First located at Fountain Square and Findlay Market under a rather dainty tent in the summer months this past year, Eli’s BBQ has graduated to the restaurant scene — and with honors. What was once a humble street vendor with one impeccably prepared item on the menu — the perfect pulled pork sandwich — is now nestled in the East End, an area Elias “Eli” Leisring believes is underserved. 

Leisring, who has been barbecuing for three years, now has a finely tuned barbeque recipe, one that he says has been compared to a Memphis-style sauce, that is being dished out with a fantastic choice of homemade sides and alternatives to the original pulled pork sandwich, such as rib tips and a hickory smoked turkey sandwich. 

Eli’s is a no-frills affair, but more welcoming than some of the other bare necessity food nooks around the city. The atmosphere is warm, with a down home feel that the incessant Rock and Roll coming from the turntable only amplifies. Whether it’s The Greenhornes, Black Keys or Jerry Garcia, there’s always a suitable soundtrack to go along with your dining experience. The clientele is vast, albeit predominantly carnivorous, with all sorts of regulars dining in or getting takeaway meals. 

But when it comes down to brass tacks, Eli’s is all about the food. The original pulled pork sandwich ($5) is the result of 18-20 hours of smoking and absolutely worth the wait. Served on a charred honey bun, smothered in Eli’s BBQ sauce and coleslaw, at your discretion of course, the sandwich is the standout on the menu.

For an extra three bucks more, you can add two sides. The macaroni and cheese is rich and creamy, packed with love (and butter) while the jalapeno cornbread is as country as it gets: spicy, hearty and full of flavor. The baked beans, one of my other favorite sides, have a smoky flavor and nice kick. 

All of this heat can be tamed by an Ale-8 or Coke for another couple dollars. Or, if you’re anything like me and lacking in self-respect have Friday afternoons off, Eli’s is BYOB, so a handle of Maker’s or your favorite six-pack can make for a nice alcoholic accompaniment. The best of both worlds isn’t impossible either, with a mixture of Ale-8 and whiskey (think Jameson and ginger) is the perfect quencher on a beautiful day with a fistful of barbecue. 

Another addition to the menu is the hickory-smoked ribs ($5), dusted with Eli’s own dry rub that has a nice mellow flavor that isn’t too overpowering. If dry ribs aren’t your thing, you can add Eli’s BBQ sauce (there’s a squeeze bottle at every table). The star of the show, for me, is without a doubt the all-beef hotdogs ($5) topped with pulled pork crispins (crispy bits of pulled pork), coleslaw and Eli’s BBQ sauce all served on grilled hotdog buns. They are nicely textured with a good crunch from the coleslaw and crispins, a smokiness from the hotdogs and a savory taste from the sauce. 

Now, vegetarians reading this might be wondering, “What about me?” Well, all of the sides are vegetarian friendly and I swear on a pulled pork sandwich I have bore witness to a vegetarian companion of mine repeatedly apply Eli’s BBQ sauce to a knife and proceed to lick it off. It’s that good. Whether or not she’ll be turned away from the dark side and into a world where things like hot dogs with pulled pork and BBQ sauce exist, remains to be seen. But the sides alone, according to my meat-deprived friend, were worth the trip.

The food is the focal point at Eli’s and the folks working under Leisring know this. But the service is friendly and every time you dine there they’ll make a point to ensure everything is done up just right. Enough praise cannot be heaped on the people at Eli’s BBQ who are doing barbecue the way they think it should be done, stepping away from the constraints of contemporary North and South Carolina sauces by pulling from all of the major regions. For lunch or dinner, Eli’s is the perfect casual hangout for carnivores. And what’s more is Eli’s caters. With a $40 minimum, you and yours can have some of Cincinnati’s best BBQ brought to your business meeting, graduation or party. Simply buying $40 worth of sandwiches and sides for myself is yet to be ruled out. 


GO: 3313 Riverside Dr., East End
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday
$5-$8, cash or check only
small step at entrance



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