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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cincinnati's top spot for barbecue -- Eli's

Summer is here and it is time for baseball pennant races to start heating up. If you've got tickets for the Cincinnati Reds, you can do one of two things -- head to Great America Ball Park for the game or to Eli's BBQ on the Queen City's East End for barbecue.

Walk into their old building a few hundred yards from the Ohio River at 3313 Riverside Drive and you'll encounter an eclectic environment that complements their food very well.

Walls covered by painted car siding feature pictures by local artist Brent Naughton. His images of music icons Elvis, Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson, Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker compete for attention with those of Jackie Robinson, Steve McQueen and Geronimo.

An old stereo against the wall plays whatever LP has been requested on the turntable. During my visit a few months back, the old Sansui tuner and Marshall amp were pumping out some Flock of Seagulls.

One of Eli's two smokers
Hundreds of LPs have been alphabetized and are available for customers to choose from and request.

Elias "Eli" Leisring's place has grown in stature and popularity around Cincinnati in just a few years.

Originally only found at Fountain Square and Findlay Market under a tent during the summer, Leisring opened Eli's BBQ at its present location in 2012. Plans for a second location in the Over The Rhine area fell through last year.

Today, Yelp members have ranked Eli's is the No. 1 barbecue restaurant in Cincinnati and its stand near Findlay Market's biergarten ranks second. Travel + Leisure in 2013 called it one of America's best new BBQ places.

The menu is quite simple. For $5 you can have your choice of a pulled pork sandwich, a smoked turkey sandwich, a rib sandwich or a couple of smoked Nathan's all-beef hot dogs toped with pulled pork "crispins," coleslaw and barbecue sauce.

Pulled pork with two sides
Add $3 or offer your Reds tickets and you can include your choice of two sides: cheese macaroni, baked beans, cheese jalapeno grits, mashed potatoes, creamy coleslaw or jalapeno corn bread. All the sides are vegetarian friendly.

The sign at the register says, "Cash, checks or Reds tickets."

The place is BYOB. Vintage 16 ounce bottles of soda, including Ale 8 and Orange Crush, are available to wash your food down.

My moist pulled pork sandwich featured a terrific combination of pulled inner meat and the outside bark. At Eli's they smoke the pork for about 20 hours, using hickory. The sandwich meat was tickled with a vinegar mop and then topped with coleslaw and sauce.

Elias "Eli" Leisring
Sauce was definitely optional on their ribs, which are dropped in hot oil and dusted with their dry rub before being served.

Eli's has a laid-back sensibility. As I was finishing my meal, someone put on the Searchers' "Needles and Pins" LP. I wanted to stick around and see what came next, but could tell that the dinner rush meant someone would need my table.

Where we visited:
Eli's BBQ
3313 Riverside Drive
Cincinnati, Ohio

Don't touch the turntable

Eli's BBQ on Urbanspoon

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