Famous for their ribs, Montgomery Inn is a Cincinnati institution, but I have no idea why. Scrolling through chowhound, urban spoon, practically every food site, I kept seeing comments about ribs boiled to oblivion. I have no problem with ribs that are not cooked in a smoker, but there’s just something evil about boiling ribs. Needless to say, I had stricken Montgomery Inn from my list of potential spots. However when asking for Cincinnati recommendations on twitter, Montgomery Inn kept popping up, especially from JoshGrillsItAll. So when driving from Cleveland to Nashville, I drove through Cincinnati just around lunch time. Boiled or not, I decided to see try the Montgomery Inn ribs for myself.
After finding parking on the street, I couldn’t help but notice the sign on the front of the Montgomery Inn.
Once I got a little closer, I noticed it was the founder of the Montgomery Inn, Ted Gregory and there was the title “Rib King” underneath the picture. According to the restaurant’s website, this was a title bestowed upon him by a local critic.
Royalty or not, there was something disconcerting about standing outside the Montgomery Inn. I couldn’t see a smokestack or smell smoke anywhere. Inside it was just as odd. Everything looked clean, shiny, and new, not at all like your classic rib joint. Actually that’s not entirely true, both Rendezvous and the Original Corky’s are just as clean and well kept and they turn out some ridiculously good bbq, but you can’t miss the smoke outside their restaurants.
The menu at the Montgomery Inn is pretty expansive ranging from the oddity of Cantonese Shrimp to salads and seafood, but I was here for one reason, the ribs. I wasted no time in ordering a full slab of the “Barbecued Choice Pork Loin Back Ribs” with famous Montgomery Inn Barbecue sauce and a side of the Saratoga Chips.
It certainly is a full plate of food, but right away I could tell there was something wrong with this ribs.
Not only were these ribs overcooked to the point of literally falling off the bone, there was no smoke flavor or any real flavor to the meat.
Conspicuously absent was any sign of a smoke ring. I know that a smoke ring can be faked but it’s still a useful indicator of quality bbq. Instead there’s plenty of that pale grey look that you usually get from boiling pork.
I know that some people rave about the quality of the bbq sauce at the Montgomery Inn.
Let’s just say I was less the impressed. This sauce dominated everything on the plate. If there was any flavor to the ribs it was overrun by this syrup sweet and obscenely thick sauce. Sure, there were the distinct flavors of ketchup, brown sugar, black pepper and maybe a little cayenne in the sauce. Those are all viable bbq sauce ingredients, but this was just a noxious combination.
I can’t forget the Saratoga chips.
They’re a lot like kettle cooked chips and nicely salted, but they’re pretty mundane otherwise. I tried dipping a few in the bbq sauce and I just couldn’t take it.
When I ordered the ribs, I had asked what sort of wood was used. At first I was stonewalled by the waitress but eventually she said the ribs are cooked off site and then finished in an oven. I know some bbq places are especially protective about their rub recipe but I’ve never had anyone be so tight lipped about wood. After trying everything, I knew why she couldn’t tell me the wood type; there isn’t any smoke involved in these ribs. These ribs really did taste like they had been boiled and then baked.
I know that some people say that the Montgomery Inn never claimed their ribs are barbecued, but that’s how they are labeled on the menu. I had tried to go in with an open mind. I tried to tell myself that these ribs would be different. These ribs weren’t just different, they were bad. I barely ate a third of the rack, there were simply no redeeming qualities. I realize that the ribs at the Montgomery Inn are a Cincinnati institution, but like Ohio’s other favorite, Skyline Chili, I think once is enough for me.