Dayton City Paper’s Guide to BBQ in the Miami Valley
By Avery King, Brandy King and Brian P. Sharp
Is there anything more American than BBQ? Among our more notable culinary contributions, BBQ brings us together in a way few foods do. While debates rage on among various BBQ camps (North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas all make claims to “true” BBQ styles), it seems likely we can all agree that very little makes a meal something special quite like a BBQ. However you like it, here is what DCP dining critics had to say about some of our region’s most notable practitioners of BBQ.
Benjamin’s the Burger Master
1000 N. Main St.
Benjamin’s the Burger Master, located just a handful of blocks from downtown, is best known for its burgers, but it is no slouch in the BBQ department, either. On a typical lunch hour, the place is bustling. Step up to the counter and order from a menu of BBQ beef, multiple varieties of burgers, fried chicken and, of course, BBQ ribs. The old school restaurant feels part cafeteria/part fast casual, where workers scoop generous portions of side dishes on your plate as you stand in line. The ribs, sold a bone at a time, are thick and meaty. The rib dinner ($6.79) includes two bones, two sides and a roll. (Buy additional ribs for $1.99 each.) Ribs come with three sauce styles: sweet, smoky and spicy. The smoky sauce is hands-down this writer’s favorite. Mop up the extra sauce with a side of fried okra and your dinner roll. Benjamin’s the Burger Master isn’t online, but you can call for hours and lunch specials.
5 E. Franklin St., Centerville
2330 B North Fairfield Road, Beavercreek
City Barbeque is a fast casual, regional BBQ chain with two locations in the Dayton area – Centerville and Beavercreek – and 24 locations in the tri-state area. The chain specializes in ribs, brisket, chicken and pulled pork. A frequent City Barbeque customer, I generally order the pulled pork sandwich, North Carolina style – topped with a vinegar BBQ sauce and mounds of slaw ($6.79). I appreciate the variety of sauces, including several tomato-based ones, a mustard sauce and a spicy vinegar sauce. On a recent visit, I opted for a rib sandwich, which featured a half-pound of pulled ribs on a buttered bun, topped with slaw. All sandwiches can be ordered as platters with two additional sides ($2.99 extra), although I opted only for the baked beans and brisket. The sandwich was pre-sauced, but I added mustard sauce to accentuate the meat’s char. The baked beanas were the star of the meal – smoky and rich with a thick molasses flavor, mild acidity from the tomatoes and generous chunks of brisket. City Barbeque offers takeout service and catering for large groups.
Company 7 BBQ
1001 S Main St., Englewood
Company 7 is the Disneyland of Meat. This is one of our top spots for BBQ not just in Dayton, but all of Ohio. All of the meats are slow smoked including their house made sausages and addicting chicken wings, which are flash-fried and served without sauce. The sauces are all available tableside and you can get creative. Everything has a beautiful bark and smoke rings, and is fall-apart tender. Some of the sides could use a little work, but you definitely will not be disappointed with the baked beans, Saratoga chips and sweet potato casserole. The inside vibe is that of a 1920s-era firehouse, with lots of wood and brass, plenty of firefighter regalia, an arcade room and full bar, which also showcases some craft and local brews. Company 7 has great lunch specials, a drive-thru, seasonal offerings, a banquet room and locally-made frozen custards for dessert.
Dark Horse Tavern
209 Byers Road, Miamisburg
Dark Horse Tavern bills itself as a purveyor of southwest BBQ. The family-friendly restaurant has a spacious dining area and full bar clad in wood and iron, giving it a nouvelle Western rustic feel. On a recent visit with my children in tow, we found the service to be exceptionally attentive. Our meal started with orders of pretzel sticks ($6.49) and a basket of fried pickles ($4.99). The pretzel sticks are reason enough to visit Dark Horse. They were piping hot, with a crisp outer crust, lightly salted with a warm, chewy middle. The fried pickles were also favorites at our table. Be prepared to share – the serving size is very large. The menu features ample dinner choices including burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads. The pit-smoked entrées are smoked all day and served until gone. I had the pulled pork ($11), which was tender with a faint smoke flavor. Platters come with two sides. I had slaw – which was crisp and tangy – and red beans and rice, which featured house-made sausage. The kids’ meals offer huge portions and several choices for $4.50 each.
1082 Brown St., Dayton
Brown Street, just outside downtown Dayton, is home to a number of great restaurants. Certainly The Pine Club is the most famous of all, but just north of the University of Dayton (UD) sits another great Dayton tradition – Joe Kiss Hickory Bar-B-Q. While it sounds like a full service BBQ restaurant, it is really a tradition in casual dining that has long been a mainstay in Dayton. You may need to be prepared for a wait around the bar. If UD has an event going on – or not – you may find yourself putting your name in and waiting up to an hour for a table at this restaurant. Make no mistake, it’s worth the wait. While this is about BBQ, there are certainly options here. The BBQ chicken is a popular menu item and can be served dry or wet with the tangy sauce the Hickory is known for. Additionally, the ribs are always a great option for those who are willing to get a bit messy. The rest of the menu includes steaks, chops and even cabbage rolls. These entrées are served with a salad – hopefully you will choose the house sweet and sour garlic dressing and even opt for the blue cheese crumbles in addition – a vegetable option is also included. While you are waiting for your salad, the breadbasket arrives and, as is tradition, includes a salty pumpernickel, white bread and even mini bagels served with real butter. You just have to love a restaurant that has career servers taking care of you. You really can’t miss this Dayton tradition.
Hickory River SMokehouse
135 S. Garber Drive, Tipp City
Take a short drive north on I-75 and you will find Hickory River BBQ – a real Texas BBQ just off the highway in Tipp City. This no-nonsense restaurant brings a casual fast food type of atmosphere to the BBQ business. In a retired old Ponderosa restaurant there is a warm, friendly group of folks that will welcome you in to enjoy a full BBQ dinner. These dinner options are similar to Smokin’ Bar-B-Que in downtown Dayton: smoked turkey, pulled pork, pulled beef brisket and sliced brisket. In addition to these options, there is BBQ chicken and half and full slabs of ribs. These options are served individually or in a multi-entrée platter version. Dinners are served with two sides – or a salad can be substituted – and a slice of cornbread. As you order, you are asked if you would like a mild, medium or hot sauce. I chose a mixture. We had pulled pork, pulled beef brisket, smoked turkey and sliced beef brisket. There is even a side option of breaded and fried okra – for the southerners among us – and a few cobbler options for dessert. Certainly, this restaurant adds a bit more charm to the BBQ businesses around town. The staff is friendly, the meat options are smoked perfectly and the sauces are full of flavor. The fact you can choose the sauce is also a nice alternative. Hickory River is well worth the 15-minute drive for this reasonable dinner option.
KD’s Kettering BBQ
3911 Marshall Road, Kettering
I made an incorrect assumption that if this place was any good, I’d have heard about it by now. Now, the rest of you don’t have that excuse. We had chicken, ribs and eye of round – their nod to brisket – all mopped in their sweet, tangy sauce in the last stages of cooking. The meats were all tender and well-seasoned with a few spots of nice, crispy bark. A few of the sides were stars in their own right, namely the roasted potato wedges. Prices may be a little higher than what you’re used to for a BBQ joint, but they certainly don’t skimp on portions. You can enjoy your ‘cue in their tucked away dining room – don’t worry, they provide wet naps – or pick it up at the counter and get saucy at home.
200 E. Fifth St.
In the heart of downtown Dayton, at Fifth Street and Patterson Boulevard just outside the Oregon District is Smokin’ Bar-B-Que. This is not just a simple rib and chicken joint, but rather a BBQ restaurant full of smoked and BBQ’d options. The inside of this old White Tower restaurant hasn’t changed much over the years – at least not from the customer side of things. There is still counter service and a counter at the window. Total seating is probably about a dozen. The kitchen area has changed a lot to include smokers, big ovens and a big gas cooktop. To say the menu is plentiful is an understatement. There is everything from a smoked burger to smoked bologna to smoked turkey to meatloaf to pulled pork to pulled brisket to sliced brisket to BBQ ribs. It is difficult to make a choice from the menu. Luckily you can choose multiple meat options on a dinner plate. We chose a smoked burger, smoked bologna, pulled pork, smoked turkey and both pulled and sliced beef brisket. These dinners come with a side, with options including house-made potato chips. A sweet corn muffin is also an option and drink options include sweet tea. While the burger seemed a bit on the dry side (which could be a result of the smoking process), the smoked turkey was tremendous – moist and full of flavor. The pulled pork and brisket were well prepared and served with a sweet and tangy or spicy sauce on the side. The smoked bologna was a huge slice of bologna smoked perfectly and served with a side of tangy yellow mustard. The sliced beef brisket was as good as Grandma’s! Smokin’ Bar-B-Que is a must for all of those BBQ connoisseurs. Don’t go for the ambiance, but definitely for the food. You can even order and take it home in family-size containers.
More thought was put into the name than the food. At least we liked the spicy sauce. Otherwise, there are not many good things to say about this place. Ribs could be their crown jewel, but we’ll never know because they always seem to be out of them. The lack of ribs was made even more pitiful by the fact ribs are the only menu item that is not a sandwich. The pulled chicken and pork were a bit too chewy and tasted more like Liquid Smoke than actual smoke. The sliced turkey and brisket didn’t really measure up either, which could probably be attributed to soaking in an unidentifiable liquid until they’re served from the ordering counter, a la Chipotle. Sides were forgettable and the Yellabelly mustard sauce tasted not far from French’s. That wouldn’t be so bad if you could sauce your own meat, but they insist on doing it for you behind the counter.
Old Hickory Bar-B-Q
241 Woodman Drive, Kettering
Old Hickory B-B-Q was once part of a family-owned chain of restaurants that dotted Dayton, the first of which opened in 1952. Only the Woodman location survives as part of the family legacy. The only other original branch, located on Brown Street, is under new ownership and has been rebranded as Joe Kiss Hickory Bar-B-Q. Old Hickory is a no-nonsense BBQ shop, with a minimalist dining room and a large following. Ribs, roasted chicken and pork chops make up the majority of the menu, although there are also a few sandwich options. I opted for the rib and chicken combo ($13.50), which comes with a pound of ribs and two chicken pieces (upgrade to a breast and thigh for $.50 more). The meats are doused in a tart and tangy Kansas City-style sauce, which accentuates the ribs’ dry rub. The chicken was juicy and the ribs were nearly fall-off-the-bone tender. The meal comes with two sides and a dinner roll. I chose applesauce and steak fries. The sides weren’t earth-shattering, but complemented the meal nicely. Order ahead for takeout or for grill-ready ribs you can cook at home.
Reach DCP food critic Avery King at AveryKing@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at BrianSharp@DaytonCityPaper.com.