Hickory Bar-B-Q

Standing the test of time

Photo: Hickory has been using their rotisserie split since 1962

By Jurgen Dursler

The Hickory Bar-B-Q remains true to its original roots despite the ebb and flow of decades of new culinary trends.

Let’s play a game!  How many of these beloved Dayton restaurants of yore do you recognize?  The Parkmoor?  The Inn?  Kettering Village Inn?  Jed’s Steak and Ribs? Westward Ho (and the sketchy magic shop across the street that everyone knew was a front for something else)?  The Scotch & Steak?  Duke’s Golden Ox?  The King Cole?  Lums?  If you remember the majority of these restaurants, you get a score of “old.”  If you’ve actually dined at the majority of them, your score is “very old.”  Congratulations and thanks for playing!

I bring you down memory lane to introduce one of the few remaining survivors of the Dayton restaurant boom of the ’50s and ’60s, the Kiss family’s very own Hickory Bar-B-Q on Brown Street.

Joseph and Irene Kiss, as children, were Hungarian immigrants in the early ’30s during the height of the Depression.  As young adults, they met in 1946 when Joe took a job as a bartender at the Walnut Hills Bar (currently occupied by Tank’s), which was owned by Irene’s family.  Marrying in 1947, they spent the next 15 years raising a family and owning several businesses until 1962 when they went into business with Irene’s brother Steve and his wife Sylvia, forming The Old Hickory Bar-B-Q on Brown Street.  Working hard and finding success, in 1989 Joe and Irene bought out Steve and Sylvia and changed the name to Joe Kiss’ Hickory Bar-B-Q.

Currently, the restaurant is owned and operated by family members and continues to use Irene’s mother’s signature Hungarian Cabbage Roll recipe.

And now for something completely Dayton…

Ahh, but we food critics cannot dwell only on the good old days; we must talk about the here and now and the full dining experience, which we write for your reading pleasure.  The best way to describe this restaurant is “classic Dayton,” which means no frills, no glitz, and no glam.  The ambience is something straight out of a restaurant scene from “Goodfellas,” minus the gun wielding Joe Pesci—a darkish supper club atmosphere straight out of the ’60s with no windows.  New from my previous dining experiences here, I noticed a higher volume of college-aged students, which was great to see.  As for the menu, there is no white truffle oil, duck fat fries, or cave-aged Gruyère cheese.  No wilted kale and ramp salad, pureed carrots, or pommes dauphine in this kitchen.  To borrow a quote from the traveling chef on “City Slickers,” “The food is hot, brown, and plenty of it!”  What you will find is a straight-forward offering of meat and potatoes and fried seafood that has been produced the same way since its inception.  To further this point, I was gazing at a framed copy of the original menu from 1962 when a jolly fella, presumably someone in authority, proudly informed me that “The menu hasn’t changed much at all since day one.”  And aside from today’s inflated prices, he wasn’t kidding.  For dinner, my companion and I tried both the signature Whole Slab Pork Ribs ($21.95) and BBQ Chicken Dinner ($13.95).  The shotgun description of our entrees is basic, austerely prepared, sparsely seasoned meat with BBQ sauce.  No rub with a gazillion different spices, no flesh-injected marinade, just the safe preparation of ribs on a rotisserie spit slathered in their signature BBQ sauce.  My companion, who has dined here for 42 years, said the ribs had an out of character dryness for today’s meal.  The chicken, on the other hand, was tender and juicy.  What I appreciate most about their BBQ sauce is the absence of that sappy sweetness you see in so many BBQ places.  Their sauce is much more of the zesty and vinegary variety, which my chops are fond of.  Side dishes included their tasty signature long stringed hash browns and Dayton’s version of house salad, which means iceberg lettuce with an overly cloying sweet garlic and sugar vinaigrette.

During a separate visit for lunch, my companion ordered the Porterhouse steak off the dinner menu, and I asked our server to recommend her favorite menu item.  She quickly directed me to the Turkey Hot Shot ($6.75) and Cabbage Roll Appetizer ($5.50). The medium rare Porterhouse steak was tender, juicy, chargrilled delicious and on par with any steak I’ve eaten in any Dayton restaurant.  The true bonus here is that at $25.95 it was almost half the cost of the same quality cut and preparation you’d see at other local steakhouses.  The only thing that kept the Porterhouse meal from achieving true greatness was the uninspiring side dish of wilted canned mushrooms but even so, if you are craving a steak dinner, this is your place; just select a different side.  The turkey hot shot was adequate, especially for the price: bread, sliced turkey, instant potatoes, blandish gravy.  The clearly homemade and traditionally eastern European style cabbage roll was well prepared and did justice to the matriarch of the Kiss clan.

Is this the most “hip” joint on the Dayton restaurant scene?  Certainly not, and I’m OK with that.  This would be a great place to take the family, go on a weekday date night, or bring a casual getting-to-know-you first date.

So, if you want to get a slice of Dayton nostalgia I suggest you give them a try, especially if you are in the mood for a steak dinner.

Hickory Bar-B-Q is located at 1082 Brown St. in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.228.5252 or visit HickoryBarBQ.com.

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Contact DCP freelance Jurgen Durstler at JurgenDurstler@DaytonCityPaper.com

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