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All Smoke, No Mirrors

When Rick Malir devised a plan to create a barbecue joint in Columbus, the number one song in the country was “Believe” by Cher. As unlikely as that seems in hindsight, creating a local staple out of Southern BBQ in the cold, gray Midwest might have seemed just as far-fetched. While the City BBQ founder [...]
Mitch Hooper

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When Rick Malir devised a plan to create a barbecue joint in Columbus, the number one song in the country was “Believe” by Cher.

As unlikely as that seems in hindsight, creating a local staple out of Southern BBQ in the cold, gray Midwest might have seemed just as far-fetched.

While the City BBQ founder was in his backyard, perfecting his pork and brisket recipes and whipping up baked beans from his home kitchen, murmurs from other restaurant owners rumbled that his place would only last six months; that no one outside of Columbus would care about the barbecue he was making. Fast forward to 36 City BBQs open in six different states, suffice it to say Malir has silenced his doubters since 1999.

But the road to success came with potholes. He had to empty his life savings to open the first store. His market research was based on a hunch. Hell, at one point Malir was kicked out of his Dublin neighborhood, the neighbors burned up over the smoke billowing from his garage.

Like all good things in life—and good barbeque—it didn’t come fast or easy. It took grit, determination, and a shit-ton of hickory logs to get to where he is at.

With Columbus in the midst of a BBQ infatuation, Stock & Barrel had the chance to sit down with the meat mastermind Rick Malir and pick his brain about City BBQ’s place in the Columbus food scene.

A lot of cities across the country have this iconic style when it comes to barbecue like Carolina, Memphis, Texas, etc. Where do you see Columbus falling into with these categories?

I’ve never thought about our impact on the barbecue scene here. We were just trying to make really good brisket. I think it’s more of a craft of what it is rather than going by regions … my market research [in Columbus] was “there’s gotta be at least 400 guys in the city who love barbecue like I do.” That was basically my market research. I didn’t go into this thinking it’s going to be “this” or “that” and I’m not going to focus on “this region” or “that region,” I said let’s focus on really great ’cue… City BBQ literally started in a garage with some competition cooks. I was cooking baked beans and corn pudding in my neighbors’ ovens for some early catering jobs … but when I think of Columbus when it comes to barbecue, again, I think it’s more of a craft. barbecue, again, I think it’s more of a craft.

It sounds like you guys are literally your own taste lab. Just making food that you would eat yourself.

Oh, absolutely. And I try everything. I try not to be a dictator about it, but … I gotta be able to like it. If I don’t like it, I’m just like, “OK… So what’s the deal here?” The food has got to have a “wow” factor. It has to rock my world. It has to be really good—not just good enough.

Could you walk us through your process of creating the perfect plate? (One meat entree, two sides, a drink, and a dessert)

Full-cut brisket. I gotta do baked beans because I’m from Kansas City. I’m gonna have to do three sides too, I’m going to do a meat and three on you. I gotta go baked beans, some type of cole slaw, and round it out with French fries or corn pudding. And if I’m crushing it that day, I’ll do peach cobbler. But we are experimenting with burnt ends so once we get those perfected, I’d probably switch out the full-cut brisket for that.

Gas or Wood?

There are places in North Carolina that will just throw [the meat] in an electric oven, and nah, we aren’t doing that. We burn whole hickory logs, that’s how we do it. Some smokers will have gas assist and we have that because we live in Ohio and it’s cold. We need to provide some of that heat because, boy, if you tried to apply all that heat from just the wood, man, I don’t even want to think about how much wood we would go through. We have that supplement, but we still stick to the true hickory logs. I’m a believer in wood-smoked barbecue without a doubt.

Sauce, dry rub, or naked?

My opinion of barbecue is like the sign we had in our original store, “If you gotta put sauce all over your meat, you have something to hide.” We don’t put sauce, other than maybe a slight glaze, because we believe barbecue is about the art of cooking the meat, not just dousing it in sauce. If you’re doing that, just throw it in the crockpot!

City BBQ has become a staple in Columbus and for a long time you guys were one of the few who were doing BBQ in the city. Now it seems like BBQ shops are opening up left and right. How do you think City BBQ has had an influence on the barbecue culture in Columbus?

The mission of our company is to serve and create happiness. Take care of guests. Do what you gotta do. One of the coolest things—that is just as an example of what our teams do—was in Indianapolis when a lady wrote to us last week that said, “You don’t know this, but four years ago I went to your City BBQ in Indy. My husband had left me, I had $5 in my pocket, and I went there just to get some side dishes to feed my kids. The staff recognized I probably wasn’t in the best straits back then, so they kept bringing me more food until I was fed.” That’s what we want our folks to do: treat them well and do the right thing. [Things like this] are as important to us with the social impact we’ve had and the charities that we support—that’s as important to us as affecting [the] barbecue scene in Columbus. It’s not to get publicity from it—it’s because it’s the right thing to do.

City BBQ is currently in the test lab working on perfecting a meat alternative for vegetarians. For now, vegetarians will just have to get a second helping of mac-n-cheese. In the meantime, check out their original location on Henderson Rd. or head over to their website at citybbq.com.

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Clintonville Brunch Crawl: We dare you to squeeze all 3 stops into 1 day

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Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch. 

Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.

BLunch  • 2973 N High St.

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Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.

Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.

The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.

Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.

A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.

Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer

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Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.

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Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.

The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.

From pie to salad, it’s all good.

They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.

I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.

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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.

Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.

Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock

Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.

babascolumbus.com

Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.

Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.

The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.

They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman

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Harvest Pizzeria sowing last seeds in German Village

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Eight years ago, Harvest Pizzeria cropped up in a small space in German Village. Today, the local pizza chain announced the closure of its flagship location.

Harvest Pizzeria German Village will open its doors for the final time on Saturday, April 27th.

“Despite the success of Harvest in German Village and our strong ties to the neighborhood, the owner of the property will not honor our renewal of the lease,” wrote founder Chris Crader in an email. “…the landlord’s demands for a new lease at a higher rate would not allow our little pizzeria to remain viable.

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Crader added that he is proud of the strides Harvest German Village has made over the years, and thankful for the community that’s supported it. He hopes they can return to the neighborhood when the right spot presents itself.

As far as the employees go, Crader wrote that with the success of the other locations, the German Village workers will be able to join a team at another restaurant.

“Harvest sincerely thanks all of its loyal supporters and we hope to see you at our other locations soon,” wrote Crader.

This news follows the announcement of the Grandview Harvest closing back in February. Read more here.

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Crawfish boils claw their way into Columbus Saturday

Mike Thomas

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What’s the deal with crawfish boils? Sure, they’re delicious, but as a true land-lubbing midwesterner, my knowledge of this particular culinary phenomenon is fairly lacking.

That said, I definitely can’t tell you why there are multiple crawfish boils going down this Saturday. Best not to overthink it—just enjoy the experience!

Pecan Penny’s |113 East Main Street
Saturday at 4 PM – 7 PM

Sponsored by Brewdog, downtown BBQ joint Pecan Penny’s is kicking off patio season with an all-you-can-eat Crawfish boil, complete with giveaways and a DJ.

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Rehab Tavern | 456 W Town St
2 PM – 6 PM

Rehab’s own 4/20 crawfish boil kicks off at 2:00. Your $15.75 entrance fee will net you a pint of beer in addition to all-you-can-eat crawfish and fixins’!

Can’t make either of these, or want to try the boil experience before committing to a large-scale event? Check out Kai’s Crab Boil or Boiling Seafood Crawfish—both on Bethel Road —for first-rate seafood experiences you won’t soon forget.

Why are there two crawfish boils on the same day? Why are there two crawfish restaurants on the same road? We may never know, and honestly, who cares? Crawfish is the bomb! Just put on your bib and get crackin’!

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