Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Barbecue and I have history. I’m not a Cincinnati native--I hail from Jackson,TN, and spent the pre Cincinnati years of my youth in Dallas, Texas, and Memphis, TN. Family visits are not complete without a visit to the local Pig N’ Whistle, and my grandparents have very emphatic opinions about dry rub vs. wet style slabs of ribs.

Maybe it’s for that reason I’ve never been enthusiastic about Cincinnati style chili. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, it’s just not in my DNA like barbecue. You can keep your cheese coney, but do not come between me and my pulled pork sandwich.

Because of this, I knew it wasn’t a case of if we’d be headed up to SmoQ, but when. I first read about the newest addition to Cincinnati’s barbecue restaurant scene at the end of January on Polly’s blog. I bookmarked it for David and told him I’d like to go soon. In the last few weeks, we’ve heard nothing but great things about the restaurant (Julie called it a “trifecta of awesomeness”) and I knew we couldn’t delay any further.

No more waiting. We had to go to SmoQ, I told David. I wanted barbecue, and I wanted it RFN*.

We finally made it on Saturday for lunch with David’s dad, Derek. Knowing that we’d probably leave stuffed, we skipped appetizers and went straight for the entrees. Derek opted for a lighter lunch, ordering the smoQ-house salad, substituting brisket for the pulled pork. ($7.49) The brisket was excellent, smoked and flavorful, sliced against the grain to ensure tenderness.

David and I tried to coordinate our sides and dishes to try the maximum amount of food at SmoQ, but there is still plenty on the menu that we’re interested in, especially the chicken.

I chose the half and half ribs combo, featuring a generous half slab of baby back ribs and St. Louis Ribs ($21.99). For my sides, I picked the sweet potato brulee and baked beans.

St. Louis Style Rib

Sweet potato brulee

baked beans

David ordered the Uncle Jerry’s shrimp and cheddar grits ($16.99) with macaroni and cheese. Our server recommended the collard greens, so he also got those.

Grits with shrimp, andouille, onion, tomato, bell pepper and garlic in a jalapeƱo cream sauce

The baby backs had a nice pull to them and a delicious, sticky glaze, though I was partial to the tender St. Louis style ribs and their dry rub. I happily dug into my sweet potato brulee, which was more of a dessert than a side, and my baked beans, which were tangier than I expected and also had a little bit of pulled pork in them. We tried a little cup of the pulled pork as well (also delicious), and I’ll probably get ribs and pulled pork next time.

David liked the collard greens, as well as the macaroni and cheese, though I ended up swiping his and finishing most of it off. I’m a sucker for the crunchy topping and casserole style mac. I don’t think David minded, he was too busy oohing and ahing over his shrimp and grits. Presented beautifully, the stone ground cheddar grits were creamy and delicious. David talked about them all the way home.

Are we going to be back to SmoQ? Heck yes, we will. And soon!

Our server must have been psychic, because she brought out diet pepsi in a carafe for quick refills. Derek goes through diet soda faster than anyone I've ever seen.

*Right freaking now.

smoQ on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 14, 2011

For someone special:

David has long since learned that I have a very strong sense of whimsy. It’s not a bad thing, but it does take some getting used to. It’s responsible for many things in our lives, from our fantastic whirlwind of a wedding to the picnic table that resides in our dining room.

Our relationship is nicely balanced between the fanciful and the logical. And though David may sometimes point out the flaws in my often elaborate and sudden plans, he also knows that I have an even stronger sense of determination to see my whimsical masterpieces to fruition. Which meant when I woke up on Sunday morning wanting to make chocolate covered strawberries with edible gold garnish for a Valentine’s day treat, he voiced no objections.

I braved the snarled traffic mess that is Rookwood commons and visited Sur Le Table to get my edible gold leaf, but I imagine you can also order it off the internet. It comes, as expected, with a hefty price tag, but a little goes a long way and it’s a fun and impressive way to fancypants up a dessert.

Happy Valentine's Day, David; I love you!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mt. Carmel Brewing:

David and I first discovered Mt. Carmel’s beer in our later years in college. It was the packaging that caught our eye at first. Sold in a 1/2 gallon brown glass growler, we were intrigued by its unique appearance and the fact it was a local brew. When we tried the beer itself, we were hooked. We sought it out in local groceries, enjoyed a lot of pints where we could find it on draft, and even had a “growler party” with fellow U.C. graduates after David endured a particularly brutal quarter of algebraic topology.

Mt. Carmel has since upgraded to 12 ounce six-packs, which allows for wider distribution. The original line up has expanded to include seasonal beers, and more places than ever are featuring Mt. Carmel on tap. We were eager to meet Kathleen and Mike to talk about Mt. Carmel’s beginnings, current state, and what was on the horizon for the brewery. Luckily, they graciously agreed to take a few hours out of a busy brewing day to show us around the brewery.

Jared monitors the boil at Mt. Carmel's Brewery

You could drive by Mt. Carmel brewing every day and not know it—unless maybe you had the windows down, and then the sweet smell of the brewing process would tell you what your eyes had missed. The large white house has been converted into a brewery and office space, and also contains the basement where Mike homebrewed Mt. Carmel’s first batches.

As we entered through what used to be the children’s playroom, Kathleen explained the area will later be converted to a small tasting room. While we were able to take an inside look at the brewery, eventually brewing area will be off-limits to the public, both for production and safety reasons.

How many people are working in production?

“Jared and Mike handle the brewing, Virgil is the packaging manager, and he has a part time assistant as well. The full time employees are putting 50-60 hours in a week, each! We’re in the process of looking to get them some help. We do have some office staff, and an office manager.”

Did you ever think that when you started it would get this big?

“We didn’t! When Mike was brewing in the basement, I remember both of us getting so excited when we got an order in for a whole case of growlers. It caught on so quickly. I would say we had to make the decision within 6 to 9 months to quit our current careers and to go with it, or to shut the distribution down. We would have had to shut it down altogether, we couldn’t maintain just a little bit. At that point we couldn’t stop; there were just so many people that loved the beer. We didn’t want to let them down. And really, the fan base is what fueled us to keep going. It was very motivating, and still is to this day. We get so much wonderful, positive feedback from people in Cincinnati, and even the local government.”

The seven-barrel system that all Mt. Carmel beer is brewed on is surprisingly small for the actual volume of beer that is being produced. The brewery itself is very efficient and compact, and Mike, known fondly as “MikeGyver”, engineered all the plumbing and wiring to make best use of space.

“We outgrew the basement within the first year. For zoning reasons, we actually had to attach the brewery onto the house.” Kathleen says with a laugh. Eventually, they plan to convert the brewing area to a 30 barrel hot house.

How has the switch from growlers to bottles impacted sales?

“It’s definitely increased sales. The growlers were eye catching, but the volume was an issue. We were seeing a lot of sales on weekends, and the feedback we were getting was that people loved our beer, but they couldn’t drink that volume in one sitting. It wasn’t an everyday purchase, it was a commitment. The growler was great, but it was making it very difficult for us to grow. When we switched to the 12 ounce bottle in January 2009, the beer really flew off the shelves.”

We really have enjoyed the collaboration barrel aged beers between Mt. Carmel and the Party Source—we have two Jones IPAs that are aging, and one Tripel Rot from last year—so we asked Kathleen about what’s next for the series. The next available brew is the Quaff Brother’s Figgy Pudding, which is going to be featured at this weekend’s Winter Beer Fest. Figgy Pudding is Mt. Carmel's Winter beer with fig juice added, aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels.

In addition to the Quaff brothers collaboration, Mt. Carmel also brews Dewey’s pizzas seasonal beers.

Nicholson’s was the first place that Mt. Carmel beer was tapped. Kathleen mentioned, showing us the article that followed shortly thereafter in the Post.

Mike, busy brewing up a batch of Amber with Jared's assistance

What’s next for Mt. Carmel?

“Mostly expansion. We’ll be launching in Cleveland and Columbus soon. That’s exciting, but we’re being careful; we don’t want to oversell the product and leave our core area depleted. We’re all about slow, manageable growth. We do have some investment here, another family, so we’re still family owned. We didn’t want just any investment group to partner with. We wanted someone who understood what we were doing here.”

Do you do anything with the spent grain from the brewing process?

“We do. There’s a farmer in Adams county, Hazelbaker Meats. He has a portion of his cows on our grain, and as we expand, he’ll get more. The cows go crazy for the grain. They literally run up to it when it’s dropped off. Eventually we will be selling the meat from his cows in our retail area as well, which is exciting.”

spent grain awaiting pickup

What’s the most popular seller?

“Amber is our #1 seller. The Amber used to be Copper, and before that, used to be called the Celebration. The Nut Brown is #2, and it is very, very close to the amber. The Blonde and the Stout will flip in sales depending on which season it is. Stout picks up during the winter. Though sales are higher in the winter months, we actually brew the Stout year round. We’ve heard people call it the summer stout. It’s light, dry, crisp, clean.”

Amber ale: Slightly sweet with a light fruity aroma from the malt, medium bodied, featuring a hoppy finish with a nice bite to it

The nut brown, a toasty brew with a slight aroma of raisins that reminded us of toasted sourdough

Mike started brewing the big, imperial beers in the basement, but Mount Carmel’s seasonal line up evolved into brewing more subtle session beers with complex flavors. With than in mind, we inquired about seeing some bigger beers from Mt. Carmel in the future.

Will we see any bigger beers from Mt. Carmel soon?

“Some of the stuff we will be coming out in 2011 will be on the extreme side. We’re still developing the concept, but that is in the cards for 2011, after our launch in Cleveland and Columbus.”

Mt. Carmel will be attending the Winter Beerfest this weekend, February 11th and 12th, and, in addition to bringing several of their delicious year round line up, will also be bringing the collaboration beer we spoke of earlier. Make sure to stop by their booth if you’re attending or grab a six pack at your local grocery and toast to Mt. Carmel’s continued success, and the revival of Cincinnati’s brewing history.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Of queso dip and social media:

I was resistant to twitter at first, like I imagine many other people were. After a few months of good natured badgering, I finally broke down and signed up for an account. Though I can see how it’s not for everyone, I’ve enjoyed interacting with my followers, readers and friends through it.

It also is a useful conduit to a lot of companies and corporations with questions and concerns. It seems that many organizations have realized the boost that social media can provide (when used properly) to their products. And which is why, on my quest for ultimate queso dip, I turned to twitter for some answers.

So where to start with a queso dip?

Agreed. Ro-tel. But not just regular Ro-tel. I wanted the elusive “hot” variety with habaneros. Despite my search of nearby groceries, that specific type was not to be found. I tweeted my laments, and reached out to ConAgra’s twitter account, where I was later contacted by the official Ro-tel account to assist in my search.

Congratulations ConAgra, your social media team is doing its job

In the end, though, a friend and fellow tweeter had my back, and located a few cans for me. And by few, I mean 10.

it's so beautiful

Apparently a favorite melting cheese of many Mexican restaurants (aqueria-tay ercado-may included) is Land O’ Lakes extra melt. I attempted to contact Land O’ Lakes via twitter.

what defines a "foodservice institution"?

….and the response was not favorable. Denied. Apparently you can buy a case of extra melt at Sam’s club—but it comes in a 30 pound box. Unwilling to try and eat 30 pounds of processed cheese in 270 days (the approximate shelf life of the cheese, according to Land O’ Lakes.) I had to find other options.

In the end, I came crawling back to the classic, Velveeta. Make fun all you want, but I myself respect Velveeta for its melting prowess.

Next ingredient? Meat. Bacon started out the top choice, but was soon overtaken by chorizo. But where to find chorizo? A quick response from Mayberry Grocery confirmed the chorizo was stocked there, only a few blocks away.

That’s the foundation for a solid, tasty dip—but I couldn’t resist adding some sriracha and a splash of modelo to the mix. And that’s the cheese dip that twitter built. Thanks everyone!