It’s fed the city’s movers and shakers, nearly everyone who has played in the National League since 1951, former presidents, and Bob Hope. What is it?
In 1951, Ted Gregory bought the old McCabe Inn in then-rural Montgomery, Ohio. It’s star-studded future had over a century of history, however. Ted’s newly christened “Montgomery Inn” sat next door to the Sage Tavern, which once hosted Charles Dickens back when Montgomery Road was a stagecoach road. Chuck thought it was a good place for an inn. Little did he know.
After Gregory opened for business, the place soon became famous for its ribs, or more importantly, it’s sauce. Isn’t that what barbecue places are famous for?
The original Montgomery Inn expanded to take over the Sage Inn’s location as Montgomery went from farm village to bustling suburb. Infamous Reds owner Marge Schott sold Chevies just down the street from the Inn until shortly before her death. What used to sit along a lonely stretch of rural highway, the main drag between Cincinnati and Columbus before I-71 came into being, now finds itself mere blocks from the end of the Ronald Reagan Highway, easy to get to, and a bigger attraction than any downtown location (save the Boathouse, another Montgomery Inn location.)
The Inn is somewhat upscale, dark wood and valet parking during dinner hours. The walls are covered with autographed photos of almost everyone who’s been anyone who dined there. The restaurant’s biggest booster?
Even after his retirement, Hope did ads for the Montgomery Inn and had the ribs and sauce shipped regularly to his home in Palm Springs. So what makes this place so famous?
For starters, the sauce is about the best barbecue sauce I’ve ever had. Served on ribs that practically melt off the bone, it’s as close to heaven you can get unless you’re a vegetarian. (But then if you are, why would you go to a place founded by the self-proclaimed “Ribs King.”) The runner up on their menu has to be the chicken, which is spiced perfectly and equally tender.
The sauce is a family recipe from Gregory’s wife, Matula. Matula Gregory was Greek. So one might say the Greeks are responsible for much of Cincinnati’s diet, certainly for what puts the city on the culinary map. The Gregory women are the keeper’s of the secret recipe.
A favorite side is the Inn’s Saratoga chips, thick potato chips made at the restaurants and served warm. The chips are so unusual that Gregory began selling them in stores in the late eighties. My first side of Saratoga chips was not at Montgomery Inn, but at the Little River Cafe along the Little Miami Trail.
They also serve several seafood offerings, my favorite of which is the Atlantic salmon.
One feature I only recently discovered is the Inn’s special in-house brew, Ted’s Pail Ale. It compares favorably to Germany’s Warsteiner, but that’s no surprise. Cincinnati is a German city that spawned Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch. (Incidentally, Koch bought out the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery, which now makes 35% of Samuel Adams. Hmm… Another MTM post?)
So you’re downtown and don’t want to venture out to the suburbs? No problem. The Gregory family opened a second location in 1989 near Sawyer Point and downtown called The Boathouse. I’ve eaten both at the original Inn and the Boathouse. The food is the same, but the experience is different for each place. The Boathouse is a unique location on Cincinnati’s Riverside Drive (formerly part of Eastern Avenue.) It sits in walking distance of Great American Ballpark and in the shadow of Adams Landing (where Ted Gregory lived until just before his death in 2001.) The view of the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky skyline is terrific.
There’s also another location in Northern Kentucky in Ft. Wright near the Drawbridge Inn. I’ve eaten there once, but under the previous owner. The store was once Burbank’s, another Cincinnati barbecue institution. Rather fitting. (And yet another MTM post?)
The Montgomery Inn is now venturing outside the Cincinnati area. After decades of catering events nationwide, selling its sauce to grocery stores all over America, and even shipping its food to hungry fans across the continent, Montgomery Inn will be opening its first location in another city, the Columbus suburb of Dublin.
But no matter what, Montgomery Inn will remain a Cincinnati institution as long as the original Inn thrives.
[More My Town Monday posts with Travis.]