Founded in the'50s in a little town near Cincinnati, the Montgomery Inn is a Queen City institution. For the uninitiated, this family-owned mini-empire of Ohio River barbecue joints had a famous patriarch with Greek roots named Ted Gregory.
Proudly known as the Ribs King, Gregory's restaurants have routinely been the scene of celebrity sightings, including legions of pop stars, actors and athletes plus every single U.S. president from Gerald Ford through Barack Obama. It's even said that Bob Hope rarely threw a serious party without importing some of their ribs.
Last week, the company opened its fourth store and first non-Cincy area outpost in Dublin, hoping that the Porkopolis flavors could translate into Columbus. Considering it'd been a long time since I'd visited the Inn, I wondered how it would stand up next to our city's barbecue stalwarts.
Well, the Dublin Montgomery Inn certainly isn't behind the curve in terms of appearance. So don't think funky smokeshack (besides, the "Q" here isn't that smoky), but think something more country-clubby - with prices to match.
The handsome Dublin building is a sprawling 10,000 square feet and can accommodate 300 chompers. Inside, it's bright, modern, comfy, lined with windows and separated into several chambers - some named after famous golfers.
The restaurant is also stocked with pictures of politicians (with a Cincy-style Republican bent) and a sea of sporty stuff is exhibited all over walls and in glass cases. Much of that gaming memorabilia is Cincy-related, some of it pays tribute to Columbus, and a bit of it is on the ponderous side (a baseball signed by TV's Gilligan? A Warren Moon jersey?).
In this upscale setting (think of a casual Hyde Park), I observed servers in ties and dark outfits working hard to satisfy the overflow of customers during this Inn's wild opening weekend (when waits for tables reached two hours). For the most part, the staff's valiant efforts hit their marks.
So did the food. Though I didn't try many of the seafood options (like crab cakes or blackened halibut or Coho salmon) on the Inn's mammoth menu, I did eat a lot of rewarding meat.
Generalizing, I'd say this place has first-rate ingredients and is skilled at grilling animal proteins into a pleasingly seasoned, juicy and tender state. But you will pay for that, as most dinner entrees clock in above $20, and sandwiches are in the $10 range.
The expensive Ribs King Sampler Platter ($23) was a great icebreaker. On it were four pieces each of: Gulf Cantonese shrimp - butterflied, lightly battered, sweet and delicious; Greek meatballs - very nice, soft and pliant, herby and slightly barbecue-sauced; chicken wings with a Cajun-spicy barbecue sauce; and the place's famous ribs, which aren't smoky but are meaty, tender, have an attractive aromatic crust, and are slathered in the Inn's ubiquitous tangy-sweet tomato-based barbecue sauce.
Note: It might be a good idea to try some of this sauce - which I quite like - before ordering anything, as it gets applied or sided with most menu items.
An exception to this saucing rule is the recommended and nicely proportioned Greek Salad ($7). Crisp greens, garbanzo beans, good kalamata olives, chopped hard-boiled eggs, salty feta and more were carefully dressed in a lively, sweet-edged vinaigrette sprinkled with dried oregano.
Among the many "combination" dinners, the Chicken and Pork Chop ($?) was a real winner. A thyme-speckled quarter-bird had crispy skin and tender, clean-tasting meat, and the lean, super-thick and outrageously juicy grill-marked chop was outright fabulous.
Ditto for the spectacular if simple Grilled Wisconsin Duckling ($24). Though cooked through, it was juicy, tender, had an expertly seared and rendered fat cap and was as fine a piece of fowl as you're liable to find around town.
My only major disappointment was with the menu-described "generous portions" on "Big Ted's Platter" ($24!). My skimpy servings included two rib bones and enough beef brisket (smoky, lean, delicious bacon-looking strips) and pulled pork (soft, chopped and sauce-doused) to form one sandwich. The otherwise worthy meats were mounded on dryish, silver-dollar-pancake-like corn cakes somewhat enlivened by jalapenos and golden kernels.
Is the Montgomery Inn for you? If you like old-school, saucy "barbecue," a pampering atmosphere and have the cash for it, then yes.