The third weekend of October seems to usually be the best weekend for fall color in Ohio. Saturday, my wife and I decided to drive to south-central Ohio to see some color, as the Cincinnati area is kind of dull this year due to drought. We got in the convertible and drove east to Wilmington, Ohio, then continue east from there, staying on country roads and avoiding divided highways.
After about an hour and a half, we ended up in the Chillicothe area. Chillicothe isn’t a big town and it’s not on an interstate highway. It does carry the disctinction of being the first state capitol of Ohio. As we got near town, we saw signs for the Adena House, and, having no set plans, followed the signs to see what the Adena House is. It turns out it was the home/estate of Thomas Worthington, called the father of Ohio’s statehood and the sixth governor of Ohio.
It was a gorgeous day, starting off in the low 50′s and getting up to about 73 during the day. The sky had nice, fluffy clouds in the morning, clearing to brilliant blue later. The grounds at Adena included the mansion, which we toured, along with a barn with a covered wagon in it, a tenant farmer’s home and the spring house for the grounds. The home had extensive gardens, and I’d like to go back when things are in bloom, as it looks like the gardens are pretty well kept.
It was one of those days where it’s just comfortable to be outside. We spent about 2 1/2 hours at Adena, then found an ad for a barbecue restaurant in town and decided to go in and see how it was.
I’ve reviewed a few barbecue joints on here before, and I don’t approach a restaurant’s barbecue as I would competition barbecue. I do have some expectations, though. The least of these is that the staff should be good. I can forgive some lack of barbecue know-how if the staff treats me well, especially in Ohio.
The restaurant, Old Canal Smokehouse, opened in 2004, and has a really fantastic spot. It’s right on the edge of downtown, and the place is really nice looking, with a large patio area, handsome bar, and a clean brick exterior. From the look of the place, we were really looking forward to our dinner.
Our waitress seated us on the patio, as it was just too nice to go inside. We looked over the menu, which actually had what they called Armadillo Eggs (they weren’t… they were ABT’s, which are stuffed peppers). They also had smoked prime rib and smoked ribeye steaks on the menu, along with non-smoked items for those not wanting barbecue.
My wife ordered a smoked ribeye, to be cooked medium, along with a tossed salad and steak fries. I ordered a combo of pulled pork and brisket, with corn pudding and cole slaw as sides, and half a slab of St. Louis ribs to see how they were, too. I also ordered a beer, and I was glad to find they had Shiner Bock on tap, which, to me, is the best barbecue beer there is.
The waitress asked if we would like the cornbread that came with the meals prior to her bringing our order out, and we were good with that. After bringing out the salad and my beer, however, I had to ask if she was going to bring out the cornbread. The waitress turned back toward our table, and told me in no uncertain terms that she was to bring that out with our meals, but that she could go ahead and bring some out ahead of time, completely forgetting that she was the one that brought this up in the first place. Unfortunately, it was just plain old cornbread, probably from a mix, and pretty dry.
Ok. But on with the meal. The steak came out with good grill marks on it, fries on the side and raw rings of onion on top as garnish. My combo also had onions on it, as did my half slab of ribs. My side of corn pudding looked more like something else, not the expected corn pudding with cornbread and extras. Sauces were brought out, too; a sweet sauce was the main sauce, along with the same sauce with added spice.
So far, everything is good. There’s a good smoke smell in the air, and I was looking forward to digging in.
Let’s start with my meal:
The pork had decent flavor, but was overcooked and a dry. It was also overpulled, which leaves strings of pork instead of chunks, which ends up being a bit fibrous. The brisket was very overcooked, but it wasn’t dry. The fat cap was also left on, leaving a quarter inch or so of fat on each slice. It just fell apart as I tried eating it, and, as a result of being overcooked, pretty much tasted like roast beef.
The cole slaw wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t to my taste; it had pickle in it, which I don’t happen to like, but there was nothing really wrong with it. The corn pudding, however, was horrendous. I don’t understand why a restaurant would serve it. It was like congealed creamed corn.
The ribs had some flavor, but they were overcooked and fell off the bone. They were also dry and needed sauce badly. The ribs also still had the membrane on the back, which is not a good thing in my book. Take the time to take the membrane off! It’s easy, and makes the ribs much better, as customers don’t have to remove that papery stuff on their own. I tried cutting the ribs apart, but they were so overcooked that I couldn’t; the bones just fell out on their own.
Now the fun part of the meal… My wife’s dinner.
She cut into the steak, and gave me a bite. It actually was pretty decent, with maybe a bit too much smoke, but not bad. However, it was very undercooked for her. It was a bit less than rare. To her, it was just not edible, so we sent it back. I never send anything back on a whim; I only do it if I feel it should be done. What I expected was that the kitchen would fix her a new steak and make sure it was cooked to medium the second time.
The waitress looked at us like we were idiots, and said that she hadn’t cooked the steak, but she would take it back to the kitchen. Of course she didn’t cook it! I guess she was thinking we should take it back to the kitchen ourselves. A few minutes later, she came back, sat on the arm of one of the other chairs at our table, and told us that it was the owner that was doing the cooking, and she had felt embarrassed to take the steak back. Like I cared. First, don’t sit on the arm of a chair that customers are going to use later. Second, take care of your customers, not your cooks.
Fifteen minutes later, the steak came back out. And I mean the same steak. The owner just threw the steak back on the grill and sent it back out.
Fine, at least it’s the right steak. However, we notice a cut along the top of the steak, where he cut into it to test doneness. I don’t know where he learned how to cook for a restaurant, but you don’t cut into a steak that you’re going to send out to a customer to see if it’s done; instead, know how to cook a steak.
Not only was it now NOT underdone, it was well done, not medium well, not medium, and my wife couldn’t cut it easily with the knife she had been given. At this point, we asked the waitress to just remove it from the bill. My wife said it wasn’t medium, and the waitress told her it was medium well, in a tone that meant that it was fine. When my wife said that it wasn’t medium, the waitress said, “Sweetheart, I know it’s not; that’s what I was saying.” Not a good choice of reaction on her part. Not only did she correct a customer that wasn’t wrong in the first place, she followed by calling her ‘sweetheart’, and using a tone that was out of bounds and patronizing.
My wife went to the car instead of letting the waitress know her opinion of the reaction and meal in general. The bill was adjusted, and I finally got out of there.
So the question of whether there is barbecue in Chillicothe, Ohio, or not is answered for me. And the answer is a resounding no, at least if this is the only barbecue around. This was by far the worst experience I’d ever had at a barbecue restaurant anywhere. It’s a real pity, too. The restaurant itself is a great place, but the owner obviously knows little about running a restaurant kitchen, and the staff doesn’t know how to treat customers. I know Chillicothe isn’t a big metroplis, but even locals do go to Columbus and other cities, and they know how a restaurant should be run. I’d be interested to see if the restaurant is still going the next time I’m there, maybe next spring.
At least I had a good beer.