WORTH THE DRIVE: Hidden gem BBQ stop has just what the summer ordered

Summer will be sizzling soon.

For me, there’s nothing better as the weather warms than an experience with food that defines the weather change — a solid outdoor grilling session or happening upon some tasty BBQ, for example.

There are certainly spots around the state to snag good BBQ, but the states and towns that are really known for it are a serious road trip away. I’ve had BBQ experiences in Tennessee, Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas that have helped shape and define what I think of as good Que.

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So it’s encouraging when you happen on a place around here that feels like it’s getting pretty close.

Combs BBQ Central has been around for five years, but I am just discovering its delightful brand of magic.

Located just outside downtown Middletown, we happened on it by accident one night attracted by its massive collection of neon signs glowing warmly in welcome and beckoning us in.

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The collection taken as a whole feels like the appetizer to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati. The Combs family who owns it also owns a sign shop in downtown Middletown, according to one of the servers we chatted up during our visits.

The business has a cool, nostalgic vibe with vintage and retro collectibles, instruments, art and signage adorning nearly every part of the walls.

The restaurant has seating for around 35 inside. A patio that sits adjacent to their large outdoor smoker is sure to see some action as the weather continues to warm.

A rack of ribs ($19 for a full rack, $22.50 with two sides) came sauced appropriately with tender, flavorful meat that fell off the bone without an argument. If ribs are your thing, you don’t need to go all the way to Cincinnati for Montgomery Inn ribs. For the price and ambiance, you can’t beat Combs. Be sure to ask for them dry or with a different sauce if you want to have more control over how they are served.

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Typical barbecue fare like smoked wings (6 for $7), beef brisket ($9.25 or $12.75 with two sides) and savory sides ($2 each) are all on the menu, but the one dish to make sure to try is the pulled pork sandwich.

Pulled pork sandwiches are not usually my thing, but this one definitely is ($7 or $10.50 with two sides). A mound of savory, flavorful pulled pork came ready to be sauced with Combs regular, smoky or Carolina BBQ sauce. It was dense, delicious, generous and something I would most certainly order again. The mac and cheese ($2) was also a crowd pleaser.

The green beans made with all of the pan drippings from the various meat and the jalapeño cornbread were also solid sides to order up.

If you love your barbecue with beer, they have a limited selection in cans and bottles including several Rhinegeist options. If you really love beer, consider stopping by the Central House of Brews Sports Bar next door which features 24 draft taps and more than 150 other options in bottles and cans. They allow you to bring in carryout from Combs, but if it’s your first time I wouldn’t skip the ambiance that the restaurant offers.

I love Eli's BBQ (www.elisbarbeque.com) in Cincinnati and am happy to know there's someplace closer with a whole lot of personality that can fill my barbecue needs when the time comes. The fact that it's well-priced with generous portions, good music and small-town heart is a definite bonus. I'm getting the meat sweats just thinking about it.…


What: Combs BBQ Central

Where: 2223 Central Ave., Middletown

More information: www.facebook.com/combsbbq or 513-849-2110


A bicycle shop with a bar, a stained-glass bar with beautiful architectural detail and a beer bar with dartboards as far as the eye can see … what do they all have in common?

They are bars that have been built and conceived outside of the box and they all reside in Middletown, Ohio.

Central House of Brews Sports Bar

2213 Central Ave., Middletown



This 4,400-square-foot business features 24 draft beers, more than 150 bottled and canned beers, a full bar, 30 TVs, seven electronic dart boards, two pool tables, two basketball games, video golf, video bowling, Keno and food available from Combs BBQ, located next door. The dart boards allow you to play with other players all over the world and a TV above provides live scoring both for the folks throwing the darts and for the rest of the bar. It seats 68 inside and 24 on the outdoor patio. The bar is relatively new, but they are planning on building a doorway between the bar and Combs BBQ so bar customers can grab food with greater ease.

The bar at Murphy’s Landing

6 S. Broad St., Middletown



This bar is stunning. Filled with bright, beautiful stained glass and large, rich wood architectural pieces that were sourced from a nearby church, this bar is very special. Owned by the gentleman who owns BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studio, arrive early so you can look at stained glass and then make a beeline to the bar for a cocktail. This bar has rich personality and a turn-of-the century glow that you can bask in. They have bar food if you are famished, but the real reason to plan a visit is to sip on a bourbon or a classic cocktail and soak up the room. And you can’t beat the prices.

Spoken Bicycles

1201 Central Ave., Middletown



This isn’t a huge bar — it has about 10 seats, but the fact that it’s in the middle of a bicycle shop in a downtown storefront makes it a place like you’ve probably never visited. If you love cycling or are interested and have questions, it’s more fun to explore and discuss over a beer. The concept is something that’s popular in larger cities and it’s nice to see a business that’s ahead of the trend in this region. The bar has four taps for draft beer and has a craft cocktail menu. It’s a simple, refreshing, intimate concept that satisfies.

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