By Nicole Simon
If you were to tell Kenny Tessel, the outspoken owner and main cook of KT’s Barbecue, that “food is food and barbecue is barbecue,” he would serve up some of his restaurant’s fare with a dash of his personality in order to prove you wrong. And that is what you can expect from Tessel’s eatery in Reading—character driven charm and very, very good food, made just for you and your next (Passover) event.
Kenny Tessel, a native born Cincinnatian, has been serving and standing by his high quality, off-the-grill foods out of his Reading location for the past seven years. After having spent time in California as a scriptwriter, actor and personal cook to the stars, the Ohio University graduate returned home to follow in his family’s footsteps as a restaurateur. Cooking was a constant in Tessel’s family, as they owned Stanley’s Deli of Golf Manor. Kessel continues the tradition of giving the community the highest standard quality foods.
“I’ve always been the cook in my group of friends,” noted Tessel. From his time at Walnut Hills High School through being out on the West Coast, he experimented with what his friends liked food-wise. He has spent years working on such items as ribs, chicken and brisket. He has also perfected a number of recipes, some of which came from his family.
Tessel is very interested in expanding his customers’ palate. Looking around at his Reading area fast-food competition, he wanted to remind the community “here you get quality food, it’s a good price for something that’s homemade.” The cole slaw, the potato salad, the brisket, it’s all made from items that can be bought at grocery stores and made at home and can make for a Passover dinner.
“We’re very different from any other barbecue place in town.” According to Tessel, you can’t boil and steam ribs, bake them and call it barbecue. “Slow, smoked, over wood ” and using a combination of white oak, sugar maple and cherry wood will give the food a lighter smoke. And he also doesn’t oversmoke the barbecue with hickory, which he claims would give unsuspecting eaters indigestion.
The aroma of good stuff grilling will entice your nostrils and get you in the door. Once inside the cozy little restaurant, I found familiar faces on the establishment’s walls. Signed photos of actors and directors praise Tessel and his food—both from the present time, and from the time when Tessel was the personal chef to celebrities such as Rosanne Barr and Dean Martin’s family.
In more recent times, the core of KT’s Barbecue’s business has been based around catering and pre-orders. Tessel is willing to do the cooking for you and reported that he does Shabbat dinners, Passover brisket dinners and so on, as long as they are ordered a few days in advance, as Tessel does not mass-produce food—he makes his orders special. “I’m here to make sure your brisket dinner is the best brisket dinner you’ve ever had in your life,” Tessel said.
KT’s has a Passover meal package; roast brisket dinners, a generous 1/3 pound portion of the brisket, plus carrots, potatoes, onions and gravy, all for $12.99 per person. You could also order his homemade chopped liver, which is made with real shmaltz. He will also do outside recipes—Tessel reports if you come in with a recipe wishing for him to make, you would have to pay for the cost of ingredients and the cost of making up the recipe, but he’ll do it. As long as the order is made in advance, as walk-ins lead to unpredictable availability.
In terms of catering, Tessel has done office parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings and more. Anything on the menu—smoked barbecue, homemade sides, soups and desserts—is available, as are off the menu items. “We’ll work with you; if you want us to serve it or if you prefer to pick it up. We’ll make your recipes if you wish. I can prepare for two or 2,000,” he added.
For more health conscious eaters, KT’s offers healthy-style barbecue choices—the meat is already high quality and sauce is on the side. In addition, KT’s also is vegetarian friendly. KT’s has a black-eyed pea salad, the baked beans are vegetarian and most of the soups are made with a vegetable stock.
Tessel said he loves to cook, and it comes out in the finished product. The dry rub, and the smoky flavor of the barbecue chicken is enticing. The brisket smelled of Passovers passed.
The baked beans, the potato salad with its chunks of red potatoes in a creamy mixture and the combination of the various cheeses in the mac and cheese made for wonderful sides. For dessert, there’s the hot corn bread, which apparently can go like hot cakes. There are also apple crisps and a flourless chocolate cake option, but they need to be ordered in advance.
Remember, if you want to have KT’s provide your Passover brisket dinner or chopped liver, let Tessel know early so he can make it up for you. Tessel requests orders be made at least two days in advance of pickup.
KT’s Barbecue is open on Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. He is closed on Sunday except for pre-orders or catering.
8501 Reading Road
Cincinnati, OH 45215