Hello Midwest Hounds!
Husband and I were out on business in Kansas City, MO a few weekends ago for a brief, 27-hour visit. That is not a lot of time, but we were productive on the business and BBQ fronts. After sifting through the numerous archived posts on the KC BBQ landscape and the accompanying debates, I planned a mini-BBQ tour for us that fit w/ our general itinerary: Arthur Bryant's, Jack Stack, and last but not least, LC's.
To give you a little background, Y and I went to grad school in Columbia so are somewhat familiar w/ KC. I ate at Arthur Bryant's maybe 8 years ago while Y has been there and Jack Stack (Freighthouse) more recently and has also tried Gate's back in the day. We currently live in Santa Cruz, CA which is pretty much the antithesis of KC in food culture and philosophy. For instance, we don't have huge meat eaters around here, and I'm guessing the *majority* of Missourans don't really care if the meat was humanely-raised or grassfed. It's an interesting contrast that makes people like us--omnivores who enjoy BBQ but are wholly deprived in CA--go on a ridiculous binge of three consecutive BBQ meals.
Overall, it was a cartoon-like whirlwind of BBQ bliss--sticky fingers, smoky warmth in the stomach, saucy lips, endless napkins, and lots o' meat. My clothes had the unmistakable au de BBQ when we returned. I'll elaborate on each place, and photos are linked at the bottom.
ARTHUR BRYANT'S (the original at 18th & Brooklyn)
We went straight here for lunch after deplaning. It was late afternoon (around 2pm), but there was a fairly long line that nearly reached the door. Y said it was worse last time since the line started outside. The place looked similar to how I remembered, although the signs on the inside and outside looked much nicer and more tourist-friendly. The crowd was mostly tourists (many SD Chargers fans who flew in for the game next day) w/ maybe a few local regulars peppered here and there.
We ordered the burnt ends sandwich, a ham sandwich, fries, and a red cream soda. I wanted Y to order the pork sandwich, but he was intent on the ham for some reason, and I can't be a dictator at every meal. :-) The burnt ends plate looked decent but kind of gloppy w/ all the sauce smothering the meat. The first few bites were on the dry side, but then I hit upon some moist and succulent pieces that made me happy. Then there were some chunks that were very fatty and inedible. Y's ham sandwich was just ok IMO, but he proclaimed to be very content. The fries tasted like they had been sitting for a while and had entered the stale and limp zone. We sampled all three of their sauces, and I liked the spicy version the best. Not a bad warm-up meal, but AB's has lost its luster for me compared to 8 years ago. I knew there had to be better out there...
FIORELLA'S JACK STACK BBQ (Country Club Plaza location)
After a busy afternoon and getting situated at our hotel near the Plaza, we were ready for BBQ meal #2 around 9pm. There were many recs for Jack Stack on the board, and it seemed like the Freighthouse location was preferred. We considered getting into our rental car and driving there, but it seemed absurd not to just walk down to the Plaza so we took the path of convenience. Plus we wanted to stretch our legs and burn off some calories!
Since we arrived on the tail end of dinner service, we were seated immediately. The place is def. a nice sit-down restaurant which exudes corporate steakhouse more than BBQ joint. It reminded me of Maggiano's in San Jose, CA. I can see why lots of online reviews mention that this is a good place to bring the ladies/wives--clean, contemporary, and other options besides strict BBQ fare. A cozy place to linger w/ friends or family.
I knew exactly what I wanted to order based on board recs: onion rings, lamb ribs, cheesy corn, and baked beans. After seeing the menu, we stuck to the original plan but decided to share a rib sampler platter (lamb, beef, pork) as well as the onion rings and sides. Y got a beer while I ordered a glass of unremarkable red wine. The tower of six onion "tires" was just ok. The cornmeal coating was very thick, and the onion itself didn't have much flavor yet was very thick. We dipped them into their three types of sauce. I found their sauces too tomatoey and lacking depth, but I favored the original over the other two.
The rib platter w/ sides had its hits and misses. My absolute favorite item was the lamb ribs--petite, moist, nice crust, not too fatty yet flavorful. We each had a couple of lamb ribs, and I could have eaten a lot of these. The pork ribs were decent but not that memorable, and I left my hunky beef rib half eaten. The biggest disappointment was the sides since I had built them up in my mind. The baked beans were far too sweet which left me yearning for more smoky intensity. The cheesy corn bake was very dense like Velveeta that had melted and then congealed and had no hint of brown, bubbly goodness on top. I was expecting something a little more fluffy w/ a little flour or egg or at least more luxuriously creamy.
FWIW, Y said that his meal at the Freighthouse about one year ago was better. I'll return for the lamb ribs and would like to try the other location in the future. They do have a nice bar area w/ a flat-screen TV so Y was able to sneak peeks of the big MU game that night. Too bad they lost. :-(
LC'S BBQ (Blue Parkway location)
I awoke the next morning wondering if I could endure the last BBQ meal on our tour. When I realized that good BBQ is nothing to "endure" and that we'd soon be headed back to BBQ exile, I quickly snapped out of my psychosis. From the comments on the board, I had a feeling that LC's would be worth it...
First off, when we got out of the car, we were immediately hit w/ this overwhelming aroma of smoke, grease, and meat. A good sign. The parking lot was deserted. We were whimpering when we saw the sign on the door that said they are closed on Sundays, but then we realized that they were open this Sunday because it was a KC Chiefs game day! I became a football fan all of a sudden. We walked in and there were about 10 people inside including employees. Everyone knew each other and sized us up to see if we were worthy of their Q. We were clearly out of place, but that’s when you know you could be on the verge of something special and outside of your universe.
We ordered the burnt ends sandwich, beef sandwich, baked beans, coleslaw (for some veggies!), and a soda. Ordering at the counter, I viewed the vault-like smoker that took center stage behind it. The inside of the smoker had layers upon layers of blackened seasoning that only increased our anticipation to sample their food.
The burnt ends looked nothing like those at AB’s. These were huge cubes of succulent beef that were blackened from long-smoking on some sides and lightly dressed in sauce. One bite and it was like we reached BBQ enlightenment. Hard to describe and yet you are certain you’ve attained it. This meat had soul, smokiness, and sass in every nucleus. The triple-decker beef sandwich was of equal greatness. I don’t even remember their sauce (beyond it was perfectly fine) because the meat was the star and didn’t need one extra drop for enhancement. It was without a doubt the best BBQ of this trip and the best BBQ that I’ve ever had. The baked beans were also phenomenal w/ lots of shreds of smoky beef; it was much more balanced and complex than Jack Stack’s version. The coleslaw was a pleasant haven to counter all the richness.
This was the only meal of the trip in which we were compelled to box up our leftovers, even knowing we had to check them through security and on our flight. I’m sure glad we did because we felt like the luckiest travelers in the world savoring KC BBQ during our layover in Denver while the guy across from us is eating McNuggets. We did “detox” w/ lots of salad and rice porridge upon returning home.
Thanks to all hounds who’ve shared your opinions on KC BBQ! We will be returning to KC at least once a year, and I’m so looking forward to trying more since you have as many BBQ joints as we have taquerias out here! I know there are other types of restaurants that are good out there, but I'm mostly fixated on BBQ. I found this cool and helpful resource that some of you must know about (linked below), but what are three different BBQ places I should put on my list for my next visit? And just in case we can’t wait that long, has anyone tried mail ordering the lamb ribs from Jack Stack? Any other mail order you’d highly recommend?
BBQ resource site: