We spent Memorial Day Weekend in Kansas City, courtesy of a family wedding and, in between nuptial events, set out to see if the Calvin Trillin "American Fried" trail is still warm, as well as to discover a few new spots ourselves.
As for Trillin, the trail is still hot as a pistol and the book could have been written yesterday. And places not mentioned in "American Fried" are also worth a try.
We got to the hotel after midnight on Friday, so the best Kansas City eating we could do there was a couple of icy bottles of local Boulevard Beer (the official beverage of our weekend). Actually, that was a pretty good start.
The next morning, on the way to the unremarkable City Market (it's still too early in the season, I think, and besides, Winslow's Barbecue in the market doesn't open until lunchtime, although the Steamboat Museum did look interesting), we stopped at the original LaMar's Donuts in the former gas station on Linwood Boulevard for a dozen glazed and a couple of Long Johns (known as bear claws back where I come from) and chocolate custards. Are they the greatest donuts in the world? Who knowsI haven't tried all the donuts in the world. But they were good enough to make a second trip necessary.
We spent the rest of the morning doing Harry Truman stuff in Independence, and were heading for a barbecue place in a shopping center when my brother spotted the sign for the town of Lee's Summit and recalled reading about The Filling Station barbecue restaurant up there.
What a swell place. What a beautiful day. We sat at a picnic table outside the tiny converted gas station (yup, another gas station) in the middle of town and ate sliced beef and sliced turkey, ribs and chicken, turkey legs and burnt ends and homemade sausage, beans and fries. Washed it down with Budweiser purchased at the VFW bar next door (Bud was all they had, but three bottles cost a total of $2.50, so ). This was our first barbecue feast of the trip, and it was heaven. Three varieties of sauce (regular, premium and high test). The smoky turkey leg and half chicken were the high points. Especially interesting to contrast this juicy, intense turkey leg with the mass produced product of the Ninth Avenue Festival. The people who run the place were most welcoming and, of course, we bought a bottle of Premium sauce to lug home.
By now it was after 3 p.m., and the rehearsal dinner was at 6, but there was still time to stop at L.C.'s Barbecue on Blue Parkway at least in the interests of science. Talk about a joint which looks like a barbecue jointjust off the road, room filled with smoke, tables just a tiny bit sticky. We thought we should focus, so we bought only a beef sandwich and an order of beans. The beef was a revelation: white bread (of course) glued to a mountain of juicy sliced beef drenched in a very jalapeno flavored barbecue sauce. The white bread, I believe, is the catalyst for some complex and astounding chemical reaction which causes the entire massive sandwich to somehow melt in your mouth, bite after dreamy bite. I'm afraid that in the beef department, L.C.'s outshines The Filling Station. And the beans were splendidchunks of meat swimming in the just hot enough sauce; the beans firm to the bite.
Needless to say, we didn't eat much of the food at the rehearsal dinner because we needed to save room for more barbecue.
And we got more barbecue at about 10:30 the same nightthis time at BB's Lawnside, just down the street from Stroud's original location (more about Stroud's northern outpost in a moment). BB's is a roadhouse which looks like a roadhouse right out of Central Casting ("A roadhouse, Mr. DeMille? No problem "). The kitchen was closed when we got there, but after a minimum of pleading on my part, they rustled up a beef sandwich. Unfortunately, its time had come and goneserved on a hamburger roll (anathema) and so dry that the whole bottle of sauce on the table didn't help. The french fries, however, were fabulousenormous crispy sticks which seem to have been baked first, then fried. And, in fairness, I have a feeling that earlier in the evening all of the food would have been spectacular, and anyhow, I'd happily eat a rather dry barbecue if that's what is required to listen to the splendid Kansas City blues at BB's Lawnside. Picture, if you will, the obligatory old guy in overalls interspersing his throaty singing with his wailing harmonica, backed up by a fantastic guitar player and a crowd (not so young, by the way) clearly into the music all the way. Pretty hard to tear ourselves away, although by midnight we were nearly face down on the table.
Sunday morning, with Arthur Bryant's closed when we stopped by, we fasted until noon and then drove up to Stroud's Fried Chicken for a small family feast. This location is in an old and historic house north of the Missouri River, complete with a pond with ducks and geese, a couple of beautifully preserved tiny churches on the grounds, mulberry trees filled with ripe and delicious mulberries, antiques decorating the walls inside and out and, of course, absolutely fabulous food. If anyone tells you any different, ask them if they really, truly like fried chicken (or any fried food at all, for that matter). There were 11 of us, and they gave us a big table in a small but bright private room which was exactly the right setting for chowing down family style. Then the food started to come: pitchers of ice tea, bowls of homemade chicken soup filled with thick chewy noodles, platters and platters of splendidly crispy and greaseless fried chicken (we finished it off over dinner Tuesday, and we'd been eating the leftovers since Sunday night), bowls of peppery gravy, bowls of mashed potatoes, bowls of green beans made smoky by the chunks of meat they were cooked with, wonderful sticky bunsyou get the idea. Oh yeah, we also ordered a plate of chicken fried steak and another one of fried gizzards and livers (a high point in a high point feast). Our home movies will preserve the mashed-potato-and-gravy-on-a-serving-spoon eating competition (open to all ages) for posterity. This is the essential diversion from barbecue when you're in Kansas City.
After this feast, we found time to run over to the ballpark to catch the last four innings and watch Anaheim whomp the Royals for the first time that weekend. Kansas City almost pulled it off in the bottom of the ninth with the score at 8-4, the bases loaded and only one out, but a double play ended that fantasy. But the sun was bright and the air was warm and we did get to taste Gate's Barbecue at the ballpark. It really wasn't bad, especially if you let your mind wander to Yankee Ball Park Franks, but again with the hamburger roll... In fact, on second thought, it was pretty good, but only if we had never seen the inside of L.C.'s Barbecue.
On the way back from the ballpark, we hit the Winstead's near Country Club Plaza for a double cheeseburger with everything and a large chocolate shake with a special shot of hot fudge mixed in. It is a very good fast food hamburger. It is a very good fast food shake. It may be the best fast food hamburger and the best fast food shake on earth for all I know. The operative words are fast food. I was in Kansas City. I was bemoaning the space in my stomach which could have been filled with barbecue or fried chicken.
Then we went to the wedding. The wedding food was elegant and festive. Please reread the last two sentences of the last paragraph.
Monday morning, on the way to the airport, we bought another dozen glazed donuts at LaMar's. There had been some mild inter-family dispute about just how good the donuts are at LaMar's. Turns out on second thought that they are very, very good.
Then we made our way to Arthur Bryant's. Funny thing is, we were going to skip Arthur Bryant's. When you read a lot of the current literature on Arthur Bryant's, you see a lot of moaning that it is past its prime, not what it used to be, over the hill. I first ate at Arthur Bryant's about ten years ago. It was wonderful then, it is wonderful now. If there was a bygone time when Arthur Bryant's was even better than it is today, I'm sorry I missed it. We bought two beef sandwiches, two turkey sandwiches, one burnt end sandwich and one pint of beans.
At the airport, the plane was about two hours late. We thought about what to do over a few cold Boulevard stouts and porters and a KC Masterpiece barbecued beef sandwich purchased at their airport stand just for the sake of the experiment (oh, those hamburger buns, but again, not bad, not bad at all, especially considering that we were eating airport food, AIRPORT FOOD). In particular, we considered our obligations to our family and how we had always stuck together and how late the plane was. Then we broke open the precious provisions from Arthur Bryant's.
We fed 16 close relatives our food from Arthur Bryant's and our leftover Stroud's chicken. We still took home five pieces of chicken, one turkey sandwich and the burnt end sandwich. Thank heavens we salvaged the burnt end sandwich: it was the highlight of the trip even though it was consumed 8 hours and half a continent away from where it was assembled on Brooklyn Street. White bread for the beef and burnt end sandwiches, whole wheat bread for the turkey, and again, that amazing sensation of this food melting in your mouth. The burnt ends were rich and juicylike thick cut brisket should tasteand while Arthur Bryant's sauce may not have the edge over L.C.'s, as a total "Sandwich Experience" Arthur Bryant's burnt ends were the culinary high point of the trip, even though the trip was over.
So, we couldn't find Oklahoma Joes, and we didn't have time to get to Jesse and Jim's Steakhouse (or whatever it's called, but I'll bet it's good) and we didn't have a single meal in the State of Kansas. But on the whole, an exceptionally good dining weekend and an exceptionally good escape in general. And the wedding was beautiful I always cry at weddings.