Barbeque KC Restaurant Reviews

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fireside BBQ

Greg Barnes knows a thing or two about smoke. As a local firefighter for over
three decades, he can handle the heat... and now he's shown he can handle the kitchen, too. Fireside BBQ (103rd & Mastin in Overland Park) is exactly what a barbeque joint should be - local, earthy, unpretentious. Oh, and besides the atmosphere, the Q is A+!

My wife and I sampled burnt ends, sausage, brisket and St Louis-cut ribs. Burnt ends... burnt in the most perfect way possible. Lean, but moist and richly, deeply smoked - on the top shelf with the best I've ever had. The brisket passed the KCBS "bridge" test. Hold a slice by each end, gently pull. The whole slice should begin to open up, lace-like, and then break. And the mahogany smoke-ring boasted the smoker's craft. The ribs were both firm and tender, wonderfully smoked.

Have I missed anything... ah yes, the sausage. I'm very demanding when it comes to sausage. Jack Stack and Smokestack (to name the more prominent joints in Kansas City) use Krizman's barbeque roll. It's the gold standard for a reason. How ya gonna standout? Make your own! I won't spill Greg's secret, but he has "cracked the code" to the best bbq sausage I've had outside of Elgin, Tx. And it will likely be the best you've ever tasted.

Fireside has their own selection of sauces, too. I liked the spicier end of the spectrum. What I always look for is real flecks of spice in the sauce. Fireside has plenty of "roughage" indicating the goop is not poured together in a factory, but carefully handcrafted. Well done.

Fireside is literally a dream gone up in smoke in the best way possible. Greg and his family have invested so much in the riskiest business one could venture. But quality has a way of conquering odds. Drop by Fireside BBQ as soon as you can. You'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Note: Fireside's hours are as lean as their meat... check the website and it wouldn't hurt to call ahead just to make sure. And although the website currently says they're open on Saturdays, they are not currently open on the weekend.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The newest Q joint in town doesn't want to be called a joint. Here's how they present themselves:
Q39 is a hybrid of two Kansas City favorites and new concept in barbeque and wood-fire grilling, led by national barbeque champion Rob Magee. Q39 features the area’s first open barbeque scratch kitchen. Stylishly designed with an urban, rustic flare, Q39 has a large dining room, expansive bar and private dining with a dedicated Q2Go entrance, all in Kansas City, Mo.’s eclectic West 39th Street neighborhood surrounded by dedicated parking. Q39 is home to a full-service bar serving original cocktails and hand-selected local beers and wines.

Hybrid, New Concept, Stylish, First, Urban, Rustic, Flare, Eclectic, Hand-Selected… Yada Yada Yada

These are not the words that are going to draw me into a barbeque joint. (And by the way, "urban" 
and "rustic" are words in direct opposition to one another.) What did draw me was a super-secret invite to "influencers" and media types who could vet this joint, er uh, I mean this rustic urban hybrid for the rest of you. I got the VIP tasting tour a couple days before the public opening.

Here's the skinny, the barbeque is good. The brisket was among the best I've ever had. The burnt ends were sorely lacking the extra rub and smoke that actually qualifies them as burnt ends. They were actually just brisket cut in chunks, not sliced. The smoked chicken wings were sensationally tasty – well smoked and sauced – but they were tough… I don't even know how you get tough wings.

Q39 also touts their wood-fired grill. No doubt, a steak seared over oak is some dandy fare, albeit it rare. They also serve grilled salmon and burgers and such. I maintain my reservations about joints, er uh, I mean stylish open kitchens that serve entrées other than smoked fare. The Good Book says "a man cannot serve two masters". It's good advice even for bbq joints, er uh… running out of synonyms here.

Q39's secret desire is to become a "destination restaurant" that shores up the further development of KC's West 39th Street. Ok, go do that and good for you.

In my humble opinion, Q39 is a very, very good bar&grill which also serves very good Q. It seems to have chosen West 39th because it is as chic and trendy as the proprietors view themselves (and the Plaza is too expensive). If you want to rub elbows with hipsters on a Friday night, drink appletinis, and get some smoke on your palate… go there.

I'm not hip. I'm not urban. I'm not chic. I'm not hybrid. I'm not stylish. I'm both rusted and rustic and I'm only interested in how good the Q is. In short, I want to go to a place that lives up to the word "joint". For my money, the best Q in KC is in a couple strip malls in JoCo (1,2) and a couple easy-to-drive-past joints on Kaw Drive (1,2). I think Q39 will do very well, and I do wish them tons of success. They will never ascend to the heights of great barbeque joints in KC… and that is really what I'm looking for.

Papa Bob’s Bar-B-Que

(At some point, be sure to read my review of K&M BBQ.  The proprietors of K&M and Papa Bob’s go WAY back and their menus and approaches to the Q’uisine are very similar.)  Papa Bob's Bar-B-Que has a country diner feel right down to the red & white checked tablecloths and folksy waitresses.  Very nice homespun feel.  And Judy and Bob put the Mom and Pop in Mom&Pop.

Looking for a sampling of Papa’s Q, Mrs. I-Didn’t-Know-I-Signed-Up-For-This and I ordered a Burnt End Dinner ($12.00) and a Deluxe Meat Platter (two ribs, brisket, “pulled pork”) ($14.95) which featured K&M’s same generous portions.  The burnt ends were marble-size pieces, with a nice burgundy smoke ring and a bark as black as my rocker son’s wardrobe.  All the ends were delish, but some were chewy – I chalk that up to being cut smaller than necessary.

Like K&M the ribs were full-sized pork spare ribs, literally falling off the bone, maybe too falling off.  The porksicles were tender overall, a little tough at the very tip end (which is why many joints trim the tips off for St Louis style).  They were perfectly smoked, featured a nice bark and gorgeous smoke ring.

The beef brisket was identical to K&M’s – tender and beefy tasting, but not much smoke ring or bark to be seen.  Just like K&M’s, the brisket was mostly chopped with a couple full slices of brisket folded in.  The “pulled” pork was NOT pulled, it was chopped.  It was tasty, but not in the same category as good pulled pork.  Judy (Mom) brought us a complimentary slice of turkey.  Oh, I wish I’d ordered a plateful of it.  Although it was exactly the same batch as K&M’s, this bird was smoky pink and as delicious as I’ve ever had at a BBQ joint.

Sauces were good.  The regular was pleasingly sweet and clearly homemade – lots of spices and herbs doing the backstroke in a handsome tomato base.  There’s a spicy sauce which really didn’t kick it up much.  Judy brought us a bottle of sauce labeled “HAB” for habanero.  I declined – I don’t have to protect my man card by eating the food equivalent of toxic waste.  She prevailed (she’s good like that) and I tasted it.  “Sweet start with a kick at the finish line” - not at all toxic and definitely not a waste.  If you like spicy sauce, grab the HAB.  I got your back.

I’ve saved the best for last.  Being so much like K&M, and the meat not being exceptionally better (except for that Turkey!!), I’m inclined to give Poppa Bob’s 3 piggies.  (Their prices are higher than K&M’s, but I’m told K&M is about to redo their menu… with more digits.)  We were very fortunate to have a great conversation with Judy and then Papa Bob walked in.  These folks have a commitment and a passion to their craft that you don’t often find.  I think I’m being very fair to my readers to give Papa Bob’s the full faith and credit of 4 Happy Little Piggies.  These good folks have put their whole lives into this diner.  You can see it in their smiles and you can taste it in their food.  If the burnt ends had been larger and if the brisket hadn’t fallen apart so much, we’d be talking 5 Porkers.  Don’t care.  I’d go back in a heartbeat just to show my appreciation for what they’re doing to enjoy some well-above average Q.  Judy, Bob, well done!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Smokey’s BBQ On The Boulevard

Smokey’s makes its home in a thicket of restaurants on “lower” Metcalf (and by lower, I mean geographically, not propertytaxically). The interior is relatively unadorned save some beer posters, hand-letter and re-lettered featured item signs, and a 12’ mural that salutes the hot rod life we all lived in the mid-50s. Cool, daddio.

But I came for the food. Poodle Skirt Peggy and I ordered our own version of a sampler – a slab of ribs (either $15.99 or $16.99 depending on where you look, which menu you order from, and whether the proprietor is in a good mood) and a 2-meat combo dinner with brisket, burnt ends (there’s that dollar upcharge again) and a side o’fries ($10.99).

Let’s dispense with perfection and near-perfection quickly. The brisket – perfection. Thinly shaven (and perhaps closer than I prefer) but moist and tender regardless the thickness and with a dandy cordovan smoke ring, the brisket would put chef on most any competition podium. The ribs were gorgeous, deeply smoked – virtually pink throughout – and shrouded in a feisty rib rub sparkling with celery seed. I’d have a very hard time arguing why these weren’t the best ribs I’ve ever had. I’m giving four piggies, but it’s four with a bullet heading straight up the AM pop chart.

The burnt ends were the topic of my conversation with the proprietor at the end of our meal. I asserted that the chunks I sampled were “not fresh”. He politely, if uncertainly, challenged me and urged me to accept that they were an early morning product of the overnight brisket smoke-off. The burnt ends were nicely smoked and perfectly seasoned, but were dark walnut inside (indicating not fresh), tight and somewhat chewy (not moist). Based on what Smokey’s does with the brisket and ribs, I’d wager they frequently have outstanding burnt ends, but not so on this cruise down the boulevard.

Fries were hand cut and crisp. I found out later that “spicy” fries are dusted with the sensational house rib rub. Definitely the way to go on future visits.

Based on my standards, I score Smokey’s BBQ as follows:



Burnt Ends 

Someone has done some amazing ciphering to determine that the 135th Street corridor is underserved when it comes to Q. In the last couple years, three joints (1, 2, 3) have opened along Quivira near 135th, not counting my beloved Smokehouse just a mile north of Smokey’s. I’m not going to deny my citizenship in Gladstoner heaven, but I’d happily drive past the mediocre joints on Quivira to get over to Smokey’s.

Thanks for making it interesting… you know, on the boulevard of smokin’ dreams.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bee Cee’s Bar-B-Que

Southern Quivira Road in Overland Park is quickly becoming the mecca of barbeque in the Mecca of Barbeque. A third joint just opened a mile up the road* from Burnt End and John Russell’s. Bee Cee’s opened about 10 minutes before I set my First Customer toe inside their door on Apr 2, 2013. I was expecting a fanfare, maybe some confetti, at least. Bupkis.

What I did get was one dyn-o-mite brisket and sausage sandwich, almost over laden with meat (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The brisket was from the point, but was lean and tender as newborn’s ear. The sausage was a simple link sliced in half. (I despise!!! links simply sliced in half. I want sausage like I want my brisket, sliced.) However, the link was coarse ground and had a robust taste. The natural casing absorbed a plenteous amount of smoke. The brisket had a rich beefy taste, but only a rumor of smoke ring and no bark. (Sandwich, chips, soda, and tax totalled $10.93)

Bee Cee’s is a newborn… all awkward and immature. There was neither sauce nor napkins on the table – kind of a must at a good bbq joint. The floor was a dirty mess, either from a soft opening the night before or never cleaned up from the last café occupant. The french fryer was on the fritz and only bags of plain-jane Lay’s chips were offered. A six-cylinder soda machine features the least amount of Pepsi products available.

Nonetheless, I got nothing but love for startups and Mom&Pops – BeeCee’s qualifies on both accounts. I’ll be back soon to try some ribs. Based on my standards, I score Bee Cee’s as follows:



* Bee Cee’s is nestled in the nasty agglomeration of buildings that KU calls the "Edwards Campus." I just saw a Picasso exhibit in Chicago. This campus looks like the ghost of Picasso is getting his cubism on at the architect’s office.

No site or Facebook page yet. Phone 913 897 4500

Monday, February 11, 2013

Two Brothers BBQ

Note: this joint is in Wichita, KS

I’m a big fan of Mom & Pops so I guess that umbrella should extend to cover the kids.

Gorgeous and I ordered two sampler plates (small upcharge to include ribs) and wound up with servings of brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends, and ribs. Sides of okra, fries, and slaw filled the table.

I liked the fact that the whole slab is hand sliced per order. Sliced brisket came from the flat end, burnt ends were whacked from the point. Very nice way to handle and present the meat. The slab, as a whole (both slices and ends), was tender and well smoked. However, the slab, as a whole, also lacked any rub other than a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

The ribs featured the same smoke, same salt & pepper rub. There was only a light smoke taste, good ring, and the ribs were very tender, pulling clean off the bone with some tough spots on the edges.

My historical least favorite meat, pulled pork, was actually the best among the Two Brother's foursome. There was a great bark and both the smoke ring and smoke flavor were top notch.

Two Brothers keeps the sauce simple – the back counter sighs under the weight of jugs of Selmon Brother’s sauce which is a thin, shiny sugar concoction. I wish the “Two” brothers would find a better purveyor than the Selmon’s.

Two Brothers is a clean little joint in the aerospace industrial morass around Beech Aircraft. I’m sure they do a booming business on weekdays at lunch. I would not go too far out of my way to dine there again.

Based on my standards, I score Two Brothers thus:
Burnt Ends 
Pulled Pork

Gran-Daddy’s Q

Note: this joint is in Lawrence. KS

Passing through Lawrence and felt a pang for some ‘Q to go. Gran-Daddy’s Q, conveniently located on L-town’s main drag, was closer in proximity than the sure-bet of Bigg’s. Feeling familial joy, I decided I’d patronize Old Grand Dad and celebrate his commitment to great ‘Q.

Walking in the door, Grandpa has the joint jumpin’ with lively tunes…

When I walk on by, girls be looking like damn he fly
I pimp to the beat, walking down the street in my new la freak, yeah
This is how I roll, animal print pants out control
It's Red Foo with the big afro
An like Bruce Lee rock out the club, yeah

unchewable brisket
Hmmm… Grampa got beats. I scan the menu on the chalk board. My mind boggled as I struggled to select from among the four meats offered: beef (not called brisket), ribs, rib tips, pulled pork. I asked for a half slab o’ ribs and a pound o' “beef”. Darn it all if I didn’t forget the lesson I learned from Greedyman’s – If the order taker has to yell back at the kitchen to ask if they still have some of the (one of four) meats on the menu, RUN, don’t walk out the door.

Yo, when I'm at the mall, security just can't find them all
When I'm at the beach, I'm in a speedo trying to tan my cheeks (whaat?)
This is how I roll, come on ladies it's time to go
We headed to the bar, baby don't be nervous
No shoes, no shirt, and I still get service (watch!)

Serenaded by LMFAO while the last pound of “beef” is hauled out of the fridge, we paid our $25 and hauled our booty (in a pirate sense, not ghetto sense) back to our crib and began to discover what a mistake we’d made.

ribs and a nasty tip
A pale smoke ring and no bark graced the outside of the “beef” which indeed was brisket. Inside, it was tough, real tough. We put it aside and turned to the ribs. This half slab of spare ribs – only five ribs and a nasty knuckle of a rib tip – was way over-cooked. The meat along the bone was just barely overdone, but the meat on the end was gnarly and demanded quite a chewing investment. The slab was well-smoked, but no rub enhanced the meat.

When I walk in the spot, (yea) this is what I see (okaay)
Everybody stops and they staring at me
I got a passion in my pants and I ain't afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it...
I'm sexy and I know it
"fixing" the brisket at home
Ayyy, I'm sexy and I know it
Check it out, check it out

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle yeah (x3)
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wig-yea, yea
Do the wiggle, man
I do the wiggle, man (yea)
I'm sexy and I know it...
Ayyy, yeah

The next day, I potted up the “beef” and stewed it for two hours. Between my tenderizing love and my excellent bbq sauce, we enjoyed some wonderful ‘Q sliders.

Based on my standards, my rating of Gran-Daddy’s Q is...


My suggestion…drive a half-mile out of your way and go Biggs or go home!

Greedyman's BBQ

Special Recognition 

Snuggled up between three barber shops / hair salons, Greedyman's (one word according to a sign in the store) is actually at 5536A, one door to the south of 5536.

The menu at Greedyman's *Bar-B-Que*, a giant banner hanging under the counter, boasts two (2) barbeque options - a turkey and a beef sandwich.  (Yes, I should mention that there's are large and small Rib Tip options, but with no ribs on the menu, I'm chalking this up as a fail from the start.)  On the other hand, there are 15 chicken options ranging from a 6pc wing ($6.50) to a 50 piece after-church-special ($38.50).

I ordered the "Big BBQ Beef".  At the moment I voiced my order, the handsome young man behind the counter looked straight at me and SCREAMED "WE GOT BEEF?".  (Yeah, it was a question.  I thought, hey, nice way to go and one up on the agonizingly annoying welcome screech over at Gates.)  Lacking sufficient grace to answer, I took a cue from my environment.  Turns out, the scurrying motion in the kitchen behind him was the "chef" looking in a cabinet under the flat top.  Chef yelps back an apathetic "Yeah". 

Only then did the counter man write down my order.  I shudda walked out then.

Not one to be intimidated by circumstances that clearly dictate I am in the wrong situ, I sat down in one of the available 16 chairs in the whole dang joint.  Yup, me and 15 municipal maintenance workers slash urban ambassadors waitin' for our orders.  Scarcely 20 minutes later, my giant beef chunk sammich arrived.  (I also paid for a diet soda, but the cooler case only featured generic soda cans brimming with fructose.  Apparently Greedyman was onto the cognitive dissonance between a "Big BBQ Beef" sandwich and a prissy diet soda.)  While my brethren were enjoying their meals on Styrofoam plates, I got the high-end treatment, a styro-to-go clamshell.  Nothing says, "Get yo butt on up outtahere" like a to-go box.  I stood my ground, "Ok if I eat that here?"  Greedyman grunts, "Yeah"

I opened up the clamshell.  Dadgum eight inch hoagie was doing it's very best to constrain a gargantuan serving of nicely-barked, well-smoked, generously-rubbed, appropriately-sauced beef chunks, about three-quarter inch cubes. 

Let's dive into this clam.  Bite one.  What the... .  Tastiest rubber I ever forced down my throat.  Bite two.  Capitulate and Evacuate.  This food fail has to come to an abrupt end.  I latched up my friend, the clam, and bolted.  At this moment I can't decide if I should slow-cook the meat to tenderness or just consider the $9 tab a lesson well learned - what kind of lesson I have no idea.

Based on my standards, my rating of Gran-Daddy’s Q is: 

5536 Troost Avenue  |  Kansas City, MO 64110  |  (816) 523-4885

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Red Hot & Blue

(this joint is in Joplin, MO)
Not gonna give ‘em a piggie rating ‘cuz RH&B does far more southern cuisine than ‘Q. 
Sampling the brisket, pulled pork, and sausage we found…
Brisket and pulled pork was tender, but lightly smoked.  No significant smoke ring or bark. 
Sausage was a very odd concoction – medium grind (we prefer coarse) with some aromatics that almost hinted of Italian sausage, but not quite.  (We do NOT like Italian sausage in bbq joints.)
I was headed to Lumpy’s BBQ and pulled into RH&B on a whim.  RH&B dishes some lovely southern fare, but I’m guessing Lumpy’s is the place for Q in Joplin.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Celebrating the Barbeque Arts©

After MUCH deliberation, I’m going to start adding a BARBEQUE ARTS© score to my restaurant evals.  This will serve as an amplification of the classic KCBS Taste, Tenderness, Appearance rubric.

Every barbeque dish features elements of taste, tenderness, and appearance (TT&A).  The TT&A of barbeque is so highly specialized that a person could enjoy brisket or ribs with excellent TT&A, but still not savor the best the BARBEQUE ARTS© have to offer.  Example, I’ve had some wonderfully tender ribs, with a nice porky taste and a glossy, mahogany red sheen, but they lacked a strong smoke aroma and there was no perceivable rib rub.  My BARBEQUE ARTS© score will help you know how well a joint delivers the essence of great barbeque.

The BARBEQUE ARTS© score is based on four elements: Smoke, Smoke Ring, Bark, and Rib Rub.  The first three may seem redundant, but trust me, they’re not.  They’re interdependent.  Although it is possible to smoke meat without much sign of these three, it’s poor barbeque if even one or more are absent. 

Smoke is the degree to which aromatic wood smoke penetrates and flavors the meat.  This is largely a flavor component and no meat qualifies as “barbeque” without smoke.

Smoke Ring is the signature of effectual smoking – it’s a deep cordovan red layer between the Bark and the cooked meat.  Oddly, you can have a good smoke without a significant ring.  This is largely an appearance component, but it promises that smoke flavor is present.

Bark is the dense black layer or outer edge of the meat that has turned dark brown to black from a combination of smoke, heat, and the sugars in the Rib Rub.  Bark contributes to both taste and appearance.

Rib Rub – it’s not just for ribs!  Rib Rub is often the barbequer’s most well guarded secret.  Aromatic herbs orgying with sugars and salts make rib rub the special and spectacular addition to smoked meat.  When a joint’s food is “good enough to eat without sauce” it’s often because of the quality of the Rib Rub.  Rib Rub is traditionally used on brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork… and ribs!  Rib Rub creates dazzle to both the appearance and the taste of the ‘Q.

I expect all four quadrants of the BARBEQUE ARTS© to be present in great barbeque.  I’m not going to quantify each component in my reviews.  I think by my commentary you can figure out what’s present and what’s missing.  Besides the TT&A score (based loosely on the KCBS system) I’ll throw in an overall BARBEQUE ARTS© score – on a scale of 1 to 10.  I’m not going to very happy with a barbeque joint that can’t post up a seven or better.

For more detail on how the BARBEQUE ARTS© bless specific meat types, please see my Glossary & Standards page over at the static site.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Richard’s Hawgwild BBQ

(this joint is in Aurora, MO) 
“Baked fries take ten minutes”, the menu shouts.

Okay, simmer down, I’ve got ten minutes, bake them fries and everybody just relax.  The joint never did relax.  On Thanksgiving Eve, Hawgwild was busting at the seams with folk seeking a baked turkey alternative.  Unfortunately, our waitress was none-too-familiar with a full house and she was quite impatient with people slow to order or who simply wanted a soda refill.  Other than that, our visit to The Hawg was wonderful.

Our patient party of three shared plates of brisket, burnt ends, and pulled pork.  The burnt ends showed up as a generous helping.  The brisket and pulled pork were well off on the stingy end of expectations for a dinner entrée plate.  At $9.99 a plate, Wild Richard may think he’s giving a good value.  The more I look at those pictures on the right, I don't think Richard is doing anyone but himself a favor.

Excellent burnt ends!  Double smoked, heavy black bark, well seasoned with a good rub, and a deep red smoke ring heavily bathing each morsel.  The good sized chunks were tender as could be although the fat was not trimmed as much as the best servings I’ve had.  These were definitely competition-quality burnt ends.

Delightful brisket.  The thin-sliced beefy ribbons were tender and boasted a beautiful smoke ring, if not very much bark.  Nice beefy taste.  I prefer thicker slices.

Admirable pulled pork.  Not pulled to shreds, the chunks had a perfectly porky taste, with flashes of smoke ring and bark showing up in the right proportion.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 9 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 8.4
Burnt Ends... Taste: 9 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 9
Pulled Pork Taste: 8 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 8.4

The baked fries… oh yes, ten minutes and nothing less (I suppose it matters to someone).  These are simply Ore-Ida fries baked in a hot oven instead of fried.  They were nicely browned and crispy.  So relax already.  Wifey loved her bbq beans.  Green beans were lame.  I had “corn on the cob” which was a tiny little boiled cobbette with no seasoning or butter.  My son got the applesauce - a factory belched micro-cup of homogeneous gloop like you'd find in a 12-pack in a dollar store.  All the restaurant did was pull the foil lid off.  The sauces were utterly forgettable.  I ate my meat without any.

Hawgwild makes its home in Aurora, MO – home of the “Houn Dogs” [sic].  (They sure like their alternate spellings in the Ozark backwater.)  I’m giving Richard and his kin FOUR piggies, primarily because the burnt ends were so good.   I think the lousy sides speak poorly of what the regulars are willing to put up with on a routine basis.  I suggest the wait staff take a chill pill and enjoy those ten minutes or longer that it takes the fries to bake.   A restaurant filled to the brim is a good thing and a waitress working for tips should smile and be happy about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que

I make it a rule not to write reviews of BBQ chains.  I actually try not to eat at them at all.  But I have a buddy who’s in witness protection in Alaska and the only ‘Q he gets is the pulled porker at Carl’s Jr (which I can easily understand why he likes it).  Occasionally he has to fly to Seattle to rat out some mobsters and he grabs a plateful at Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que.  So this one is for Craig… oops, I prolly shouldn’t have mentioned his name.

Since when did "Brush Script" become
the de facto font for all things
There’s nothing wrong with Famous Dave’s that NOT BEING Famous Dave’s wouldn’t fix.  Just being greeted and seated and is an ordeal.  I felt like I was getting a tour of the Cinzetti’s buffet or, worse, like I had slipped into Office Space’s Chotchkie's restaurant.  A hundred people greeted me and the gal who seated me gave me a walking tour of the joint… of course, she was six feet in front of me and looking forward as she prattled on.  I thought she was giving me options of where I wanted to sit.  When I finally got her to stop and look at me it turns out she was telling me where the bathrooms were.  I guess I had that “gotta go” look in my eyes.  (Exiting was the same or worse.  Almost a dozen loitering employees demanded I answer in the affirmative to their “How was everything?” interrogation.)

If you dine at any of KC’s hundred or so ‘Q joints you realize how different they are from the Chili’s and Applebee’s of the world.  Your waiter is not pimping watermelontini’s or pigeondookie appetizers.  It’s a simple process – order eat.  Not so for FD.  The waiters, who are all “Famous”, impose upon you some Tom Clancy-level explanation of every item on the menu as if they invented barbeque and you never heard of it before.

After I ordered, I thought I’d be left alone for a moment to read some emails.  Not so fast.  “Famous Chris” sprang back to my table with a ramekin of thick-cut potato chips and a large saucer onto which he intended to splurt each of five varieties of bbq sauce and to describe each one in depth.  I dismissed him summarily explaining I knew how to taste food for myself.  I had escaped nothing.  The Saucy Sommeliers performed their Wikipedia recital for every customer around me… “The Devil’s Spit is our most flavorful and zesty sauce with strong peppery notes.  The Georgia Goober Loogie sauce is a delightful array of vinegars and mustards with a bright paprika finish.”  If you think I’m exaggerating one bit, well, you’ve never been to Famous Dave’s.  It was as annoying as having a three year old tell you about a flower they once saw… and far less endearing.

Food, oh yes, I had some food.  I ordered the “Texas* Manhandler” a hamburger bun unbrimming with brisket and spicy hot links.  The brisket was perfect!  Tender + Smoke Ring + Bark.  Perfect – albeit chopped in postage stamp-sized pieces instead of just sliced.  The hot link was the kind of dog you’d get at a minor league ballpark in Utah.  Fine, mushy grind with enough red pepper to keep you from suing it for impersonating boloney.  At $9.99, this is easily the worst value for a barbeque sandwich to be found anywhere.

If you’re sequestered in some northern clime where barbeque is conceptually or logistically impractical, then I think a plate or two of Famous Dave’s a year won’t kill you (unlike Vinnie the Squid will when he figures out where you eat).  My buddy, Mr. Baldwin (oops), gets to eat all the smoked salmon he pleases.  I’d stick to that and leave the barbeque to the locals in KC.

* The menu features a lot of dishes with Texas in the name.  For a national chain based in Minnetonka, MN, this is an unseemly and unwarranted fixation.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Snead’s BBQ

The pickles were alright.

But this is not Snead’s Pickle Barn, is it?

In a dining hall boasting all the charm and comfort of a dilapidated church basement fellowship hall, I ordered the Two Combo Meat ($12.99) – 3/4 cup of burnt ends and three ribs.  This was not a good value at the outset. 

The burnt ends were spectacularly smoked, but fairly gray from being kept warm throughout the day.  By taste, the ends (or “Brownies” as Snead calls ‘em) were an utter disappointment.  Oddly, the smoke taste didn’t come through much and there was not so much as a hint of savory rub.  A lot of joints brag about how their meat is so good it doesn’t need rub or sauce.  Such is not the case at Snead’s.

The St. Louis ribs, as well, were among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.  The smoke ring penetrated the rib as much as 3/8 of an inch (I measured).  With the mildest resistance, the rib meat pulled clean off the bone.  If appearance and tenderness alone mattered, these porksicles would win the Royal.  But then there’s that taste problem.  The ribs tasted like bland pulled pork.  Again, no rub to be found, but even the classic rib meat unctuousness was missing in action.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Burnt Ends... Taste: 7 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 7.6
Ribs... Taste: 6 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 7.8

I should also mention that the appetizer order of fried okra ran $3.50 for about one cup measure of okra.  Again, a lousy value.  

Snead’s boasts a 50+ year legacy in southeastern KC.  I swear, I don’t know how there survived 50 days based on what I was served.

Maybe a charitable reviewer would donate a couple stars to Snead’s. 
That would be a gift.  I’m calling it like I see it – ONE piggie.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Woody’s Smoke Shack

“Tell them about Woody,” Cheryl Wasson implored when I told her I was excited to write this review.  Mom is ecstatically proud of Pop and for every good reason!

photo from Woody's website
After several successful years on the competition barbeque circuit Woody and Cheryl opened Woody’s Smoke Shack in 2008.  

Swap the names and date and you have a stock line on almost every bbq joint’s website.  blah blah blah  What every Q’ficianado knows – it’s one thing to cook at a weekend competition occasionally (and even do well), but to put competition-quality on the restaurant table day in and day out… that’s extraordinary.

Woody’s is extraordinary!

Stopping by Woody’s on a long road trip, Bride-of-My-Life and I ordered light.  The Missus ordered a regular brisket sammich and I summoned some ribs.  Each entrée with two sides and a drink – our total rang up, by Mrs. Woody herself, at $21.68.

The brisket was beautifully smoked, nice smoke ring, and pulled apart with a gentle pull.  The meat was a rich combination of beefy taste and smoky delight.  As a KCBS certified judge, the brisket gets my top score.

And the ribs… two words – MEAT CANDY!  This short slab (4 bones) of baby racks were the most fascinating ribs I’ve had all year (and it’s mid-October).  Woody serves only baby backs – even in competition – and he has perfected a rub / glaze method that puts a Honey-Glazed Ham-type finish on perfectly smoked porksicles.  I savored them slowly and never thought about so much as a hint of sauce.  Sensational!

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 9 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 9
Ribs... Taste: 9 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 9

Woody’s small kitchen staff handcrafts all their own sides and desserts including the complimentary pan of cornbread waiting for guests at the front door.  Woody’s makes its home in a quaint little brick building in the shadows of Drake University.  And if any of you Midwesterners have ever enjoyed Mrs. Clark’s salad dressing, you’ll be pleased to know Ma Clark got her start in the same building Woody’s now calls home.  What a food legacy!

If you find yourself traveling to or through Des Moines, you have to make your way to Woody’s Smoke Shack for some of the best Q to be found anywhere.

Ma & Pa Wasson, you’ve earned your rare FIVE PIGGIES!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Benny’s Bar-B-Q

Had a better than expected experience on my first visit to Benny’s.  I ordered The Hog sammich (shoulda gone with the Long Horn at most).  This monster of a sandwich was all brisket (no sausage on the menu) – two generous stacks of beef fenced in with three slices of Wonder Bread.  This brisket was tender and smoky with a nice black bark.  Paid almost $15 for sandwich, side, and soda - way too much.  Benny’s apparently has daily combo specials. (I heard the locals asking about them, but they’re not promoted in any way to “fer’ners”.)

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 8

Based on the quality of the brisket, I’d hazard another visit.
Benny’s gets THREE piggies (the pricing and presentation cost an oinker)


Guy & Mae's Tavern

note: this joint is in Williamsburg KS

A good friend hosted an SUV full of hungry guys down to G&M’s joint for “the best ribs in Kansas”.  Uh… no.  the ribs were good - just that, and nothing more.  Appallingly, the cook doesn’t remove the silverskin / fascia from the back side of the ribs.  That’s kind of Rib Cookin’ 101.  The slabs were well-smoked and quite tender (aside from the fascia).  A slab costs $18 with few side options and sodas are sold by the 12 oz can.  There are a dozen better options right in KC without having to spend the time and the money to get an hour out of town for bush-league ribs.  Try Roscoe’s on Tuesday night when world-class ribs are $13.50.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Ribs... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 7 Appearance: 7 = Overall: 7.4

I give G&M for their success in creating a destination BBQ joint, not for their BBQ per se.

no site / Facebook page

Burnt End

Burnt End & Sausage Plate
Burnt End has been keeping a low profile since they opened in March 2011.  In a strip storefront that has hosted a half dozen restaurants over the last decade, Burnt End now makes it home – like a hermit crab with Goldilocks’ syndrome (or something).

Pulled Pork & Sausage "Bowl"
On my first visit, Baby Son and I both ordered brisket sandwiches; a Hatfield (third pound - $5.99) and a McCoy (half pound - $7.99).  I gotta say, I was overwhelmed when the meal arrived.  Meat was spilling out of both sandwiched.  Spilling?  No, gushing.  I didn’t try to weigh them, but I did ask the chef if this was a standard order.  Yes, he assured me.  I brought half the McCoy home.  The meat (brisket and sausage) was tender, tasty, and swimming in sauce.  Although there was a definite, if small, smoke ring on the brisket, there was very little bark.  This is one of the essential marks of great Que and it is M.I.A.  Most joints serve sandwiches dry and invite the consumer to add sauce to their own liking.  Burnt End douses the meat as if it were a California wildfire.  The sauce was on the dainty side – good spices but overly sweet without any smoke or molasses taste.  The spicy sauce was very spicy, a better choice.

On another trip I ordered the eponymous burnt ends with sausage plate ($10.50).  They were tender enough, but not really double-smoked as many joints do their ends.  These were just marble size-cubes of brisket and the fat was not trimmed off the outside.  Given the tenderness and taste, I wouldn’t say they’re exceptional as far as burnt ends go, but darn good.  The Spicy Southwest barbeque sauce was among the best I’ve ever had.  My wife ordered "The Border Bowl" - pulled pork, "signature"* sausage, cornbread, cheesy corn, and "tobacco"(?) onions.  She liked it.  Not my kind of dish.

I asked, as I always do when I like the sausage, who the maker was.  Word came back from the kitchen that it was from "Rosedale".  I know my local sausage and I'd never heard of a Rosedale making links.  I called Rosedale BBQ this morning and asked if they sell their sausage.  Sweet lady on the phone said simply, "No, we buy Hillshire Farms."  My guess is that this sausage is made by Rosedale's KCK neighbor, Krizman's House of Sausage.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 8
Burnt Ends... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 7 = Overall: 7.8
Sausage... Taste: 9 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 9

A $2 order of home-made fries came in a bowl the size of Connecticut.  The fries were crisp and delightfully showered with sea salt.  I was impressed with the generous portions, but not the quality of the smoke.  This is average fare and it’s going to be terribly difficult to hammer out a reputation with this stuff.

By my lights, Burnt End deserves THREE piggies.

Hillsdale Bank B-B-Q

note: this joint is in Hillsdale KS

HBbbq is 20 min from bucolic Overland Park and smack dab between Spring Hill and Paola.  A caboose is appended to the world's tiniest old bank building.  The owners have filled the premises with quaint furnishings and decor - everything from a wooden canoe to snowshoes and fishing rods, a poor man's version of country shabby chic.

The proprietor took our order.  I wanted a selection of burn ends, beef, and sausage.  He was very congenial in suggesting the less expensive way of getting our sampler platter.  Very nice.  This is the kind of consideration you get from a place run by Mom&Pop themselves and who don't start screaming "WHAT DO YOU WANT" the minute you walk in the door.  Thanks for the peace!

Gorgeous and I shared a burnt end "sandwich" (basically a generous plateful of burnt ends with a couple slices of Wonder Bread on top) and the two meat sampler of beef and sausage.  The sausage was a ball park spicy polish dog that had been smoked.  Not really very good.  The beef was NOT brisket.  I talked to the owner/chef about it.  The slice of beef ran "along the grain" over the 6" or so of the cut.  I thought this was doomed.  However, the meat (a shoulder round) was as tender as could be with a fantastic smoke ring.  The burnt ends were nothing but pulled pork.  I was hoping for beef or rib burnt ends, but for what it was, the pork was fantastic - lean, flavorful with a bark as dark as a co-ed returning from Spring Break. (Just checking to see if you are still with me.)

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 6 = Overall: 7.6
Burnt Ends... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 6 = Overall: 7.6
Sausage Taste: 5 Tenderness: 4 Appearance: 5 = Overall: 4.6

I was turned off by the sauce (both spicy and regular).  It was translucent and homogenous which signaled, to me, a mere confluence of prepared fluids.  Bottles for sale at the counter list corn syrup, ketchup, vinegar, etc.  That just won't cut it in KC.

The thick, hand cut fries were firm and crisp.  Sweet potato fries were as good as to be expected for a member of the morning glory plant family.  Baked beans and potato salad also were no disappointment.  The tab for our 2 entrées was just over $20 before tax and tip.  Not bad.

I maintain a soft spot for Mom&Pops and I wish these folks the best.  I'm eager to hear from some of my other bbq aficionadoes about your impression of this rural option on the KC BBQ scene.

Big Poppa's Bar-B-Que

Imagine Fat Albert grows up, collecting a chef's hat and a head injury along the way.  That Big Poppa.

Clean, cheery facility accommodating about 75 in booths with lots of bovine chotskies and photographs of bbq meals scattered about.

Big Poppa is a fun, happy guy who drinks nothing but bottled Perrier. (no foolin!)  He has a grasp on nothing unless he writes it down.  On Friday at noon o'clock, I was the only patron in the place.  I ordered up a large brisket sammich with fries & soda ($10.66).  Poppa set off to the kitchen and whistled while he worked.  My entrée soon arrived - two layers of brisket between three layers of thin white sandwich bread.  The tasty brisket was lightly smoked, tender, if not terribly lean.  This bread / meat arrangement is a sloppy fail.  Tasty as can be, but Mrs. Baird don't make nothing that can stand up to juicy meat and bbq sauce.  Fries were fine.  Sauce was very nice - a vinegar kick with a nice tomato sauce texture.  I begged Big Poppa for a taste of a rib.  He relented with a rib tip (the part you cut off to trim a St Louis rib).  Ok, but scarcely any smoke.  There was a rumor of an aromatic rub.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 7 = Overall: 7.8

Price was reasonable.  I assume Poppa has help when traffic picks up.  He's a delightful guy, but the Q did not steal the show.  If you're in the neighborhood, I definitely encourage you to drop by.  Otherwise, this little joint will remain in the shadows of much better KCQ.

I’m feeling generous today.  Big Poppa gets THREE piggies.

no site / Facebook entry

Fat Sam's Barbeque

note: this joint is in Tonganoxie KS

Out on the northwest corner of the KC BBQ debris field sits a little outpost the locals call Fat Sam's.  Sharing the north half of a liquor store, Fat's is easy to drive by - a couple times.  Sadly, the sparse external signage still outperforms the interior.  Stark beige walls are adorned with nothing more elegant than a promo Pepsi clock and 50" flat screen.

Fat Sam himself stands on point (that's a brisket pun) to process orders at the first generation e-lectronic cash register.  (I should point out that Sam has let himself go a little bit from his Tongy wrestling days, but "fat" is over-the-top self-deprecation.) 

The Good Housekeeping Playmate of the Year (2003) ordered a pulled pork sammy - regular size.  Her dashing beau manned up with a large brisket and sausage sammy on a 6" hoagie plussed up with some homemade fries of which GHPOTY ate more than half.  Jeez.  The pork was just okay, not quite tender, tasted a'ight.  The Fat One doesn't get clever with naming his sandwiches, but he should.  In fact, The Fat One should name the large, two meat sammy "The Fat One".  I couldn't believe how much meat was in it.  I don't want to lose my membership in the Order of the Man Cave, but I'll admit it - I actually pulled out some of the brisket so I could get the dang thing in my face.  (I felt so Justin Beiber.)  Nothin' shy about the brisket d'boeuf; t'was tender and tasty.  I'd always like more smoke flavor.  The sausage (from Krinzman's) was wonderful - coarse grind, firm and tasty.  The fries were junk.  I hate underachieving tubers bathed in a scorched oil.  Knock it off, America!    In all, our tab came to $16 and a whole bunch of pennies.

My professional assessment (based on my scoring standards):
Brisket... Taste: 8 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 8 = Overall: 8.4
Pulled Pork Taste: 7 Tenderness: 8 Appearance: 7 = Overall: 7.4
Sausage Taste: 9 Tenderness: 9 Appearance: 9 = Overall: 9

Sam cut the ribbon on his joint way back in March of Aught Ten.  I know it's tough starting a business at any time and I appreciate what Substantuel Samuel is doing.  Maybe 9 months is not enough to work out the kinks, but he'd better up his game and darn fast.  Still, I'm giving THREE piggies on account of the fact I want Santa to know I've got a good heart... and because Sam is giving Tongy the best he has to offer.  It ain't great, but it's good.