Wednesday, July 11, 2012

O is for: Oklahoma Joe's BBQ & other Kansas City Food Finds

Baseball and Barbecue: two of America’s great traditions. Both came together this week as Major League Baseball’s All Stars gathered in Kansas City. And guess who was smack dab in the middle of it all? Your favorite foodie-sports reporter…ME!

Yes, I was there to work, but you know very well that my free time was spent plotting out my next meal, and in Kansas City, that means BBQ. But I also discovered it doesn’t ALL have to be barbecue. The Midwest city had some surprisingly innovative restaurants as well, much like what you would find in San Francisco. More on that later. First, let’s talk meat.

I detailed the dilemma of which BBQ place to choose in my post on, which you can read by clicking here. Basically, what I found is it’s pretty subjective depending on who you talk to, but I’d say the Top 5 definitely include the famous Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Jack Stack, LC’s, and Oklahoma Joe’s. After careful research, I went with Joe’s.

Joe’s is located in a gas station. Yup. You can literally fill up your tank while you fill up your tank. You can also grab a variety of BBQ sauces or rubs to take home at their convenience store, along with some windshield wiper fluid and some Tums to help aid your digestion after devouring the best barbecue of your life.

A few tips: get there early. The line is consistently stretched down the length of the building. They technically open at 11 a.m.. We got there at 10:55 and they were already bustling and slinging BBQ. We didn’t have to wait too long but as we left the line was starting to grow. I will say this: they are super efficient here. You order with a guy behind the glass, they keep yelling out orders until they are ready and by the time you get to the cash register, you have your food. It’s quite the spectacle.

One of their specialties is the Z Man sandwich, which is brisket, two onion rings, and smoked provolone. My co-worker Doug ordered this with a side of the dangerously addictive seasoned fries and didn’t leave one morsel of food on the plate. As for the sandwich, I had one bite and instantly fell in love the smoky combination of thinly sliced juicy beef, melted cheese, and crispy onion rings.

JC is from Texas and therefore considers himself a pretty good authority on barbecue, and especially brisket. In order to accurately asses Joe’s BBQ, he decided to get a regular brisket sandwich (as opposed to Z Man). JC was impressed with the brisket. It wasn’t full of fatty chunks like some brisket I’ve had…just enough to help give it the lovely flavor. It was juicy and delicious.

Me? I simply had to get some ribs. You know what they say…when in Rome…er…KC. I think the guy behind the counter had a good little chuckle to himself when I ordered a half slab of ribs and a side of baked beans. No, I didn’t even begin to finish all of this. But oh. My. God. It was SO amazing. I’m told some rib purists would disagree with me, but I like the meat to be so tender and juicy that it’s collapsing off the bone. These were miles and away the best ribs of my life. I will have dreams about these ribs. The baked beans were also top notch. I love how they used multi-colored beans just to switch it up a bit.

Aside from ribs and brisket, another thing you should consider trying while in K.C. is burnt ends. If you are finding yourself googling “burnt ends” right now, don’t worry, I didn’t know what they were until a few days ago. My Kansas City born friend and BBQ connoisseur, Dan Nelson, had this to say about the culinary wonder: “Other than George Brett and the pre-2005 Chiefs, Burnt Ends is KC's greatest contribution to modern society.”

According to Wikipedia, Burnt ends are “flavorful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket.” OK, seriously, that sentence doesn’t do them justice. Close your eyes and imagine a slightly crispy, extremely smoky and perfectly buttery little nugget of meat and then topping it with a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce. That is a burnt end. The ones we had were at Jack Stack’s. I’m told they were a little drier than better places around KC, but I still thought they were delightful.

For me, the star at Jack Stack was actually one of their sides, the cheesy corn bake. It’s exactly how it sounds. Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, corn, garlic and diced ham. What’s not to like? Also…the warm carrot cake is out of this world. Their best BBQ dish was the crown prime rib on the bone. My one complaint with the place...and normally this wouldn't be an issue...but it was kind of too "clean" for me. Jack Stack is a great place to go if you want a nice BBQ spot with dark wood tables, a wine list, and a hilarious waitress. I don't know about you...but for me, there is something to be said for an authentic, hole in the wall BBQ place that leaves all of the frills for places like Jack Stack.

And speaking of hole in the wall places, I present to you: LC's. I didn't actually have a chance to sample this one, as my flight left at an ungodly hour of 7 a.m. However, JC and Doug were kind enough to snap some photos during their third and final BBQ sampling of the trip. I love how the smoker has probably never been cleaned in its entire existence and they serve their BBQ on plain old white bread. They got a brisket sandwich and a burnt ends sandwich. They both still preferred Joe's better but said LC's was definitely a close second. JC also reports that he still smells like smoke hours later. I love that.

But aside from the BBQ, Kansas City is also home to some amazing local chefs. Take Justus Drugstore for example. It's located in Smithville, about 20 miles north of Kansas City proper. First of all, the town is adorable. City Hall is across the street and the main little street was still lined with American flags from 4th of July. (Or perhaps they are always wouldn't surprise me). As the name suggests, it was a family drugstore until Jonathan Justus and his wife converted it into an innovative restaurant that has become a destination in the area.

But the other thing I love about it is their connection to the community. Yes, it's a high end restaurant that attracts wealthy folk from the area. But they also have an outdoor patio with a separate menu so that a mini-van full of soccer kids can enjoy a burger after a game.

Like many of the San Francisco restaurants I love, the focus is on local here. The chefs and bartenders source from local farms (I counted 32 on the back of the menu). The cocktails are just ridiculously good. Everything is infused in-house with interesting and refreshing combinations. And the food...just forget about it. We all couldn't stop raving about it. Doug even went so far as to say it was one of the best meals he'd ever had. It really was fantastic.

We all got salads to start. Doug ordered the fluffed goat cheese and shaved beet salad (top left). It had a warm local warm goat cheese mousse, white wine vinaigrette, golden beets, and a variety of micro greens. I got the special (top right), which was *fried* goat cheese (heaven) with greens, watermelon, cucumber, hickory nuts and a black sesame vinaigrette. And finally, JC ordered the Maytag Blue Cheese salad, which is unlike any blue cheese salad you will eat in your life. The blue cheese was transformed into a black pepper ICE CREAM. Mind. Blown. It was cold and tangy and everything on the plate just worked together in such an interesting combination of flavors, temperatures and textures. JC is still talking about it.

The main courses were equally impressive. Doug got the freshwater bass filet with sunchoke, ginger citrus saffron, wild greens, butter beans and maitake mushrooms (top left). I was tempted by their signature dish, pork two ways, but I opted instead for stuffed rabbit (top right). The rabbit was breaded and stuffed with housemade kielbasa sausage and served over greens and vegetables with a warm mustard tarragon sauce. I'm definitely going to attempt recreating the sauce at home. I think it would be great on chicken as well. JC ordered the ribeye, which was perfectly cooked medium rare and served over a bed of pasta, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms.

And dessert? Well let me just say one thing: Carrot Cake Beignets. If this isn't the most genius dessert combination, then I don't know what is. Cream cheese filling, dulce de leche, maple cream, carrot "caviar" and candied black walnuts. The chocolate hickory nut cake was also pretty sinful. Cocoa chantilly, honeyed chocolate "paint," sour cream caramel, bacon brittle, and popcorn ice cream. I was a little worried popcorn ice cream would remind me of those popcorn jelly bellies (gross), but like the blue cheese ice cream, it was actually a perfect accompaniment to this decadent dessert.

And finally, I realize after all the BBQ and such, that a brunch photo might be a little anti-climactic, but I just had to get a mention for Bluestem in here. The chef here has been nominated for several James Beard awards, and they have what seems to be an amazing tasting menu at dinner. We didn't get time to check it out, but I did stop by for brunch by myself on Sunday. I got the breakfast sandwich special, which was pulled pork with a fried egg, greens, and the most perfectly cooked breakfast potatoes of my life. Definitely would recommend checking this place out for brunch or dinner...or I hear happy hour is great too.

As for was still work, but as you can see, we managed to squeeze in lots of good eats along the way. And the Giants didn't do too shabby either! Lots of memorable moments as I say farewell to my 3rd All Star experience. Next year...New York! Can't wait!


  1. This is fantastic. Great detail. Went to school at the University of Missouri and really miss KC Barbecue. Really enjoy the blog.

    Steve Peresman
    News Editor
    ESPN Los Angeles

  2. Marinated tomatoes and other veggies are excellent any time of the week

  3. Great Blog. One of my favourite BBQ in Kansas city that place Kansas City BBQ provide the best BBQ cuisine. Thanks for sharing with us. Keep up to the work


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