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Dec 20, 2007 06:12 AM

California Hound goes on Kansas City BBQ Binge: Arthur Bryant's, Jack Stack & LC's

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:

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  1. Great post, carb lover. You captured the flavor of each place nicely.
    Burnt ends in the old days at Bryant's were something you scooped off the tray at the side of the slicer. They were free. The current version in sauce really isn't the same.
    Glad you made it to LC's. :)
    Try Smokin' Guns and Oklahoma Joes next trip. I'm sure you'll get plenty more reccomendations too.

    12 Replies
    1. re: bbqboy

      Thanks, bbqboy. I will keep those two recs in mind. What is each place known for?

      I always forget to add the links:

      Arthur Bryant's Barbeque
      1727 Brooklyn Ave, Kansas City, MO 64127

      Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue
      4747 Wyandotte St, Kansas City, MO 64112

      L C's Bar-B-Q
      5800 Blue Pkwy, Kansas City, MO 64129

      1. re: Carb Lover

        Was just through KC this last weekend. Hit AB's and LC's. Agree with CarbLover...Bryant's burnt ends are like a gloppy bbq sloppy joe with little meat and smoke flavor. The fries were fresh, but not inclined to return. LC's BEs were more transcendent, though would have been better without any sauce in my opinion. Few sauces outside Craig's in DeVal's Bluff AR are worth the effort in my opinion. LC is on my list to revisit next time, along with a visit to OK Joe's....and might have to hit Mr. T's or whatever it is down the block from LC's. Any comments on that joint? Smoke looked great from the road!

        1. re: sambamaster

          That was a great report Carb Lover. What stamina!
          Sambamaster, several people have told me Big T's is really good. I haven't been yet. I was at Oklahoma Joe's just last night. It was very good, but I don't care for their sauce much. It seems to have gotten sweeter in the last couple of years.

          1. re: zataar

            I'm not from KC but for a few years I was frequently passing through KC on my way to and from MSP to various places (usually Dallas). Here was a post I did on Big T's which I found to pale in comparison to LC's even on a bad day for LC's (but to reiterate, it was just one visit).

            In the post, I may not have been clear enough. I went to LC's and bought an order of burnt ends and fries, then went across the street and bought an order of burnt ends and fries at Big T's. Took them out to the car and did a one-man chowdown.


        2. re: Carb Lover

          I went to Smokin Guns after being told by a BBQ guy in Des Moines, that they were better than LC's. They did not compare. It was nice to sample a new place, but it was a meal I missed at LC's. Still haven't made it to Bryant's, but am no longer trying real hard. Once you have achieved "BBQ Enlightenment", surely nothing but disappointment awaits elsewhere.
          Tell LC's not to sauce the Burnt Ends. They are best that way.

          1. re: Bobfrmia

            Has anyone tried RJ's Bob B Que?

            1. re: WyCo

              I've eaten there several times. The meat is nice, not over the top like LC's, the fries are great. The weekend breakfast is terrific. I like it better than the bbq actually.

              1. re: zataar

                I recently received a KC Barbecue Sauce pift pack that contained three bottles:Arthur Bryant's, Fiorella's, and another bottle that had a bad seel so I had to discard it before trying. I have not tried the Fiorella's but can honestly say the Bryant's is by far the WORSE BBQ sauce I have ever tasted. Having lard as an ingedient should have been a tip off.......................

                1. re: TonyO

                  I'll agree that AB's sauce is a love it or hate proposition. I happen to like it much better than the overly sweet stuff they serve at Jack's Stack.

                  Why would lard be a tipoff for bad sauce?

                  1. re: chileheadmike

                    Is there really any flavor in lard ? I mean, for frying I have no issues (other than the need for a triple bypass at some point). I think the sauce may have a place in baked beans but found it to be really odd with pork/beef/chicken.

                    1. re: TonyO

                      Yes, there is. People that need triple bypasses probably should steer clear of barbecue all together. That's a very old recipe. At the time it was created, lard in that area was plentiful and cheap. I'm kind of glad they have stuck with the original recipe. There are a lot of people who don't like it, there are a lot of people who believe that its the one true Kansas City barbecue sauce.

                2. re: zataar

                  I moved to the KC area last summer and since I live in Mission, RJ's the first BBQ joint I tried. I ordered the brisket sandwich and found it dry and skimpy on the meat. My parents thought it was okay, but didn't seem to be overly impressed.

                  Since then I've had the opportunity to eat at Oklahoma Joe's and Jack Stack a lot and find both to be far superior in flavor and quality.

        3. Great report Carb Lover! Though I'm sad you didn't stop by to eat some dessert with me, at least! :-( For what it's worth, Jack Stack's has lost it for me. I'm all about the sides usually, and their sides have really gone downhill.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Katie Nell

            Thanks, Katie Nell! I thought about you since I remember you liking Jack Stack but too bad that it's gone downhill for you. That place seems like they'd have very standardized recipes for their sides, so I wonder what's changed (ingredients, execution, or?)...Which location do you frequent?

            We were so short on time this past visit, but I'll definitely email you before we come out next time. Who could pass up a Katie Nell dessert creation...

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I think it's a little bit of both. We go to the one in Martin City- the original location. It's closest to us. It seems to me that it's become more chain-like in the last couple of years.

              Definitely do e-mail me next time!

            2. re: Katie Nell

              Agreed on the sides. I have a hard time finding a place that has all three...good bbq, sauce AND sides. Smokestack on Wornall and 85thish has the best beans, slaw and sauce are also quite good. When the brisket is good, it's really good...but that's not always the case. Lately, I'll pick up brisket at McGonigles and then swing by Smokestack for the rest. MMMM, I think I just figured out what's for dinner here!

              1. re: jdl98

                Agree on the beans at Smokestack. With the brisket in them, they're a meal in themselves, but I felt Jack Stack's beans, which also include meat, were pretty good, too.

            3. thanks for the great review Carb Lover. I am now on the hunt for LCs BBQ for Saturday. I was looking for a great steak, but I have the scent thanks to your post. I will share my experience following my post-BBQ nap tommorrow. :-)

              3 Replies
              1. re: QuackersandBrownie

                I went for an early lunch to LCs BBQ. Now this was outstanding chow! I only had a 1/2 slab with the sauce on the side as I intended to hit a few other places that afternoon to sample each. By the time I was finished with this masterpiece, I skipped the others so as to not "ruin" such a positive experience.

                The staff at LCs were friendly and again, the BBQ was really the best I have had in a long time, and is right up there with Dream Land in Alabama. I highly recommend LCs and will hopefully get a chance to go back before my KC trip is complete.

                Late afternoon I stopped at the Jack Stack BBQ, didn't stay, it felt too "chain like". After my LCs experience, I wasn't going to take the chance of having a bad experience. If I make it there during my stay, I will report, however, just don't see it happening unless LCs goes out of business this week......

                1. re: QuackersandBrownie

                  Thanks for reporting back! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed LC's as much as I did and that their ribs are just as good as their burnt ends. Did you get beef or pork ribs? Any sides?

                  1. re: QuackersandBrownie

                    Nice report. Jack's Stack gets a lot of good publicity around here. Its not my favorite, nothing wrong with it, but it's no LC's