Lengthy KC BBQ review
Warning: if this is too long for some I apologize.
The following is an account of my recent trip to Kansas City. I had posted a thread on this forum “KC BBQ: best of the rest” and I would like to say thank you to all who responded to that, your information was greatly appreciated.
My trip was primarily a BBQ tasting trip but I have included a few of the other delicious food samplings I enjoyed and will premise all of this by stating that I am in no way trying to put down certain establishments or making any declaration that they are entirely not good. That is not the case because to me BBQ is probably one of the most difficult food products to produce consistently in a commercial restaurant and I have been to many BBQ’s that were bad on my first visit and great on my 2nd and vice versa. Unfortunately due to time constraints I was only able to visit each place once, with one exception (Gates because I got there too early and the mutton was not ready yet so I had to go back 2 days later), and I also was not able to visit everywhere I would have liked. With that being said I sincerely hope that someone finds some of this useful and remembers these are just my own opinions from what I had on those particular days and I appreciate that many may disagree with me but I am only trying to give an account of my own experiences. Thank you for reading and for all of the information that is supplied in these forums. They are an invaluable resource when planning trips such as this.
The BBQ restaurants I was able to visit are: Arthur Bryant’s, Winslow’s, BB’s Lawnside, Gates, LC’s, Jack Stack’s, Oklahoma Joe’s, & Rosedale. There are 3 others I would have liked to get to but was unable to: Danny Edwards, Smokin’ Guns, and Smokehouse. I also ate at Bluestem, Christopher Elbow’s, JP Wine Bar and Michael Smith’s.
Arthur Bryant’s: probably the best all around joint visited. Had the burnt ends, sausage and ribs. The sausage was different, it was sliced like sandwich meat, not in any type of casing but was very good. Ribs and burnt ends were great and I actually liked the sweet heat sauce the best while all the other sauces were very good.
Winslow’s: for those who read my earlier thread “Best of the Rest”, this was it, and I did not even ask about it in that thread. My hotel concierge recommended it and it was outstanding. This was my runner-up for best all around. Had pulled pork, ribs, sausage and burnt ends (probably the best I had). Winslow’s was a great “dining experience”, they had a band playing out on the porch and on that particular day they nailed every one of their meats, and the sauce was pretty good too.
BB’s Lawnside: the atmosphere was 2nd to none. This place probably had the coolest vibe of anywhere we visited. A band was playing and the place was packed. Ate the rib tips on a recommendation from my server. They were just ok, wish I would have got the ribs, sauce was very different, lots of apple juice, not really for me.
Gates: to me Gates had the best sauce. Ate the sausage, ribs and mutton, all were good, especially the mutton, but to me Gates is all about the sauce.
LC’s: this is a tough one because I had such high expectations. Much of what I read and a lot of KC locals raved about this place. While it was good, I felt I had much better. The highlight was the beans, they were probably the best I had, but I have to agree with some of the other comments about the burnt ends being fatty. They were much fattier than any of the others I tried. And for those who say fat is flavor, I agree, but large chunks of fat, bordering on gristle, is not necessarily flavor. The ribs were good, sauce was good, and I had the turkey which was fine but wasn’t much different than turkey at a deli. With all that being said this will be the first place I go to if I am fortunate enough to return to KC, I feel LC certainly deserves a second shot.
Jack Stack’s (Freight House location): one of our favorites. I had the 3 rib platter (pork, lamb, & crown prime beef ribs which is basically just short ribs) of which I thoroughly enjoyed the lamb and the short rib, they outshined the pork which was also good and the sauce was good as well. While this place does not have that BBQ joint feel we didn’t consider that a bad thing, especially my wife. We liked the fact that you can get really good bbq in a full service environment. The service was great, the dining room was very nice and at this point my wife was fairly filled on bbq so it was wonderful that she could get a nice glass of wine and a well cooked piece of fish with some vegetables (swordfish, which she really enjoyed) while I continued to indulge in bbq.
Oklahoma Joe’s: That may have been the best pork rib I have ever eaten anywhere. It was truly sensational. We got there at 11:10am (opened at 11) and the line was at least 20 deep already and I can understand why. Also had the sliced beef which was good, but did not compare to the ribs, the sauce was also very good, and the seasoning made the fries.
Rosedale: this may have been our least favorite which is not to say that it was bad, take into consideration the competition. I had the ribs which were slightly over cooked to were they almost seemed liked they were boiled, the sausage which was the best part of the meal, and the burnt ends which were a little dry. Sauce was good, very peppery.
Here is my wrap up:
Best BBQ restaurant: Arthur Bryant’s, with Winslow’s a close 2nd.
Best Non BBQ restaurant: Bluestem (had a fantastic meal with great service)
Best BBQ sauce: Gates
Best Ribs: Oklahoma Joe’s
Best Burnt Ends: Winslow’s
Best Beans: LC’s
Best Atmosphere: BB’s Lawnside, followed by Jack Stack’s for different reasons
Best Desert: Christopher Elbow’s chocolates, if you like chocolate you gotta try them!
Best Non BBQ item: Foie Gras torchon at Bluestem, followed by the Braised Rabbit at Michael Smith’s.
I should add that after now visiting Memphis, Austin, Lockhart, Lexington, Taylor, Owensboro and few other places in-between on a whole KC does it like none of those others. A big reason why for me is because while many of these places do certain things better than others, KC seems to do it all and they do it all really well.
Thanks again & Regards.
Please allow me to piggy-back on your comments (I guess you don’t have a choice). I visited from Toronto earlier this month and visited many of the same places so a second opinion may help future readers who are searching for great meals in KC. I hit 5 BBQ places and all 5 were on your list. I’ll comment in the same order as you.
Arthur Bryant’s: I also had this near the top (2nd) – a number of reviews suggested that Bryant’s had seen better days – if so, it must have been amazing! For me the sauces were the star here – especially the ‘sweet heat’ (as you also found). Loved the burnt ends which were meaty and no gristle. One piece was all fat and a couple of pieces were a bit dry but overall the best we had. I didn’t particularly like the ribs – they were OK but too vinegary – reminded me of South Carolina style – and it was this dish that dropped my rating down.
Winslow’s; BB’s Gates – didn’t get there!
LC’s – My favourite overall. The beans were astonishing – by FAR the best beans I’ve ever eaten. The ribs were also superb – everything I wanted in BBQ. I loved the texture which was a little firmer than some. Not fall-off-the-bone, yet tender and I liked the ‘al dente’ texture which still reminded me of meat (rather than pablum). However the burnt ends were very patchy. Some really dry and some gristle.
Jack Stack (Overland Park location) – Disappointing. Can’t speak to other locations but the lamb ribs – of which I had great hopes – were dry and tasteless with a layer of fat right through the ribs between two layers of meat. The ribs (pork) were OK, but the sauce seemed bland – there was nothing in this meal to ‘spark’ our interest. I also noticed a fishy odor in the restaurant – not a good sign. Overall our least favorite.
Oklahoma Joe’s – I’m torn on this one, but certainly wouldn’t put it anywhere near my top 2. The best parts were the Fries (sensational) and the bread which was slightly toasted to give it some texture (I’m not a fan of the Wonderbread tradition – so I just ignore it). Many reviews tout OK Joe’s pulled pork sandwich (and certainly many people were ordering it) – but AS A VISITOR, why would I eat South Carolina style BBQ when I’m visiting KC?. The ribs were very poor –dried out at both ends and OK in the middle – and their sauce didn’t exactly sparkle either. But a few hours later I had a significant MSG reaction and I’m convinced it was from the seasoning on the fries.
Rosedale: The ribs were pretty good in taste – absolutely fall-off-the-bone, although I prefer a little more texture. The burnt ends were, frankly, inedible. Dry, fatty and I just left them. The fries were ‘industrial’ and very greasy (although they were somehow ‘plumped up’ like pillows). Definitely wouldn’t return.
And I’ll hold out a huge ‘thumb’s up for Bluestem. Certainly the most expensive place we visited but thoroughly worth it. We wanted to go for their tasting menu but we were told that meant we would both get the same dishes. However, their 7 course menu option (which was cheaper) allowed us to effectively order 14 different dishes. Their website is a little confusing as it refers to a choice of ‘left-hand’ and ‘right-hand’ dishes – neither of which are identified on the webpage, but essentially it’s two fish/meat courses, a dessert and four salad/soup/hot appetizer/cold appetizer courses. And a wine option by the glass too – usually different for each of us.
We started with a ‘complimentary’ amuse-bouche of grape juice with mint foam. I’m almost sure we also had a sparkler – but didn’t note what it was.
Our first courses were mixed greens with a herbed goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette (with a Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc); and Fava beans with fresh ricotta and a pearl onion (wine not noted). The menu described ‘goat cheese truffles’ – but not sure what/where the truffle description came from. Certainly I preferred the fava beans course.
Course 2: Wagyu tartare with black olive caramel and potato chips (? I think – can’t read my own writing); Torchon of foie gras with sour cherries, crushed peanuts, rhubarb and quince gelee.
Two wines served – 2003 Chateau d’Arche (Sauternes) and an Italian Trebbiano sweetie from Isole & Olena. Both great matches with these dishes.
Course 3: Spring Pea Soup with lemon Crème Fraiche and fresh peas: we both chose the same soup course. Fresh peas are in season and we congratulated ourselves – this was an outstanding dish that neither of us wanted to share! (Served with Carr Chardonnay from Carneros).
Course 4: Gnocchi with summer squash in brown butter; Fusilli with Duck Confit on a puree of ?? (carrot, orange and more). Wines were Vina Esmeralda (Spanish Muscat/Gewuztraminer blend) & 2003 Château Greysac [NOTE: I tend to avoid 2003 European wines as IMO many wines were made from ’grapes that cooked on the vine’. I have had a few palatable ones but, for the most part, ignore this year]. To my palate the Greysac tasted corked – but it could have been just an overwrought wine! Either way I left it and the service was good enough that they inquired about this unconsumed wine. To compensate (as the dish was now consumed) I am pretty sure that they ‘upgraded’ some of the remaining wines served. Both dishes were very tasty – and VERY rich.
Course 5: At this point my note-taking slipped somewhat! I note a scallop dish (without any further description – although I recall the scallop as being perfectly cooked). Two wines are noted – a Pinot Gris from Willakenzie and a 2006 Pinot Noir from Ayres (both Oregon). I’m guessing the other dish was roasted halibut as I also recall a bouillabaisse broth (and that dish is listed on the menu).
Course 6: Again I only note one dish - a Campo Lindo Hen (no notes on this) and am again “assuming” that the other dish was the Roast Kurobuta Porkloin (listed on the menu) which came with pecans (that I also recall). Again no notes, but the wine was a John Duval Shiraz that was a blockbuster.
Course 7: OK at this point it had become too difficult to make a dessert choice – but Bluestem offered (for a $10 upgrade) a tasting dessert menu. And it included a cheese course too, so why not?
The cheese course was served with a 10-yr-old Ramos Pinto port (I didn’t note the cheeses – IIRC there were 2 or 3, served with nuts and dried fruits).
Dessert Course 1: Angel Food Cake with Kumquats, Raspberries, Rice Pudding and strawberry sorbet; Sarsparilla Cake with Popcorn Ice-Cream, peaches and a peach-caramel drizzle (yes even for the tasting desserts we received different dishes). Served with a moscato d’asti – athough by now my wine limit had been reached.
Dessert Course 2: “Mint Julep” mint ice-cream, vanilla marshmallow, and more!; “Banana Split” and a malted macaroon, with a fountain soda (?root beer). Served with a Walnut liqueur from Modena.
Dessert Course 3: Passion Fruit truffle & a Caramel, and a gelee of Strawberry & Rhubarb(?) and a Champagne Float.
OK my notes sort of trailed off about 60% of the way through – but I’m sure you get the picture – this was a great meal! (And no BBQ).
Our one other meal was at Starker’s Restaurant in the Plaza. Certainly the most formal room we visited. But quite honestly we had O/D’d on BBQ meat by then so really weren’t up to fine dining. We stuck with fish and vegetables and all the portion sizes were generous. The clientele was also a lot more formal than anywhere else. The meal was pretty good – but by then we had really overdone it on food and I’d given up taking notes. Nevertheless, I thought their selection of wines was VERY good – especially a significant number of half-bottles. And wine prices were less that I expected too.
I would happily return to Starkers and test them more thoroughly, but I know I’d return to Bluestem first.
And, of course, the BBQ was outstanding. Over the past 2 years I’ve visited many of the ‘reputed’ top cities for BBQ and Kansas City is definitely #1. For completeness, we had “New Mexico” BBQ as the top before KC (Albuquerque and Santa Fe). Texas BBQ has a honorable mention for Beef BBQ (Fort Worth in particular) and Memphis was easily the most disappointing. Didn’t find anywhere in Memphis that did more than 1 item well. A few other places sit somewhere in the middle (e.g. St Louis, Chicago, Nashville).
I’ve eliminated all the South Carolina style places deliberately – I just don’t like that style so please don’t jump on me for just ignoring those. And NEVER visit Toronto for BBQ – although we do some other things extremely well and welcome any visitors to our home board.
Great report. I guess I'm gonna have to try Bryant's, and maybe Winslows.
My idea of the best Burnt Ends may be wrong, at least for most people. I read that they were originally something that was either thrown out, or given away. That would lead me to believe that these were not your best cuts.
Probably fatty, maybe some gristle, a little burnt, ends. That's what I got at LC's, and the flavor, the smoke, just the whole package was amazing.
Now, everywhere else I've had burnt ends, was like cubed brisket. Good, in some cases damn good, but not much fat, not much burnt, good smoke, a bit dry.
Bottom line, as always, taste is relative. Give me the imperfection of LC's.
But I will now renew my efforts to try the originator, Bryants.
After that, I'll assess the need for further study.