Those of us who live in Kansas City--particularly those who have grown up here--understand that debating barbecue is part of our region's culture. In New York, one is either a Yankees fan or a Mets fan; a Rangers fan or an Islanders fan; a Giants fan or a Jets fan. In Kansas City, our equivalent is you're either a Gates fan or a Bryant's fan; you either like Jack Stack ribs or you like Oklahoma Joe's ribs.
A few weeks ago, a report broke that Famous Dave's, a Minneapolis barbecue chain, was closing up its location in the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City. Locals chortled, "that's what an out-of-town group gets for trying to succeed here with barbecue." Alas, Famous Dave's re-opened its doors on Wednesday. But, to many a Kansas Citian, Dave's isn't even in the consideration set when it comes to slow-cooked meats and accompanying sauce.
While everyone has a favorite KC barbecue joint, each is known for something special. Here then is my all-star lineup of Kansas City barbecue:
Pork ribs - Fiorella's Jack Stack, Martin City, MO
Sausage - Hayward's Pit, Overland Park, KS
Beef brisket - Oklahoma Joe's, Mission and Olathe, KS; LC's, Kansas City, MO
Pork - Gates, numerous locations in Kansas City metro
Sauce - This is where it gets really tough. My overall favorite is Hayward's but I like the tanginess of Bryant's to mix it up every so often.
Fries - Another tough one. I like Oklahoma Joe's a lot but you have to drink a liter of something afterwards to quench the thirst. The fries (with skin still on) at Bryant's are hard to beat.
Ambience - The experience at the original Bryant's at 18th and Brooklyn is what real barbecue is all about. One can still feel the presence of the late Arthur Bryant behind the counter. And, the ice cold mugs of beer are a nice accompaniment to your beef sandwich on white bread with plenty of fries and pickles on the side. (Gates takes second place here, if only for the yelled "Hi, may I help you!?" There's nothing better than seeing a Gates newbie walk into the restaurant for the first time, only to get assaulted with this verbal greeting.)