Tag Archives: RJ’s

Lesser-known Barbecue

The Travel Channel recently filmed an episode of their program “Food Wars” that featured a head to head battle between Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. Frankly, that is a yawner for Kansas City barbecue enthusiasts, because this town has so many restaurants to choose from. Everyone has a favorite, but it is safe to say that the local pantheon is comprised of Bryant’s, Gates, Oklahoma Joe’s, Jack Stack and probably LC’s as well. However, it pays to look further as many of the lesser-known joints have some really good food to offer.

While southern Overland Park may not come to mind when one thinks about good KC barbecue Brobeck’s at Roe and Indian Creek Parkway has been serving a packed house with their affordable specials and quality smoked meats since 2007. In a veritable stroke of genius, Brobeck’s offers a number of local bottled sauces from other area restaurants alongside their house-made varieties. If you want Gates or Bryant’s sauce, they have it. Still their house sauce is very good and they even make a great version of a Carolina mustard sauce, certainly a rarity in these parts. Apart from the sauce experience, come to Brobeck’s for the ribs; they are as good as anyplace in town. Juicy and meaty with a huge pink smoke ring, the ribs separate easily from the bone without being overcooked. They even sell individual ribs for $1.75 if you just want to sample.

Speaking of good ribs, Quick’s Bar-B-Q has served the smokiest bones around since 1964. Decidedly more toothsome than Brobeck’s, they bear all the hallmarks of spending a good long time in the smoker with some hickory wood. That’s fine with me, as Ron Quick has been running the show for better than 20 years after taking over the business from his father. His wife Janet works the front of the house, making this a true family endeavor. Quick’s house sauce is nice and spicy and everything comes with white bread, the way God intended. These folks like their fryer too. I had a delicious and affordable ($4.99) half smoked chicken that was almost certainly crisped in hot oil prior to serving. In addition to barbecue Quick’s offers several interesting delicacies such as a spiral-cut, deep fried hot dog, a deep fried bologna sandwich and corn dogs, which at least a couple folks ordered during my last visit. This is the perfect spot to grab some takeout before spending an evening at the Boulevard Drive-In, which is mere steps away.

Down Merriam Lane lies Woodyard Bar-B-Que, one of the most interesting and original dining spots in all of Kansas City. For the unfamiliar, Woodyard is run out of an old house where diners place their orders. The dining area is a shady deck, anchored by the great smoker itself. That’s right, they cook the meat right out in the open. After a meal at Woodyard, you will smell like a campfire for days. I enjoy the burnt ends here, but others swear by the pecan smoked salmon which is served as a sandwich with a lemon dill cream sauce. Their chili is excellent, studded with meaty burnt ends. The beans are full of spicy black pepper and are among the best in town. In general, I love this place; the whole experience feels like a backyard barbecue with friends. It is a great place to take visitors, especially on a nice summer afternoon. Yes, they serve beer.

Nestled in a half-empty strip mall just south of Shawnee Mission Parkway, Shawnee’s Bates City BBQ probably has the best slab price in town: $10.99 every day of the week. But the baskets of little crunchy fries are what keep me coming back. The thin, stubby potatoes are a little difficult to eat, lending themselves neither to fingers or forks, but these fries are worth the effort. Bates City also has one of the truly eccentric, original owners in the business. The walls and counter are littered with pieces of paper scrawled with various quotes, wise words and jokes courtesy of the owner, Tom. “It takes 10 years to make an overnight success!” reads one sign. He also fashioned a comment box that has no opening in it. This character works the counter most days and always has a good word for regulars and newbies alike. Last I heard, Bates City was planning a move to a new building in downtown Shawnee. Let’s hope more exposure gives them the kudos they deserve.

A Mission, Kansas staple since 2003, RJ’s Bob-Be-Cue is another gem of a place that serves some notable menu items, including a number of salads topping with smoked meat. Yes, you can get a burnt end salad at RJ’s, not to mention fried catfish, strip steak and salmon. Lest you accuse them of blasphemy, know that the traditional barbecue is first rate, particularly the burnt ends and pulled pork. To cap it off, RJ’s serves traditional, down-home breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy on weekends until 1 p.m. This place has a full bar, a cool roadhouse atmosphere and a decent outdoor patio.

Maybe these barbecue spots are not as popular, consistent, well-located or storied as some of the others, but you are missing out if you only hit the Big Five. Dig deep into these menus and you will find that there is plenty to celebrate.

Salad Season: Eight salads that are summer classics, or should be.

Salad is a gloriously malleable concept. A salad can have vegetables, meat, cheese, beans or grains. They can be appetizers, side dishes or entrees and they can be healthy or deliriously fattening. During the summer when gardens start to overflow and heirloom tomatoes ripen, they really start to shine. Here are eight of the best salads you can eat and where to find them around town.

Cobb salad. I think this is just about the perfect entree salad, and one that always delivers the goods at lunchtime. This glorious assemblage of greens, chicken, blue cheese, scallion, tomato, avocado, bacon and hard-boiled egg was supposedly invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby in 1930s and remains a staple of restaurants all over town. You can get a great version out at 75 Cafe in Lenexa. It is made to order and delivered to your table for eight bucks.

Cole Slaw. Yes, we are a town that loves our barbecue, but we also love our side dishes. The closest thing you can get to a salad at most barbecue joints (barring RJ’s burnt end salad) is cole slaw. Cabbage is the canvass but you can take cole slaw in so many directions. I prefer a sweet, tangy version rather than an overly creamy one but I do love both the regular and spicy cole slaw at Oklahoma Joe’s.

Green Papaya Salad. Long a staple of southeast Asian cuisine, green papaya can be shredded into strands, reminiscent of noodles or slaw. Mixed with fresh herbs, minced chiles and a sweet and sour fish sauce dressing it makes a wonderful appetizer or side dish. The salad is not on the menu at Kansas City’s best Vietnamese restaurant, Vietnam Cafe, but Pho 97 on Independence Avenue serves a top-notch variation.

Nicoise Salad. I’m quivering with desire just thinking about Nicoise salad. This Frenchie, tarted up Cobb raises the bar with the inclusion of tuna, potatoes, green beans and Nicoise olives. It is a strangely hearty salad due to the potatoes and the protein present in tuna and the hard-boiled egg. The best part may be the dijon vinaigrette. Sadly it is hard to find a place in town that prepares a classic Nicoise, but Starker’s has a nice version with salmon instead of tuna. I also had one at Aixois several years ago but it has not appeared on recent editions of the menu.

Wedge Salad. These old school steakhouse starters almost single-handedly brought iceberg lettuce back from the brink of utter uncoolness. Featuring a quarter-head of iceberg lettuce, bacon, blue cheese dressing and maybe some croutons or diced tomato, the wedge has similar flavors as the Cobb and is about the most unhealthful salad you can order. I used to love the version at City Tavern before it closed but you still can get it all over town, including Garozzo’s.

Caprese Salad. In my opinion, this is the best summer salad on earth. The ingredients speak for themselves: tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella. Yes you can wake up the salad with a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked black pepper, or even drizzle a balsamic reduction judiciously over the top. But these enhancements are not mandatory, as long as the salad is made with great tomatoes. The Farmhouse has a somewhat unorthodox version made with cubes of tomato rather than slices, which I really enjoyed.

Tabouleh. This is a reason to keep bulgar in your cupboard. When combined with minced parsley and mint, and mixed with chopped tomatoes, bulgar takes on a whole new life. The dressing is typically a lemony affair with a hearty dose of good olive oil. Eat tabouleh on its own, or as a kind of condiment on a falafel sandwich. Olive Cafe on the southeast side makes some of the best tabouleh around.

Caesar Salad. Hail Caesar! This is another one that will give you coronary disease if you don’t watch it, but damn are Caesar salads ever good. They have unfortunately been bastardized into something you can pick out of a refrigerated case, but the key is to make it from scratch and eat it right away. Avoid bottled caesar dressings, store-bought croutons and powdered parmesan cheese. Or better yet, just stop by Lidia’s and have their version– it’s much better than anything I have ever made.