For Part Two of my barbecue postings, I will report on stops in late May in Kansas City at Fiorella's Jack Stack BBQ and Arthur Bryant's, the oldest and best known (outside the KC area) barbecue emporium of the 8-10 most popular places in the city that lies in both Missouri and Kansas.
The first stop was at the original (of four) location of Fiorella's, this in the burb of Martin City, Mo. Russ Fiorella opened there in the mid-70s after working for dad Jack at a small neighborhood joint he opened in 1957.
Jack Stack is a genuine sitdown restaurant with four or five rooms and a patio. I mention that to contrast it with Arthur Bryant's and will explain later.
I order a sampler of St. Louis-cut ribs and brisket and just had to tack on lamb ribs, which I had never encountered. The ribs were among the best I ever have had. I ordered them without sauce added at the end. I'm guessing they had been basted lightly a few times, but whatever was applied did not paint over the meat. I guessed that mop included fruit juice, perhaps apple. The rub was very much in the background.
The brisket did not come with as much top fat as I like -- I like it to be about 3/8-inch. It was good, but still not as succulant as the brisket I had in 2010 at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester, NY, which I mentioned in the last post.
The lamb ribs were good, but to me the long smoking masked the lamb flavor. I would have guessed they were beef.
A signature side at Jack Stack is cheesy corn bake, very rich and a meal in itself. If I lived close by, I would stop in in the winter and order it with a few ribs on the side, as it were.
We had a very pleasant experience at Jack Stack -- comfortable surroundings (sitting under a rocking horse pig), good service and super fare. I enjoyed chatting with the winsome expeditor in a spot where I could see the smoke ovens.
Our opportunity for a second Kansas City barbecue experience came on Memorial Day. My first choice, Danny Edwards' Famous Kansas City Barbecue, was closed, as I feared. It was our good fortune that Arthur Bryant's was only a few miles away and open.
Arriving around 2 p.m., there was a line of people. This allowed us to see into the second of two dining rooms: Patrons were carrying their food to dinette tables. This is going to be much different than Jack Stack, I thought.
When we got inside, we saw a menu board up front above the work area. We ordered from the dudes behind the windows. Nobody was writing down anything. I told this guy I wanted ribs and brisket. He didn't ask me about sides. "Do I tell you what sides I want" "Ya, right here," he said.
You move along toward the cashier. I was concerned that Bryant's might not take plastic with its no-frills style, but not to worry. There were only two beers on tap, one being Boulevard, a local craft beer. Fiorella's has an extensive beer and wine list.
Bryant's serves its barbecue on thick white bread. It's pretty tasty once juices and sauce have soaked in.
I found the ribs to be acceptable and well below Fiorella's, quality-wise. Bryant's slices brisket thin on a deli slicer. A good share of fat was included, which made for good flavor, but I prefer slices of 1/8-1/4-inch thickness.
With all the upstanding BBQ joints in Kansas City, I'm not sure what keeps people standing in line at Bryant's. Maybe we weren't the only ones whose first choice was Danny Edwards.'
While in line inside, we could check out photos of celebrities who have visited, including Steven Spielberg, Kate Kapshaw and Jimmy Carter, none recent. John McCain and Sarah Palin made a campaign stop, possibly causing some patrons to develop indigestion.
With so many worthy 'cue spots in KC -- others include Oklahoma Joe's, Smokestack, Gates and Hayward -- I wonder how Bryant has kept its lustre. It has maintained market share with two suburban locations.
As I said in post one, good barbecue can be had almost everywhere nowadays. But places like Memphis and Kansas City are worth visiting because of tradition and the sheer number of places.
With summer here, I am inspired to fire up my smoke to see if I can turn out ribs the least bit as good as I had at Fiorella's. I look forward to the challenge.