As we watch LA disappear into the distance from our plane windows, the thrill of visiting a new US city makes us a little less sad to be leaving.
We’re heading for the very heart of the country – the bullseye of America: Kansas City, Missouri.
Perhaps it’s the fascination of seeing the true Midwest of the States. Perhaps it’s the lure of what people tell us is the best low-and-slow barbecue in the world.
But we’re feeling an extra pull to this beautiful city: our remarkable friends Melissa and Peter are there waiting for us. We haven’t seen these guys in ages and they’ve been promising to show us KCMO forever.
They’ve sold us on tales of mouthwatering barbecues, amazing bars, beautiful architecture and even more food stories that we could hardly believe were true.
Finally all four of us have managed to co-ordinate to be here at the same time.
And this is what happens:
Our first stop – almost before we drop our luggage off at Melissa and Peter’s apartment – is here: Jack Stack Barbecue – the first of our barbecue marathon.
We can’t tell you how good it is to be in the company of these wonderful people once again. Even more so now that we’re finally here in Kansas City.
Jack Stack is a great place to begin our tour of KC’s meaty marvels, so here’s to all the burnt ends, ribs, baby backs and brisket. More importantly, here’s to the sauce!
Jack Stack has really delivered on our expectations. We devour our dinners like we’ve never eaten before, but not so quickly that we don’t notice the three different types of barbecue sauce they serve here. The original, the spicy and the hot.
General consensus is that the hot sauce is the best, but somewhat overshadowed by the cheesy corn bake just right of centre here. It’s like the cheesiest sauce and the sweetest corn got together and started a mutant school like in X Men. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
We’ve arrived in KC just in time to get to see the city’s football team – the Chiefs – play rival side Denver Broncos. Sadly it’s in Denver, but that doesn’t stop the Chiefs.
We hit a couple of bars, pick up with Melissa’s excellent brother Marshal and move briskly on to a town favourite for celebratory drinks. This, ladies and gents, is The Peanut.
Billed as a dive bar, I think of it more as the best youth centre for grown ups you’ll ever find. It’s been here for over 75 years – before Prohibition! – and no matter what people do for a living, they’re welcome here.
In fact, there’s a saying here that when you walk in to the Peanut you’ll feel like a stranger for about 10 seconds. They’re not wrong.
We’ll have a lot more to say about the Peanut but I’ll tell you this: their chicken wings and their BLT sandwiches are insane. I’ve seen how they make both and they’re simply works of art.
It turns out we’ll be back here almost every night of our stay. Pretty happy with that.
We wake up pretty slowly this morning. Thankfully, there’s excellent coffee nearby – something neither Christina nor I were expecting to find on this trip.
Kaldi’s Coffee turns out a great cappuccino – even with a bit of coffee art too. It comes with a glass of fizzy water and some chocolate-covered coffee beans, which is a lovely touch. There are a few other things on the menu we’re keen to try other than the cap.
The Gibraltar and the Sidecar both interest us very much. More about that later.
We continue our barbecue rampage of Kansas City with a surprisingly long drive out to Jones Bar-B-Q way down on Kaw Drive – a road that Peter very much enjoys saying. Good for him!
Jones BBQ caught Christina’s attention a while back when it was featured on Queer Eye. She fell in love with the two sisters who own the shop – and their barbecue looked really good too.
Sure enough, this little shack in the middle of nowhere turns out truly delicious food. The brisket – thinly sliced and drizzled with their signature sauce – is tender and well smoked.
The burnt ends, which is basically chunks of brisket from the end of the cut, is delicious. It’s chopped into the sauce they use, so you get even more flavour per mouthful.
We’re pleased we made the journey out here to the Jones Bar-B-Q, and it’s even better to see the place doing so well.
It’s not the most well-known place in KC – in fact most locals in the city will take a minute to work out where you mean. Even with Peter reminding everyone it’s way down on Kaw, folk had to think.
Next stop, we go to visit more of Melissa’s family. It’s lovely to be able to put faces to so many names we’ve heard about, but we’re also really enjoying how American the neighbourhoods around KC are. It’s like something straight from the movies.
Lawns filled with trees just about to take on full Fall colours, squirrels everywhere and truly huge houses with swings out front and tree houses out back… it’s amazing.
It’s also close to Halloween, which means all the streets are full of pumpkins, skeletons, funny tomb stones and fake cobwebs. Everything you think is in the movies just for show is actually real life here.
Last night feels a little blurry this morning! From visiting Melissa’s brothers’ houses, we went on to dinner at Grand Street with Marshal and his friend Greg, who owns this and quite a few other restaurants in town.
After a delicious dinner, we went – guess where – the Peanut and then a big crowd of us including Melissa’s other brother Micky and his wife Muff moved en mass to the Piano Room. After that, I believe we made our Uber driver go into a drive-thru for a late-night snack!
So, this morning, it’s a much-needed Sidecar at Kaldi’s. A Sidecar, it turns out, is a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso on the side. Better than a simple double-shot cap because you get to taste the coffee with and without milk.
As for a Gibraltar, I think it’s a drip-filter Americano coffee with an extra shot… or maybe a double-shot macchiato, but as I said. Blurry today.
Blurry or not, we’ve made it to yet another stalwart icon in KC’s barbecue royalty.
Arthur Bryant’s has been here since barbecue began. Its floors are slippery, its walls covered in fascinating photos from the past. As for its food, well…
Ordering here is a little confronting at first. The menu’s huge and the staff are purposefully surly. Cuts come fast and you need to know what you want as you come to the counter.
We come away unscathed and loaded down with food. Melissa and Peter are already drowning in sauce, but they’re soldiering on, bless ’em.
Burnt ends here are big chunky buggers, the brisket comes as a thick-filled sandwich and the ribs are truly tasty. We’re impressed with the sauces here, and the beans are really something.
The other side you can see is their version of potato ‘mash’ I think. But it comes out more like the best bits of a cheesy potato bake. It’s amazing.
You also get to help yourself to pickles. Our advice, always take more than you think you’ll need. They’re excellent.
It’s not far from Arthur Bryant’s to our next stop: the Boulevard Brewery. This local beer maker has grown enormously in recent years to the point where they had to expand into another building.
It’s cool to be able to see the old one from the balcony of the new and as the sun goes down, the original sign sets a perfect silhouette to go with our beers.
It’s surprisingly busy here this afternoon at Boulevard. In fact, two wedding parties come through at one point. We manage to find a seat though with Melissa’s friends Kelley, Scott and Amy.
The views from up here on the second floor of Boulevard are great, but they’re overshadowed by the beer. They have an IPA called The Calling, which is great but the Tank 7 Saisson Boulevard make is out of this world. Dangerously drinkable.
After the brewery it’s absolutely dinner time (how are we hungry again?) so Melissa, Peter, Amy and the two of us head to Tannin Wine Bar to meet up with Amy (a different one!), Tatia and Beth. Dinner is so much fun and the food’s excellent too, however, one of the waitstaff here reminds us all of David Spade from the popular comedy Just Shoot Me.
We finish off with a drink at the Crossroads Hotel lobby bar… or maybe the drink finishes us off. Time for bed.
News team – assemble!
Today, we’ve collected at The Well Bar and Grill in preparation for mobile mayhem. We’re riding the Pedal Hopper! But more about that in a minute.
First we eat. Christina orders the chop salad because she’s not too hungry… turns out a Midwest salad is what you ask for when you’ve spent the last two months on the lemonade diet. It’s massive.
I’m not that hungry either, but luckily, I’m a massive pig. This reuben sandwich disappears with scary ease.
Peter orders the loaded house-made tater tots, which are just as formidable. Each one is the size of a golf ball and is filled with cheese and all kinds of other stuff. It almost breaks the poor fella.
The good news is his team – the 49ers – wins the game we’ve come here to watch.
Now to business and the real reason we’re at the Well. We’ve climbed aboard the Pedal Hopper, a rolling bar which we’re expected to pedal across town like a peloton pub.
There will be water stops along the way – bars where we’ll refuel our inebriations and dampen our inhibitions.
Thankfully, we have a ‘pilot’ – Brett – who steers this mighty craft down busy roads while we pedal like idiots. He also has control over a little electric motor, that whirs into action when we hit any kind of hill.
What an incredible group of people. I’m not surprised Melissa talks about her mates so much. They’re wonderful.
Thank you Melissa, Muff, Oldham, Molly, Peter, Amy, Tatia, Cap, Amy and Beth. you’ve made us feel so welcome and we feel proud to know we also now have a group of amazing friends in KCMO.
At least we hope so.
It’s our last night in Kansas City, so mid-party Christina and I try to sneak off for one last barbecue fix. Our hope is to leave, eat and return without anyone noticing…
We’ve heard so much about Q39 BBQ we couldn’t leave without trying it. And we just can’t drag poor Melissa and Peter to another one. They’re smoked out.
When we get here, we understand what the fuss is about. It’s a modern table-service restaurant with an old-school barbecue theme. And the food is amazing.
The brisket comes out in thick, tender slices, the ribs are slow cooked enough to almost fall off the bone and burnt ends are up to scratch. Sauce-wise, Q39 is on the right track too though a little vinegary maybe.
We’re really happy we’ve made it here and our plan to get back to the party is looking good.
But this is where our plan goes sideways. We try for a second venue. Gates Bar-B-Q is perhaps the best-known and most loved of the Kansas City restaurants.
We’re pretty excited to be here – as you can see! The question is, will we get back to the party in time… and will we simply explode with all this food?
We understand now why Gates is so well-known. This is the burnt ends – served in a squishy hotdog bun, which soaks up the best sauce we’ve had.
The meat is perfectly cooked, the pickles are amazing, the beans are so sweet and full of meat bits, and the whole pickled jalapeño peppers give a lovely kick.
The sauce (we’ve bought a bottle) is surprisingly vinegary, but spicy too. It reminds me a little of an old-school vindaloo in the UK.
Even better than everything else, we get to meet Mr Ollie Gates himself! He’s having dinner with his daughter at the back of the restaurant and watching the game.
Steve, the guy running the door and who’s worked with Mr Gates for years, politely asks if it’s ok for us to have a photo with this local legend. What a nice man.
Unfortunately, it turns out there’s no wifi anywhere near here and we’re stranded waiting for a local taxi, who shows up an hour or so later.
We head to the pre-arranged rendez vous of the Peanut, but everyone’s gone. We missed the party.
We hope our new friends don’t hold it against us that we didn’t get to say goodbye. It’s never a fun process anyway, but that’s no excuse.
The only way we can make up for it is with the full knowledge that we’ll be back. Kansas City, you have our hearts.