Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hayward Son.

I remembered this place from about ten years ago. I went there at lunch during a spring day of painting house exteriors, so I was ready then for a nice hot lunch, and my boss sprung for it, too. Sweet! It was packed that day. Maybe it still gets packed for lunch?

The Saturday night we went it was not. They actually made us wait for a table, though we called ahead for a party of 8. The drinks came quick enough, but that's where the service stopped being exactly that... Service. It took twenty minutes for a sausage and burnt end appetizer. I would consider a smoked meat a pre-prepared option, so it was hard to imagine what took so long to re-heat them. They were good once we got them. The sausage wasn't as spiced as I prefer, but it was good. The burnt ends were equally charred and moist, so they fell apart nicely when masticated. (You can deposit my $0.50 to my PayPal account.) We also ordered wings which were nicely breaded and cooked well, but served without sauce. I got the rib platter because I had the other meats as an appetizer. The ribs were cooked pretty well, but they were not very hot, which confused me even more as to why it took another 25 minutes to get them. At this point we were already talking about limiting the tip. As far as the meat goes; it came off the bone easily, but it left an odd scent as I exhaled with it in my mouth. I used to get overcooked pork chops from my dad that had this "quality".

The sauce was lightly sweet and it was nice and thick, so they have THAT going for them. I'm not a huge fan of the sweetness on which some restaurants base their sauce, so the light sweetness was a welcome difference.

I'm not going out of my way to go here again. I would accept an invitation from friends, if that was their choice for dinner, to allow for a little redemption. There just wasn't enough stand alone goodness to choose this place over, say, the Jackstack another ten minutes down the street.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Smokin' Guns Redux

For our first restaurant to officially kick off the KC BBQ Challenge we decided on one of the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives stops and hit downtown NKC for a little Smokin' Guns. As it is not the inherent nature of a travel show to give any destination a REAL review it seemed like a good choice.

Walking in was awkward. There were a few tables full of people who most likely go there often, which is good. Repeat business is a sign of either consistency, good food or stupid people. After our stop I don't think anyone there was stupid for returning, but I think that they're probably there because it's close, not because there aren't better choices. There was no music playing the entire time we were there and we seemed to be the boisterous table because we talked. I really wanted 101 The Fox to be playing in the background. It would have matched the paneling perfectly. We grabbed a table before we realized that no one would be coming to take our order, and that we had to pick from a menu hung on the wall. Like Mark said, it's one of those signs with the soda advertisement in the middle and letters that can be replaced easily. One like you'd see at a drive-in or skating rink. One that should never be in a restaurant because of the grease and dust that would collect in the cracks used to hold the lettering in place. Just a note... this place didn't seem like the kind of joint that would change the menu very often.

Ash and I got settled, talked it over and ordered a combo platter to share. I wanted the chance to get a feel for as much as the restaurant had to offer. Ribs, pulled pork, sausage, sweet potato fries and beans. Mark got some brisket and Sarah got the quarter chicken, so we all had a bit of one anothers' to round out our tasting. The Smokin' Guns sauce is good. It's not overly sweet as most KC sauces tend to be. It had a nice vinegar balance and good spicing. I'm not sharp enough to tell you what spices they were, that's something I hope to learn in this challenge. The ribs had a nice rub on them too. I used some on the fries and loved it. The ribs themselves weren't in my top 10. The meat stuck between our teeth which in my book is a no-no. I've since learned that in competition ribs should not fall off the bone, but stay firmly in shape and give some sort of "tooth tug". I would be a poor BBQ competition judge, because I love rib meat to practically jump off the bone and melt in my mouth. The sausage was pretty darn good. Lots of whole spices cooked within the meat and a nice crisp pop as you break through the skin. I'd have that again. The breast meat that I tried was dry, but again, the rub was tasty. The pulled pork was dry too. I think that maybe on a busier night the meat could be great, but it seemed that the fat had drained completely from the meat and it left a kind of funk in my sinuses as I swallowed. I am not a fan. I think the brisket was right. It may have fallen victim to the slow night, but it maintained some light greasiness and fell apart without any extra chewing. I'm giving the beef a thumbs up.

Overall I was pleased to find a new place where I can find a couple of menu items that I'd go back for. The sauce should be your crowning achievement as a BBQ restaurant. Smokin' Guns achieves that crown. It gets tarnished when the vessel of delivery is lackluster, but you're still wearing the crown, Guns. I think that the restaurant may have been the next logical step in a competition BBQ Team's succession. At least it felt that way. Cash in and run some XM through a couple of shitty speakers and you'll warm it right up in there. I'll come back XM or not.

Hayward's Pit BBQ

Bar steer wants you to drink.  Heavily.

When I walked into Hayward's BBQ for Westy's bachelor party, I unwittingly walked into a place frozen in time.  Or possibly an episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares waiting to be made.  I didn't quite realize what was happening as we browsed the lobby, which is covered in possibly a hundred photographs of celebrity's from the mid-80s to the early 90s.  This place apparently was huge at one point.  I'm not totally sure of the chain of events that left it as a shell of a BBQ restaurant that it is today, though.

Sausage and Burnt ends; half eaten.
Dinner started off well enough.  I called ahead of time to make sure they could get our party of 8 in without too much trouble on a Saturday night.  'No problem' they tell me, and they weren't kidding.  Walking into the expansive dining area I was somewhat surprised that they were almost empty.  That was the first sign of things to come.

Chicken wings.

I had to try as much variety off of the menu as possible, so I ordered up some chicken wings and a sausage & burnt end appetizer.  It may have taken 20 minutes to get the appetizers out, but they were pretty good.  I was expecting something more like buffalo wings, but they were really just lightly breaded and deep fried.  And the burnt end & sausage plate went over pretty well.  Not the best burnt ends, but they were meaty and we all liked the sauce.  The sausage tasted a bit like a meatball, but I liked it.

Westy waits for the inevitable:
his wedding and his terrible dinner.
Then the next huge wait came.  It probably took another 25 minutes for our actual dinner to be served.  Being we were all talking and having a good time, I can't say exactly how long it took from order to serving, but it had to be approaching an hour.  It was insane.  This is BBQ.  It's not like there's much actual cooking to do.  Most everything is already cooked!  By the time the food came out, it was obvious that it had been sitting under a heat lamp for quite a while.  And it was fairly terrible.  The brisket was fatty and bland.  The pulled pork was fatty and bland.  And the ribs were just bland.

The beans were just strange tasting.  Not inedible, but I'd think twice about ordering them again.  They tasted a little like chocolate.

This is a restaurant with some serious problems.  I have a feeling this place has virtually no management.  I would suspect the kitchen is operating in disarray.  And I have a feeling that the servers are either overworked, or they're caught waiting on an inept back of house, because the service was painfully slow.  As an example, the menu says that the dinners come with pickles.  When they were served sans pickles, I asked our waitress if she could bring us some.  By the time they got there a couple of guys were already done with their sandwiches, and I was more than half done with dinner.  For pickles.  On a plate.  It took ten fucking minutes.  Yeah, service was that bad.
Westy made the bold move of choosing the rib platter,
but wasn't rewarded for his boldness.

The back of the menu gives you a little bit of history of the place.  From what I gathered, it goes a little something like this:

  • Some guy starts a small BBQ place in the 70s.
  • It's wildly successful with lines out the door, so he finds a huge new location to handle the crowds.
  • The restaurant rides on it's merits through the 80s and thinks it's the shit.
  • Time passes by and the management becomes complacent.
  • Eventually you end up with a huge restaurant virtually empty on a Saturday night, serving mediocre food at a glacial pace.

Charlie's sandwich was impressively large.

I've seen this type of thing before.  So, while the experience was well below our expectations, this place COULD turn around.  The sauce was good.  Charlie's sandwich was huge.  The appetizers showed promise.  The food was bland and poorly cooked, but that's pretty easy to fix.

So there you have it.  One more restaurant off the list is done.  I have a feeling I'll have more experiences like this in the near future.  Come on KC!  Get your shit together!
Sweet potato fries from a bag.

Hayward's Pit BBQ
11051 Antioch Rd
Overland Park, KS 66210-2121
(913) 451-8080

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ

I remember years ago, way back before I was married, way back 2 or 3 roommates ago... a magical BBQ place opened up in my neighborhood.  OK, it wasn't so much magical as it was just kind of odd.  I never really expected a tiny BBQ place inside a convenience store to last.  But it did, and over the years it changed into something I don't really quite recognize anymore.  It used to be that you could go into Oklahoma Joe's during the peak of a normal dinner rush and not really have to even deal with a line.  But something happened, and the restaurant I used to love became inapproachable.  You couldn't even get near the place without a series of frustrations.  No place to park.  No place to sit.  No way am I standing in that line.

It seemed to hit an almost absurd level over this summer where the line would stretch out well past the front doors, and all the way to the sidewalk across the parking lot.  Even on 100 degree days.  Nothing would stop people from going here.  But it stopped me.  

I know, I know... I hear people say it all of the time:  "just call in your order.  You can cut right to the front of the line!".  Yeah, that just doesn't cut it for me, because their system is broken.  Here's why:

When you call in your order, they don't put the order in any queue.  They just write the order on a bag, tell you to wait 20 or 30 minutes, then when you show up THEN they start making it.  Sure, that has it's benefits, but the problem that I have is that a lot of people have caught on to this 'trick' and it's fucking chaos at the register.  The line is packed in tight.  There are usually 4 or 5 other people waiting on their carryout order to be made, right next to the soda machine giving you absolutely no place to stand where you're not right in every one's way.  People are trying to take tray after tray after tray of food from the register, and there you are, just standing there, packed in like animals with no place to go.  It sucks.

And about that line; why does it always stretch straight out into the parking lot impeding cars trying to drive through, cars trying to get gas at the gas pumps, and cars trying to park?  Why don't they encourage the line to go down the sidewalk of the building?  And why do people always form a line straight out into the parking lot?  I'm convinced that at the rate of growth the line has experienced in the last two years, I expect that come next summer the line won't just go to the sidewalk; it'll go straight out into the street.  People in lines are just that dumb.

So, this isn't a review of their food.  Chances are you've had it before, anyway.  I will say this:  I like it.  Is it the best in town?  No.  Is it pretty damned good?  Yes.  Will I wait for 10 minutes to get it?  Doubtful.  Will I wait in that line when it stretches into the parking lot?  You've got to be fucking kidding me.

3002 w 47th ave
Kansas City, KS 66103
(913) 722-3366

Friday, September 24, 2010

How many places have you been?

I was humbled making the list of BBQ restaurants in KC when I realized that I had really only been to about 16% of all of the restaurants in town.  I've lived here my whole life, and 16% seems like way too small of a number!  I counted 78 77 restaurants in the ~25 mile radius (I've already been alerted to one place that is closed).

One of the biggest things we need in order to complete this challenge is an accurate list of all of the BBQ restaurants in town.  I made the list using google searches and by using a nice list I found on the KC Star website's business section.  But I know there are going to be mistakes, places that have closed, and new places that didn't show up on my radar.  So take a look at the list.  Count up how many you've been to.  Leave a comment and let us know that we're not the only people in KC that haven't even been to a quarter of all of the restaurants!  And if you notice any mistakes, just let us know.

BBQ Restaurant List

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Smokin' Guns BBQ

Smokin' Guns turned out to be the first official restaurant in the challenge. I had seen the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode featuring this place, and it looked awesome. Sarah had actually been here before, so she gets no points for going. NO POINTS FOR YOU.

Since it's up in the industrial area of North Kansas City, it's not the type of place that will see a lot of foot traffic.  It's actually a pretty small place, and the first thing that struck me when I walked in is how quiet it was.  The dining room had probably 3 or 4 tables occupied, but with no music going or really any sounds it felt like we were walking into a funeral home.  I think it was especially noticeable since our 1 year old Gunnar has taken a liking to screaming for fun.  We made sure to liven the place up a bit.

This is one of those places that has a big plastic board with stick on letters that contains pretty much the entire menu, and you order at the counter.  Since I had heard good things about the brisket on Diners, I knew I had to get that, plus I have to try the pork at every BBQ place ever, since that is the true test of BBQ (in my mind, at least.  Maybe I just love pork too much?)  And of course ribs had to be on the plate.  Which made my decision of a combo plate pretty easy.  They seem to emphasize the baby back ribs on the menu, though, which is what I went with.

Westy and Ashley got pretty much the same thing, but tried the sausage instead of the brisket.  And Sarah went with the smoked chicken.

I think we all agreed that the sauce was really good.  The bottle on the table had a label that said 'original' but I never got around to asking them what the other options were.

The beans were pretty good, pork was done well, and the brisket was excellent.  The ribs weren't terrible, but they weren't great either.  I liked the rub, but they didn't have that fall-off-the-bone thing going on.  You had to work a bit to get the meat.  And even though the potato salad is probably some purchased, pre-made stuff, I love it.  I loved it so much that I'd go back there tonight just to get more.  I tried the sweet potato fries and they seemed like they were purchased from a wholesaler, but they were still pretty damned good.  I thought the chicken was basic, and not quite tender enough for my tastes, and the sausage tasted too much like Italian sausage and not enough of a smoky flavor for me to give it very high marks.

Gunnar didn't like his food that we brought with us.  I don't blame him.  He ate more of the barbecue than this crap:

I know Westy had some pretty harsh things to say about the ribs and the pork, so I'll let him elaborate on that when he gets a chance.


Smokin' Guns BBQ
1218 Swift Ave
Kansas City, MO 64116-4012
(816) 221-2535

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Let the Challenge Begin!

It started with a pretty simple idea one day while driving around. My wife and I were cruising past the Zarda BBQ in Blue Springs, and we realized that neither of us had ever actually BEEN to a Zarda to eat. Sure, we've had some Zarda beans from the store, and maybe some catered Zarda before, but we've never actually been to a restaurant. One thing led to another, and the next thing we knew we had made a pact to visit every single barbecue restaurant in Kansas City. But where, exactly, do you draw the line? Was it a 10 mile radius from our house? Was it 20? 50? We had to make the rules clear so that we knew what counted, and what didn't. We had to know when we finished. So, a quick google search turned up a google map mod that allowed you to draw various radius's around a point, and 25 miles seemed to make the most sense. That'd give us the entire metro area, and several other great BBQ places just outside of town.

In making the list, I let some places that may be just outside of the 25 mile radius into the list. I had to make judgement calls on this, and I do regret that there are several places in Paola that aren't on there. Lawrence is out of the zone, as well. So maybe in the future we can expand the scope and include them. But for now, the list is complete.

Soon, we found that our best friends wanted in on the action, so Westy and Ashley: bring it.

Here are the ground rules:

1) You have to actually GO to the restaurant.
Getting carry out just doesn't cut it. You need to get a feel for the full on experience of every BBQ restaurant. The same applies to catered BBQ: It doesn't count.

2) It has to be a dedicated BBQ restaurant.
I'm not going to count roadside smoker guys selling their stuff off of a folding table. That includes things like McGonigle's selling BBQ on the weekends. If you can make it and evaluate it, go for it. But you're not getting any extra points for it.

3) You can count places you've already been.
Doing this, I've realized that I really haven't been to that many KC BBQ places. But I've been to some of them a lot. So while I may have been to Quick's once, and Rosedale once, it has been a long time. I can count them, but I still plan on going back just so I can give them a proper evaluation.

4) This isn't so much about doing restaurant reviews as it's about just trying everything.
Let's face it: we're not restaurant reviewers, and I doubt that anyone really gives a damn about our thoughts on one restaurant living up to the KC BBQ canon as compared to some other BBQ restaurant. In fact, I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect KC BBQ place. But we'll give our thoughts, if anything to prove that we went.

5) You don't have to go to every location of a restaurant.
I'm not against trying every location, but to keep things moving along, I'm all for saying that visiting one Jack Stack or one Zarda is good enough. I think this will eventually come about as we try to 'perfect' the list.

That's about it. Feel free to let us know of any new restaurants or places that might have slipped past our list.

Now, let the challenge begin.