Danny Edwards Blvd. BBQ – Kansas City, Missouri

Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, one of Kansas City’s most highly regarded barbecue restaurants

Kansas City is known as the “city of fountains.”  It’s also known as the “world’s barbecue capital.” If locals had their way, ever the twain would meet and the city’s fountains would be burbling not with water, but with barbecue sauce.  Barbecue sauce runs through the veins of local barbecue aficionados.  It’s an integral part of the city’s heritage.  More than at the other regions–the Carolinas, Texas and Memphis–in which barbecue is a religion, Kansas City pit masters know that sauce is the crowning touch to their low-and-slow handiwork.

In combination with dry rub seasonings, the sauce gives smoked meats their personality.  It’s what you taste most along with the smoky flavor.  One of the very best barbecue sauces my friend Bill Resnik and I experienced during our September, 2012 barbecue tour of Kansas City comes from Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, a  restaurant Food Network host Rahm Fama contends serves up the “best barbecue in the city.”  The best barbecue deserves the best sauce.

The comfy confines of Danny Edwards Barbecue Restaurant

At Danny Edwards, ketchup is the base for the sauce which also includes white and brown sugar, chili powder, mustard flour and allspice.  It’s not an overly assertive sauce, but the heat from the chili does sneak up on you and provides a nice counterbalance to the sugary sweetness.  The sauce is of medium consistency, not too thin or too thick.    One of the best qualities of any sauce is that it stays in the background very well.  It allows the meats to be showcased.  It’s applied just lavishly enough to complement the meats without taking them over.  You can add more if you’d like, but probably won’t need to.

In a city with more than one-hundred barbecue restaurants, not all of them can trace their lineage as far back as Danny Edwards whose father ran a barbecue business during the Depression.  Edwards cut his teeth on  barbecue.  By the time he was seventeen, he was cooking, carving and becoming an adept pit master.  He opened his own barbecue restaurant eight years later, a small downtown establishment seating only eighteen guests.  His eponymous downtown restaurant is much larger and more modern, allowing him to transition from traditional smoking pits to a hickory pit which uses a combination of gas and hickory smoke to maintain the heat and smoke at optimum levels.

Burnt Ends Plate (Crispy Smoked Edges of Beef Brisket with Sauce), Asian Coleslaw and Cheesy Santa Fe Dish

The two items for which Danny Edwards is best known are smoked brisket and burnt ends.  The dry rub applied to the briskets is made from brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, garlic and salt, ingredients which are well balanced.  None of the fat on the brisket is trimmed, allowing flavors to penetrate deeply and make the brisket moist and tender.  The briskets are smoked for sixteen hours on low-and-slow heat of 210 degrees.  After sixteen hours, the briskets are extricated from the smoker and cut vertically into the “flat” (the largest, leanest part of the brisket) and the point from which burnt ends are made.  At that point, the fat is trimmed out and more rub is applied for another two hours of smoking.

Contrary to the name, burnt ends aren’t burnt at all.  The edges of the brisket are a little dark with a nice caramelization and a crusty bark. Best of all, burnt ends inherit a significant amount of flavor from the fattiest (but melted down) part of the brisket.  Today what were once throw-away bits of the brisket are some of the most cherished and craved of all.  At Danny Edwards, the burnt ends are outstanding, possessing a higher degree of smoke flavor than burnt ends normally had.  The combination of a naturally flavorful meat, discernible smokiness and a complementary sauce make these my favorite burnt ends anywhere.

Half-Rack of Ribs with Cucumber Salad and Asian Coleslaw

Unlike our experience at Oklahoma Joe’s, the siren-like aroma of smoke enveloped us from the moment our car door opened.  We were sheathed in a wonderful smoky cocoon during our entire stay.  Bottle that smokiness and it would make a best-selling aftershave.  The smokiness was imparted nicely onto the half-rack of ribs Bill enjoyed lustily.  The ribs were meaty and moist with nary a hint of fat.  As with too many ribs, the annoying membrane wasn’t removed before the smoking process, but that’s a nit.

Danny Edwards offers some sides heretofore unseen at other pantheons of barbecue excellence.  They also prepare the standards better than almost everyone else.  The baked beans are phenomenal with a nice smoky flavor penetration and shards of meat.  Asian coleslaw, a lip-pursing tangy slaw made from purple cabbage, is a side which should be be on the restaurant’s everyday menu.  A cucumber salad made from freshly picked, garden fresh cucumbers is a seasonal offering, but a refreshing change from the de rigueur barbecue restaurant sides.  Onion rings are crunchy and thickly battered, but with moist, sweet onions therein.

Onion Rings

There are only a handful of barbecue restaurants in Kansas City in the debate as to which is the very best.  Danny Edwards is one of those, a perfect combination of sauce, smoke, flavor and delicious barbecue.

Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ
2900 Southwest Blvd
Kansas City, Missouri
816 283 0880
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Burnt Ends, Babyback Ribs, Asian Coleslaw, Onion Rings

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Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar – Fairway, Kansas

Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar, the home of P-A-N fried chicken since 1933

Kansas City is often referred to as the “world’s barbecue capital.”  With more than 100 barbecue restaurants, its reputation for outstanding barbecue is known far and wide.  It’s not as commonly known that Kansas City can also strut its stuff about its fried chicken.  In fact, Travel Channel television host Adam Richman has joked that KC actually stands for “killer chicken.” The killer chicken tradition started with Stroud’s Restaurant which not surprisingly, began in 1933 as a barbecue shack in Kansas City.  On Independence Day a few years later, founder Helen Stroud added skillet fried chicken.  It sold out immediately and has been on the menu ever since.  Ironically, barbecue is no longer on the menu.

Fittingly both of my visits to Stroud’s have been during the month of September which the National Chicken Council has designated “National Chicken Month.” For more than twenty years, the Council has increased its promotion of chicken sales during September, turning what was once a slow month as the summer grilling season slows, into a month in which sales are booming. John T. Edge, author of Fried Chicken: An American Story praises this strategy, advising that “as the air gets crisper, so should your food.”

The welcoming interior of Stroud’s Restaurant & Bar

Fried chicken is one of America’s comfort food favorites with a timeless appeal that evokes nostalgic memories of home-cooking and family gatherings.  In a poll administered by About.com, respondents listed among their favorite 25 comfort foods, four of which are served at Stroud’s: chicken pot pie, chicken soup, fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  It’s the home-style cooking aspects of dining at Stroud’s that has made it a family favorite for generations.  Meals are served family-style in capacious bowls meant to be passed around between friends and family.  Even the red checkered tablecloths seem to signify a welcoming warmth.

Even as America’s culinary diversity and the sophistication of diners’ palates continue to grow, so does the appreciation for home-style cooking, comfort food and especially fried chicken. While it may seem the only fried chicken you can find throughout the fruited plain is served by the Colonel and his eleven herbs and spices and other chains, you can still find home cooking style restaurants serving chicken if you look.  The pantheons of pan-fried chicken were even celebrated in 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: and the Very Best Places to Eat Them, a terrific tome by Michael and Jane Stern who advise that “if you’re looking for the most effulgent chicken dinner in the land, there’s only one place to go: Stroud’s of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Chicken Noodle Soup

In 1998, Stroud’s was one of the inaugural winners of the James Beard Foundation‘s “America’s Classics” award which honors legendary family-owned restaurants across the country.  Considered the Academy Awards of the culinary world, the James Beard awards have been earned by a very exclusive “who’s who” in the competitive culture of cuisine.  Stroud’s has also been recognized by the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appetit, Playboy Magazine, Conde Naste Traveler and Esquire Magazine among others.  It’s the type of restaurant to which diners make pilgrimages, perhaps signifying the need for diners to reconnect with memories of comfort food favorites.

So, what is it that makes Stroud’s unique and special?  Sure, its chicken is pan-fried in a heavy cast iron skillet to a crispy golden hue, but there’s so much more than that.  One of the restaurant’s mottos is “we choke our own chickens,” a double-entendre laced reference to the fact that Stroud’s still does things the old-fashioned way with no short-cuts, using the same recipes as in 1933.  Missouri grown chickens are hand-trimmed before they’re dredged in a simple batter mix of flour, salt and pepper (who needs eleven herbs and spices?).  Each piece of chicken is only partially submerged in the skillet and receives plenty of individual attention as it fries on the pan.

Fried chicken (all white meat, all breasts)

The results are a light, delicate crust.  This is not a greasy, heavily-breaded crust, just one that seals in moistness and flavor, a flavor ameliorated by a well-seasoned skillet.  Each piece of chicken cooks for about ten minutes per side and all chicken is made-to-order so this is no fast food chicken joint.   Bite into the crust and you’ll soon be reaching for napkin because this is one beautifully juicy chicken.  After his first bite of Stroud’s chicken, Adam Richman called it “whole body-licking good,” meaning it is several orders of magnitude better than the Colonel’s finger-licking good chicken.  There may be no better chicken in America.

Stroud’s strains its grease from the skillet in which the chicken is fried to extricate the cracklings (residual fried bits from the chicken) for making their gravy.  This gravy is transformative, the very best I’ve had on mashed potatoes anywhere.  Laced with pepper, its prevalent flavor is that of the fried chicken from which the cracklings were obtained.  Cracklings are, after all, concentrated flavor.  Fresh soybean oil, two cups of flour and a splash of milk  followed by a vigorous wisking are what it takes to make this smooth, thick ambrosia.  It’s gravy so good, you’ll want to drink it up and smother everything in it.

Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Green Beans

Chicken dinners are served family style with three pieces of chicken–one breast and two cook’s choice pieces.  As an old-fashioned “have it your way” institution, Stroud’s also offers all-dark meat and all-white meat options, including an all-breast option that features three beautiful “D” cup breasts (these are not your chain variety “A” cup breasts).  In addition to the aforementioned chicken and gravy, a chicken dinner comes with your choice of potato (mashed, baked, French fries, cottage fries), your choice of a side salad or chicken noodle soup, green beans and cinnamon rolls, all served in heaping helping size on overflowing bowls.

Before your dinner is delivered, your side salad or chicken noodle soup arrive.  The chicken noodle soup is among the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had.  It’s redolent with the flavor of chicken, both from the thick shards of chicken and the broth in which those shards swim.  The perfect accompaniment for gravy, of course, is mashed potatoes.  Stroud’s mashed potatoes are the real thing, not some reconstituted flakes out of a box.  They’re stick-to-the-spoon thick, not light and fluffy.  The pan-drip made gravy is also rather thick, but neither are lumpy.  The green beans are made with bacon which imparts its inimitable flavor upon fresh, thick, perfectly prepared green beans.  Dip the green beans into the gravy and you’ll swoon at the resultant deliciousness.

A basket of housemade cinnamon rolls

It’s your choice as to whether the basket of cinnamon rolls is delivered with your dinner or afterwards.  Savvy diners will opt to have these golden beauties delivered with their meal to make sure they have room in their stomachs for them (plus they’re great with the gravy, too).  The cinnamon rolls are yeasty and buttery with a coating of cinnamon and absolutely no icing.  Stroud’s menu may have alternative dessert options, but most people are too sated to ask.

Stroud’s elevates chicken from the level of comfort food to the level of sublime sensation.  Best of all, it’s prepared in a homey environment by very attentive servers who treat you as a welcome guest.

4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway
Fairway, Kansas
(913) 262-8500
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fried Chicken Dinner

Stroud's on Urbanspoon

Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue – Kansas City, Kansas

Anthony Bourdain calls Oklahoma Joe’s “One of 13 places to eat before you die.”

You might expect that a magazine renowned for its staunch advocacy of healthy living and fitness would celebrate only healthful dining and that its food-related content would be penned only by paragons of physical fitness and health. Perhaps because it may want a broader, younger readership demographic, Men’s Health Magazine asked popular but vice-ridden sybarite Anthony Bourdain to author an article entitled “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.” Bourdain, whose seedy past includes heavy drinking, drug use, chain smoking and an addiction to pork wrote a thought-provoking “bucket list” which included restaurants and food–outstanding though they might be–which might actually accelerate your demise. What a way to go!

Interspersed within Bourdain’s lucky thirteen restaurants, some of which are among the world’s most exclusive and highly regarded, is a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City, Kansas. Almost as big a surprise is that it’s not Arthur Bryant’s the world-famous 800-pound gorilla of Kansas City barbecue. Instead, one of the thirteen restaurants at which you should eat before you die is Oklahoma Joe’s which Bourdain touted as “the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.” Men’s Health Magazine’s infatuation with Oklahoma Joe’s wasn’t exclusive to Bourdain’s bucket list feature. In 2012, the magazine named the restaurant “the manliest barbecue joint” in the country,” citing its 2011 sales of 400,000 pounds of brisket and hundreds of thousands of pounds more of pulled pork, ribs, chicken and sausage.

Lines of hungry Oklahoma Joe’s devotees snake out the door

As you pull up to Oklahoma Joe’s, there are telltale signs that you might just be approaching greatness. License plates from virtually every corner of the fruited plain are indicative of pilgrimages made by barbecue enthusiasts who traverse the country in search of the best barbecue. Oklahoma Joe’s occupies a working multi-pump gas station and a convenience store you can’t pigeonhole with the 7-11 variety because its aisles are stocked with an astounding number of barbecue sauces and spice rubs, including many from other pantheons of barbecue greatness throughout America.

Lines of hungry diners snake out the door and spill out onto the parking lot. When you get to the door, you’re still about 45 minutes away from placing your order, but you’ll have access to paper menus which will probably be covered with drool by the time you reach the counter. The line slows to a crawl until finally, you get to a counter where you place your order, fill your beverage cup from a self-serve dispenser and keep an eye out for one of the 70 seats to come open. Fortunately, many of the orders are of the take-out variety and there’s a separate order and pick-up station for to-go orders.

Guest placing his order for Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue

Oklahoma Joe’s was founded in 1996 by owner Jeff Stehney who cut his teeth on the competitive barbecue circuit with his Slaughterhouse Five tournament team. The quintet garnered dozens of the most championships and accolades on the circuit including the American Royal in Kansas City and the Jack Daniels Invitational. The team’s dominance isn’t singularly focused on one meat or section of an animal, having won every single barbecue category they entered: chicken, brisket, pork, sausage, lamb and sauce. In 2001, at the International Sauce Contest, the American Royal barbecue society declared Oklahoma Joe’s sauce the “best sauce on the planet.”

My inaugural visit to Oklahoma Joe’s was with my friend and fellow barbecue aficionado Bill Resnik. As with many patrons on the lengthy queue, we were there because of the media hype, enticed by the promise of transformative barbecue. A Zagat rating of “27” means locals love it, too. As we stood in wide-eyed anticipation, we both noted something conspicuous by its absence. Oklahoma Joe’s didn’t greet us with the olfactory-arousing aroma of smoked meats wafting toward us like an irresistible siren’s call. Instead of the fragrant bouquet of seductive smoke, an almost anemic hint of smoke was all we discerned. We certainly hoped the flavor of smoked meats would make a bigger impression than their aroma.

Carolina Pork Sandwich (pulled pork served on a toasted bun topped with spicy coleslaw and Bubba’s sauce). Sides of BBQ beans and French fries

The Oklahoma Joe’s menu features a number of BBQ sandwiches and specialty sandwiches in regular and jumbo sizes. The house specialty is pulled pork…and not just any pulled pork, but Carolina pulled pork. Three of the salads make no pretensions at pleasing vegetarians; they’re crammed with various meats. BBQ dinners, served with one side dish and Texas toast, showcase ribs, chicken, brisket, smoked turkey, smoked ham and sausage. You can also purchase meats by the pound. One pound serves three adults or one hungry sojourner.

The Carolina pork sandwich features pulled pork served on a toasted bun topped with spicy coleslaw and “Bubba” sauce. This is a messy sandwich, the type of which requires several napkins to get through. Much of the messiness is courtesy of the spicy coleslaw, which didn’t quite live up to its “spicy” descriptor, especially if meant as a synonym for “piquant.” The Bubba sauce is a vinegar-based sauce ostensibly with some heat behind it. Perhaps you can blame our New Mexico upbringing, but we didn’t get heat out of the sauce or the coleslaw. We also didn’t get much smoke though the pork did have a very pleasant, somewhat sweet flavor and it didn’t have any annoying fat or sinew.

Pulled Pork (Oklahoma Joe’s house specialty) with BBQ beans and French fries

A jumbo pulled pork sandwich topped with the restaurant’s house sauce is a better bet. There’s a lot of pork between the buns and it’s moist, tender and delicious with nary a hint of sinew or fat to be found. The “best sauce in the planet” didn’t quite live up to its billing. Good, but not great, it’s a ketchup-based sauce with a thin consistency and a flavor profile that’s mostly sweet. Fortunately it’s not applied too heavily so you can add some of the more interesting “Night of the Living Sauce,” a sauce with attitude. As with the Carolina pork sandwich, the jumbo pulled pork sandwich is “better than New Mexico” good, but didn’t completely blow us over as we had expected.

Side dishes include BBQ beans, potato salad, creamy coleslaw, dirty rice, spicy slaw and red beans and rice served in containers ranging from “side” (feeds one person) to half-gallon (feeds 10-12 people). The BBQ beans are superb, maybe my favorite item on the menu. That’s not a surprise considering the beans have earned the “best beans on the planet” distinction. Made with three types of beans, they’re not overly sweet, as some BBQ beans tend to be. The French fries are a bit desiccated, the result of a generous application of a seasoning mix. Orders include sliced pickles, a Kansas City barbecue tradition.

With only one visit behind me, it’s probably not fair to say Oklahoma Joe’s didn’t live up to its billing. Our expectations were stratospherically high and it would have been very difficult to meet them. In truth, our barbecue was very good, certainly better than we’ll find in New Mexico, but not “best on the planet” or even “best in Kansas City” good.

Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue
3002 West 47th Avenue
Kansas City, Kansas
(913) 722-3366
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Carolina Pork Sandwich, BBQ Beans, French Fries

Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon