Arthur Bryant’s – Kansas City, Missouri

Arthur Bryant’s, home of heavenly sauce

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon showing St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” Perhaps not even in Heaven can such a wondrous sauce be concocted.

Arthur Bryant’s is probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the country, if not the world–an institution to which celebrity and political glitterati make pilgrimages. If Schlitz was the “beer that made Milwaukee famous,” then Arthur Bryant’s is the barbecue that made Kansas City one of America’s four pillars of barbecue (along with Memphis, Texas and the Carolinas). In a city where barbecue is exalted, Arthur Bryant’s may no longer be indisputably the one restaurant everyone mentions as their favorite, but it remains a revered institution. In 1974, renowned New Yorker magazine author Calvin Trillin declared in Playboy magazine that “the single best restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue at 18th and Brooklyn in Kansas City.”

Throngs crowd around the counter to order their barbecue bounty

Approaching the restaurant may make you giddy with anticipation. You might not even notice that the original restaurant is situated in the seedy side of town where buildings are boarded up and surrounding streets are nearly deserted. The aroma of barbecue being slow-smoked with a combination of hickory and oak will probably have you salivating with unfettered desire, but you’ll have plenty of company from the line of diners snaking the building. That lust grows as you and those equally ravenous patrons share stories about first experiences with the legendary barbecue (the barbecue brotherhood which grow from Bryant’s barbecue queues could serve as an example for divided nations). The small talk ceases when you finally make it to the counterman where you place your order.

The counterman drops a slice of Wonder Bread on your plate (or on butcher paper for take-out orders) then unceremoniously snares a huge pile of beef and deposits it on the bread. He then takes a squirt bottle and festoons the meat with a Day-Glo colored orange sauce, a unique, grainy “secret recipe” concoction of paprika and vinegar quite atypical of the sweet sauce served at other Kansas City barbecue restaurants. The sauce is fiery, tart and addicting. Three more slices of Wonder bread top the “sandwich” creation which is accompanied by a handful of sliced pickles. A single order of French Fries can feed a small army.

A rack of ribs from Arthur Bryant’s

Sandwich is a vast understatement for the enormous mound of beef, pork or “burnt ends” piled onto a half acre (okay, maybe a little overstatement there) of orange wrapping paper (to go orders). By the time that paper is unwrapped, the bread has been rendered virtually incapable of serving as a vehicle for the steamy meaty accompaniment bathed in sauce. The meat is vegetarian conversion glorious in all its manifestations. The beef is better than you’ll find in Texas (forgive me Ryan Scott, but if it’s any consolation, Arthur Bryant did come from Texas), the pork as perfect as ‘cued in Memphis and better than both are “burnt ends,” barbecue beef brisket parts (not scraps mind you) as tender as butter with caramelized edges that seal in flavor. Charred and smoky, the burnt ends are a Kansas City tradition.

Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is so good you might wish you could consume it like pigs eat their dinners from the trough. It’s so good that only utterances of pleasure will interrupt your vigorous mastication. It’s so good that even though an individual sandwich can feed a family of four, you’ll polish it off and want more. The smoky aroma and tenderness of the pork, beef and especially those terrific burnt ends will imprint themselves on your memory for a long time.

A burnt ends “sandwich” with pickles

Ribs are an Arthur Bryant specialty.  The sweet fragrance of smoking hickory wood penetrates the meat with a just-right hint of smoke.  The thin bark is where the terrific meaty flavor is most concentrated.  There’s not much fat on the ribs, but you will encounter the oft annoying membrane.  You can purchase ribs by the half or full rack or by weight (a full pound is just about right).  While sauce is wholly unnecessary, the sauce which works best with the ribs is the original sauce.

The beef burnt ends will give you more hickory smoke flavor than other meats.  At first glance, New Mexicans might mistake them for carne adovada and indeed, there are some similarities.  Not every bite-sized piece of meat will be tender or fat-free, but it will be delicious.  The fattiness should be expected with burnt ends as well as chewy pieces.  The burnt ends are smothered in Arthur Bryant’s sweet sauce which is more typical of the sauces you find in Kansas City.

Quarter pound of ham

Perhaps the one meat not even the great Arthur Bryant’s can smoke to perfection is ham.  While the ham has a  good flavor and it isn’t overly salty, it’s also rather dry.  The caramelization around the edges is a nice touch, almost like the small ring which characterizes the low-and-slow smoking process.  The sauce which goes best with the ham is the “sweet heat” sauce which offers both a pleasantly piquant level of heat as well as sweetness. This is a ham which would go better on a sandwich than on a plate with mashed potatoes and gravy.

As with all great barbecue restaurants, Arthur Bryant’s offers a number of barbecue accompaniment-worthy sides.  The aforementioned French fries are lightly salted and go well with the original sauce (to use ketchup is to desecrate them).   An order is large enough for a small, developing country.  The restaurant obviously takes its time preparing the baked beans which are sweet, but punctuated with tanginess perhaps emanating from  the original barbecue sauce.  Then there’s a light smoky flavor and pieces of meat mixed in.

Baked beans

There are two other Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, but the original offers the very best dining experience.  Arthur Bryant’s barbecue is everything it is reputed to be and oh so much more. It’s almost 800 miles away from Albuquerque, but it’s worth a trip from anywhere in America.

1727 Brooklyn Avenue
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 231-1123
Web Site

LAST VISIT: 9 September 2012
COST: $$
BEST BETS: Burnt Ends, Pork Sandwich, Beef Sandwich, French Fries, Ribs, Baked Beans

Arthur Bryant's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Savoy Grill – Kansas City, Missouri

The Savoy Grill, serving Kansas City since 1903

In a 2012 episode of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” television program, host Anthony Bourdain and his Russian pal Zamir Gotta visited Kansas City in search of the city’s best barbecue.  When not licking barbecue sauce off their fingers, the peckish duo detoured to Stroud’s for the best fried chicken in the known universe and to The Savoy Grill for nostalgia and memories.  The Savoy Grill, a Kansas City landmark, has been making memories since 1903 when it was added to the Hotel Savoy.  Today, the Savoy Grill is the oldest restaurant in Kansas City while its home, the Savoy Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the United States west of the Mississippi River.

During its inception, the Savoy Grill did not allow women, a situation that quickly ended.  The menu then offered prairie chicken and buffalo steak, delicacies which today would be considered exotic.  After dinner, tables were pushed aside for music and dancing late into the night.  The restaurant’s elegant features include stained glass windows, high-beamed ceilings, lanterns which were previously gaslights, tiled floors and an enormous carved oak bar.  One of the restaurant’s spacious booths has come to be known as the “President’s booth” as it has played host to Warren Harding, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

The Victorian interior of the Savoy Grill

Among the Savoy Grill’s most distinctive features are murals depicting the perilous journey across the frontier.  They were painted in 1903 and have been cataloged among the Smithsonian Institution’s “Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings.”  In 1974, the Hotel Savoy and The Savoy Grill were entered into the National Register of Historic Places.  Since it’s launch in 1903, the restaurant has been in continuous operation save for a handful of days.  During prohibition, rather than remove the bar, drapes were hung up to conceal its presence.

Over the years, the Savoy Grill has undergone some touch-up, but it remains an exemplar of a turn-of-the-century fine-dining establishment specializing in steak and seafood.  Moreover, it remains a milieu for memories, reliving old ones and creating new ones.  For my friend Bill Resnik, whose mom was raised in Kansas City, the nostalgia began the moment we descended the two steps into the restaurant and were cheerfully greeted by the amiable host Ron Garris, a golden-voiced troubadour who regales couples in love with romantic crooning.  His rendition of “Let it Be Me” will leave you pining for the one in your life if he or she isn’t with you at the moment.

A basket of cinnamon rolls and bread

Service at the Savoy Grill isn’t just impeccable.  It’s very personal.  You’ll not only get to know your server, but possibly every other server in the restaurant.  The servers work in tandem to make sure all their guests needs are tended to.  They’ll engage you in good-natured raillery and will share their memories of their time at the restaurant.  Ron, the 73-year old singing host, has been with the Savoy Grill for thirty years while our server, the indefatigable Sunny, has two years with the restaurant. My friend Bill hadn’t been to the Savoy in more than twenty years, but experienced the sensation of returning home from the moment he walked in.

During his visit to the Savoy, Bourdain observed that the menu features items he hadn’t seen on a restaurant menu in thirty years.  While some might consider the menu a bit anachronistic, I consider it a throw-back to a bygone era, an opportunity to experience yesteryear in all its deliciousness.  Reading the menu will elicit almost sheer joy from anyone who’s been a culinary student.  From less savvy and inexperienced diners, it will prove an interesting departure from the copycat menus found in too many restaurants.

Onion Soup au Gratin

The list of appetizers is amazing in its diversity and audacity (fresh seafood in Kansas City).  Cold appetizers include Danish Herring in sour cream, Crab Meat Ravigote, Shrimp Remoulade, Salmon Tartar and even Caviar.  On the hot appetizers menu, you’ll find escargots, Coquille Saint-Jacques, Shrimp De Jnghe and Stuffed Deviled Crab to name just a few.  The soups menu would be as much at home in New England as it is in Kansas City with three seafood soups, the type of which you’d find in Boston.  Salads are not the nouveau style creations of the hip and happening new restaurants.  These are the types of salads high-end restaurants served decades ago, salads such as Artichoke Hearts Mimosa, Avocado with Citrus Fruit, Hearts of Palm, Sliced Beefsteak Tomatoes and a tableside Caesar salad for two.

You might expect that the menu for a fine-dining restaurant in Kansas City, a city renowned for its storied history of  stockyards, would be dominated by entrees showcasing meats.  While the Savoy Grill does indeed feature an impressive bounty of beef–Chateau for two, Tournedos Rossini, Steak au Poivre, Veal Marsala and so much more, all prime,–it’s the seafood soiree which impresses even more.  The boatload of Neptune’s bounty includes shrimp, frog’s legs, scallops, king crab, swordfish, catfish and even lobster.  No ordinary lobster is this.  The Savoy offers whole live Maine lobsters, baked or steamed, in small, medium and Jumbo sized for two.  Lobster Newburg and Lobster Thermidor are also available as are a surf and turf combination that includes a lobster tail.

The lovely Sunny prepares a Caesar salad tableside

While you contemplate the compendium-like menu, a basket of breads is delivered to your table. The bread variety is quite interesting: cinnamon rolls, rye, and baguettes. The Savoy Grill was the second Kansas City restaurant on our trip to serve cinnamon rolls with our meal. Unlike the yeasty, buttery rolls served at Stroud’s, these are spiral-shaped and laced with a lot of cinnamon, but no icing. The rye was light and flavorful while the baguette proved a nice repository for soft butter. Unfortunately the bread wasn’t especially fresh. It was one of the two low points of a memorable meal.

The other was the restaurant’s Onion Soup au Gratin.  Sheathed in a molten blanked of Gruyere and redolent with a plethora of sweet, delicate onions swimming in a light, flavorful broth, it would have been an excellent soup had it not been in dire need of desalinization.  The manufacturers of canned soup might be proud to prepare a soup this salty, but a fine-dining establishment shouldn’t have let it out of the kitchen.  A little salt goes a long way especially when a soup is made with all savory ingredients.

Lobster for two

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing the flair and showmanship of a Caesar salad created for you tableside, you haven’t been to an old-fashioned fine-dining establishment. At 23, our server Sunny is already a professional at mixing and whisking the ingredients on the large wooden bowl she ferries on her crowded cart, a conveyance laden with bowls, ramekins, decanters, wooden implements and more. Potent with fresh garlic, creamy coddled eggs, olive oil, thin savings of Parmigiano, salty anchovies and fresh green leaves, this is a real Caesar salad, the way they should be made.

Over the months leading to our eating tour of Chicago and Kansas City, my friend Bill regaled me with tales of a lobster so large, it could easily be mistaken for a crustacean from Jurassic Park.  The Jumbo Lobster for two is indeed a colossal crustacean with claws nearly the size of Bill’s hands.  Spelunkers haven’t explored as deeply into some caves as Bill did those claws.  His fork made sure there was no lobster meat left unextricated from its depths.  Nor did the tomalley (the soft, green “stuff” which New Englanders consider a delicacy, but others mistakenly believe is fecal matter) go to…waste.  For nearly an hour, Bill cracked into his lobster with the finesse of “man-hands” from Seinfeld.  He ate all but the shell.

Double-cut lamb chops with mint sauce

The lamb is no less manly than the lobster.  At a restaurant like the Savoy Grill, you’d never find “lollipop” lamb chops, those pert and petite lady-like chops with built-in “handles” which makes them easy to pick up and eat (yes, even at a fine dining restaurant).  The Savoy’s lamb chops are double-cut and don’t have a cutesy handle.  In fact, these bone-in beauties closely resemble a Filet Mignon though they’re much more flavorful.  The lamb chops are thick and juicy, perfectly prepared at medium and lightly seasoned.  The only accompaniment is a luminescent mint sauce, a nice foil for the lamb chops.

Some may consider the Savoy Grill a bit of an anachronism, no longer the cool place to see and be seen.  Its bill of fare is steeper than many contemporary restaurants, but for the money you also be seated in the lap of stylish nostalgia, attended to by friendly servers, receive more food than some developing third-world countries  and an occasional love song.  It’s a special place with a timeless appeal.

The Savoy Grill
9th & Central
Kansas City, Missouri
(816) 842-3890
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2012
# of VISITS: 1
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Double-cut lamb chops, lobster for two, Caesar salad

Savoy Grill on Urbanspoon

Gates Bar B. Q. – Independence, Missouri

Gates Bar B. Q., a Kansas City area institution

The cognoscenti seem to agree that the American epicenters of barbecue excellence are Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and South Carolina. In Texas, barbeque briquettes are burnished with beef–lean beef brisket celebrating the best in king cattle. At Memphis, they go hog wild at the pits for pulled porcine perfection. In South Carolina, the self-professed “cradle of American barbecue,” swine dining means pork smothered in a mustard-based sauce.

Kansas City claims to put it all together with more than 100 barbecue restaurants, several of which have earned worldwide acclaim and celebrity. Traditionally, Kansas City barbecue is dry-rubbed, slow roasted over hickory and slathered with rich, sweetly tangy, medium spicy, tomato-based sauces that stick to the meat. Gates Bar-B-Q is a “City of Fountains” original, a family restaurant established in 1946 which has grown from a single store to a family of six modern restaurants (and growing) throughout the Kansas City metroplex.

A Mixed Plate: Ribs, Ham, Pulled Pork and a Mountain of French Fries

All Gates restaurants sport a unique red roof design and a marquee depicting a tuxedo attired butler who somewhat resembles Jeeves, one of the most recognized faces on the early Internet. The word bubble by the chapeau sporting butler on the marquee exhorts, “Hi, may I help you?” and it won’t be the last time you’ll be greeted as such. Gates’ barbecue college training involves learning to greet each customer with “Hi, may I help you?” as they walk through the door.

Sure, it’s artificial friendliness, but when you’ve driven more than 800 miles as we did during our inaugural visit, even perfunctory courtesies are appreciated. That is until we realized we were expected to order on-the-spot as in pronto, right away and ASAP, if not sooner.  Though we were well acquainted with the menu from visiting the Gates Web site, it’s not quite the same as being in line with a phalanx of other hungry diners, many of whom were well acquainted with the quick order routine.

Even more appreciated was the gift pack containing three of Gates’ famous sauces–the “classic” original, the extra hot and the sweet and mild–conferred upon us for having driven that distance, not knowing what we were doing and still sporting smiles. You can’t help but smile as seductive sauces mingle with hickory to create one of the Earth’s most pleasant and alluring aromas. If aroma is foreplay, then taste is the carnal, sensual act that culminates with satiety. At Gates Bar B. Q., you’ll be satisfied and then some.

A Half-Chicken Dinner

Our take-out meal came in a cardboard box resembling what might be used for a Chicago style pizza. It was replete with chicken, ribs, ham and pulled pork, all of which were emboldened by the tomato rich sauce tinged with molasses for character and body, not just for sweetness.

Better than could possibly be advertised, the meats were fork tender with a hint of smokiness and a deliciousness bordering on heavenly. The ham had the optimal sweet and salty taste combination so alluring any vegetarian would be tempted to a carnivorous conversion. The pork ribs were meaty and delicate with no stringiness. The chicken was redolent with flavor and the pulled pork (new to the menu) was porcine goodness. Baked beans, our sole side, were, much like the barbecue, sweet, tangy and slightly spicy in perfect proportion.

During our second visit, we had a half-chicken dinner.  Recently chicken and I have fallen out of favor with one another.  I find it desiccated and boring, wholly lacking in personality and bland.  The Gates smoking process seems to have emboldened chicken with a pungent smokiness and uncharacteristic (for chicken) moistness.  It helps that the sauce is applied generously though not so much that it detracts from the inherent flavors of the poultry.  A visit to Kansas City isn’t complete without the purchase of a couple bottles of this sauce.

Bar B.Q. Beans

Gates Bar B. Q. is worth an 800 mile trip and more!  After driving across the stark monotony of the Jayhawk State, a visit to Gates is akin to visiting an oasis after crossing a parched desert.

Gates Bar B. Q.
10440 E. 40 Highway
Independence, MO
(816) 353-5880

1st VISIT: 29 June 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Ribs, Chicken, Ham, Baked Beans, Brisket

Gates Barbecue on Urbanspoon

1 2