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.
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.
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.
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
1st VISIT: 29 June 2005
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Ribs, Chicken, Ham, Baked Beans, Brisket