Guest Post by Adam Rust
Kansas City is a hard place to break into the barbecue scene. People in Kansas City are serious about their barbecue. Moreover, they are pretty resistant to change. They like their Bryant’s and their Gates (Can I Help You?!!!!) and usually only one or the other. They do not, I repeat, they do not like the Kansas City’s Best BBQ sauce, or whatever they call the gummy ketchup that betrays this city’s fine reputation in supermarkets across the country.
Two restaurants have managed to break into the scene in the last ten years. I’m not going to review Jack Stack, although I have been there. Jack Stack is fine, particularly if you are on an expense account or if you want to take your corporate friends to a BBQ restaurant but you don’t want any awkward interaction with regular people. Jack Stack is an excellent alternative to Ruth Chris, or pasta, or salmon at the country club.
No, I want to talk about Oklahoma Joe’s. Oklahoma Joe’s is new, but its owners seem to have a brilliant sense of creating instant barbecue cred. Oklahoma Joe’s is located in a fringe suburb that has seen better days. It is next door to an Advance America and a Jackson Hewitt, if that tells you anything. Better yet, at Oklahoma Joe’s you can treat your palate right and still get a fill up. They’ve got 87 and 91. Why? Because OJ’s is in a gas station. A working gas station. There are two counters, one to get food, and one to pay for gas or for one of the scores of barbecue supply items that you might want.
OJ’s is located in the heart of ribs country. Not brisket country, not pulled pork country, but ribs country. So, we had to order the ribs. You really can’t lose with ribs in Kansas City (unless you put that Kansas City crap sauce on there). OJ has good ribs.
One word about the seasoning at OJ’s. OJ’s must be trying to reach a middle point between KC’s established BBQ locations. Bryant’s makes a sauce full of red pepper and cayenne. It verges on bitter, save for all of the lard that is mixed in there. The lard gives it a rounded, sharp taste. Gates, on the other hand, doesn’t hold back on the molasses. Most people are going to be inclined to like Gates, because sweet is easier to handle. OJ’s is in between. They are trying to achieve savory, I think. Their signature sauce is sweeter but it still has some bite. It’s not cayenne, though, and I also think there is some citrus in there. There’s also some black pepper, I’m sure.
I didn’t stop with the ribs, though. I love Carolina pulled pork, and OJ’s claims to have won an award for their pulled pork sandwich. Indeed, they say that it is their specialty. So what gives? Is it just that they’re doing pulled pork and benefiting from no competition?
I don’t think so. There are two things about their pulled pork. For one, it is very moist. I am sure that they are brining that pork for some time. Second, they have overcome the cultural problem of serving a pulled pork sandwich in Olathe, Kansas. You have to get slaw with the sandwich, and it comes with vinegar built in. The “spicy slaw” is slammin’. They are using purple cabbage and red onions, so it looks different and it has a lot of zing. They’ve also saturated the ingredients in a healthy serving of garlic and vinegar.
If you want to go to OJ’s, reserve some time. I’ve been twice, both on Mondays. Maybe everyone in Kansas City eats out on a Monday. It wasn’t MNF either. We are in preseason, before Brett Farvre’s saga was over. Actually, there was a Brett Favre saga going on both of the times that I ate there, but that’s not saying much for a restaurant that is relatively new. I think that OJ’s will be good even after Brett Favre stops playing for good, but then again, it could be some time before I find that out. Anyway, it was Monday night. Monday nigh. Got it? Monday. And my point, before I digress more about how Aaron Rodgers is better anyway, is that it was busy. Out the door busy. OJ’s has tried to accommodate that by incorporating a byzantine labyrinth between the door and the order area, but they still need to have chairs in there. We arrived and there were at least 20 people outside. In Kansas City. In August. WARNING: there’s no beer until you get inside. Oh, by the way they have Boulevard Beer. Yum. But anyway, it is busy and you can’t be the kind of guy that gets a table while you are in line. That’s against the BBQ rules. Also against regular guy rules. If you want to ignore regular guy rules, go to Jack Stack. You can ask for a reservation at Jack Stack, just call the Maitre’d.
by Adam Rust