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Kirk's Traveling Kitchen News and Blog

Dispatch from Kansas City


It seems odd, but despite living only three or so hours away I had never visited Kansas City. I'd driven through on many occasions, and flown over the city even more, yet there are cities in Europe I was more familiar with than the "town of Kansas" on the West side of the state where I live. So when I ended up there for a few days in the early fall, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew about the BBQ, which is not my favorite type (too thick & smokey), and about the Jazz, not exactly a connoisseur there either, and had heard quite a bit about the culinary scene developing in the city and it's strong cultural center. Anyway, here are the food highlights of the excursion:

Justus Drugstore a Restaurant (Smithville, MO)- This evolving mecca of farm to table cuisine in nearby Smithville (about 20 minutes North of KC) is quite a treat. Just about the only vibrant place in a one stop light town, it kind of reminded me of where I grew up in Paw Paw, Michigan (although I'm told they're up to three or four stop lights now!). The space is tiny with an open kitchen and elaborate bar set up. It's certainly a locale to visit if you're of the evolving cocktail culture, as their bar team infuses gins and reinvents all sorts of heirloom libations. However the star here is the food, with a limited menu consisting entirely of locally sourced meats, produce and other foodstuffs. I've been partial to goat as a meat for awhile, ever since I had Mark Vetri's braised version in Philadelphia, but I had yet to see it on a menu in Missouri. As a nightly special at Justus' it was one of several delicious and imaginative offerings, also including: Berkshire Pork Mixed Grill; Rabbit & Campo Lindo Chicken. This place is well worth the trip. Also I'm told there is a separate, more casual, menu for the locals. I can't wait to go back and see what that's all about.

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ- I've already established that I'm traditionally not a huge fan of KC style BBQ. I find the sauces too thick and smokey, that they overpower a properly 'cued' piece of meat. So while Oklahoma Joe's BBQ hasn't made me a complete convert, I would certainly go back (often). Located on the rear of a gas station, plan on waiting in line for 20-30 minutes to place your order, at this foodies mecca. They don't try anything fancy, but certainly do the basics with aplomb. The brisket and pulled pork are outstanding, and the burnt ends looked incredible (these are the crispy ends of the BBQ meat). They also have a lot of napkins at your disposal!!