Tag Archives: barbecue

Barbecue and Beer in Kansas City

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Kansas City is one of several places in America known for their barbecue.  Recently, Travel and Leisure magazine ranked it America’s best city for barbecue.  In other rankings, the city almost always places in the top 3-5.  While barbecue is sometimes the subject of fierce debate, Kansas City has a distinct barbecue style that appears to always be part of the discussion.  Regardless of how any specific barbecue fan feels about Kansas City’s sweet, savory, and saucy barbecue style, it has certainly earned significance in culinary circles, and it certainly has its fans.

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I came to Kansas City with only one food agenda… I wanted barbecue.  I did not bring up any specific places or dishes.  I just knew I wanted barbecue.  I’d leave the rest up to the locals.

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The first place I found myself was a place called Joe’s.  I was already encouraged by the name.  For some reason it feels like the restaurants with the best local food in the United States are named just someone’s first name (examples [1][2][3]).  I wonder if this is the same in other countries.

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We waited in line for close to an hour to eat at Joe’s.  This may be partially due to the fact that it was Memorial Day Weekend.  But, I cannot imagine that this line is too much shorter on any other Saturday in the summer.

Without even making the specific request, I found myself at one of Anthony Bourdain’s 13 places to eat before you die.

One can clearly see that this is the kind of place that values their sauces, and a variety of sauces.  This contrasts the barbecue style of Kansas City with some other places, where I was told there is greater emphasis on the meat itself, how it’s cooked and how it’s spiced.

The portion sizes ended up being somewhat deceptive.  I ordered the rib dinner, which included a half a slab of ribs, Texas Toast, and a side.  It did not look like a lot of food, but I found myself fuller than I had felt in quite some time!

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The next day we went to a barbecue establishment with a different feel.  Whereas Joe’s is actually in a gas station, and in Kansas, B-B’s is in Missouri, and feels more like what most barbecue places I’ve been at feel like.  The walls are more densely decorated than an Applebees, and plastic red and white table cloth covers the tables.

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Side note:  While technically, Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are two different municipalities, they don’t feel too different.  If it weren’t for the highway signs, or the road named Stateline Rd. I would probably be unaware that I am entering a new state.

As if traveling food shows were somehow my destiny for the weekend, B-B’s Bar-B-Q was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive Ins and Dives.

It was another phenomenal meal, but once again, I overate.

In addition to eating more than I typically do, I drank after both meals, much of it being in the form of beer.  Beer, of course, is one of the most filling forms of alcohol.  So, while my tastebuds enjoyed this entire experience (Boulevard Brewing makes some excellent beer), my body was not happy.  I came away from this weekend not knowing how people here are able to eat and drink this way on a regular basis.

Despite this, it was still an amazing experience, and I got to see other things that Kansas City has to offer, including their downtown and historic Power & Light district (there has to be a reason for this, but I did not bother to look it up).

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One thing that plagues the modern world, and particularly my generation, is mental exhaustion.  Our minds are exhausted from the information overload which often results in analysis paralysis, which becomes extremely inefficient and exhausting.  When planning activities, we often give ourselves the following choices:

First is to select an activity that is familiar.  One that has already been done, and we are familiar with.  With this, we get a good experience without exhausting our minds planning.  However, there is no expanding our horizons.  Choosing all of our activities in this manner will inevitably lead to a rut.

The second is to do extensive research, spending hours on Yelp, Tripadvisor, and similar sites.  This, will usually ensure a good experience, but at the expense of exhausting research and planning.

The other option is to just wing it, making quick selections based on gut instincts.  This minimizes the exhaustion in selecting activities.  However, it can often lead to sub-par experiences.  I used to love to eat at randomly selected restaurants in the central business districts of small towns.  This practice lead to some unexpectedly amazing experiences.  But, there were quite a few disappointments as well.

My experience in Kansas City provided me with yet another reason community and trust are so valuable in our society.  By knowing people who are knowledgable on the subject of barbecue, I found myself at two truly great barbecue places without having to spend time researching places.  I relied on the knowledge of others.  This is something I hope we all can do more often as we seek out new places and experiences.

A Weekend in Texas

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In my last post, I describe my experiences visiting the City of Austin, Texas.  Some people describe Austin as being “not really Texas”.  And, while that may be a simplification, or exaggeration of the experience there, the general point is that the experience of being in Austin is different than the the experience of being in any other part of Texas.  So, while I spent some time in Austin last weekend, I also got the opportunity to experience other places in Texas, and actually get immersed into the culture here.

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One of the first places I went to, just 20 miles or so outside of Austin, was the Salt Lick, for some high quality Texas barbecue.  I was surprised to see such a large establishment.  I had gone to BBQ in places like Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the past, and those experiences usually involved smaller, more side-of-the road type establishments.  I had come to, in my head, assume that was the standard BBQ experience, but the Salt Lick is pretty gigantic.  And, the first thing I saw when I entered the restaurant was a gigantic barbecue pit.  The last time I had seen so much meat in one place was at the World’s Largest Brat Festival in Wisconsin.

Texas style barbecue, of course, includes brisket.  In order to experience the full range of barbecue experience, I ordered a combination plate that included brisket, ribs, and sausage.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant asks their patrons if they want their brisket “lean”, or “moist”.  Not being a fan of fatty meats, I chose “lean”, and really enjoyed the entire meal.

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In fact, I kind of felt like I spent the entire weekend eating brisket!  The other establishments I went to, like the Salt Lick, were sizable establishments.  Coopers, in New Braunfels, was big enough to accommodate a group of 16 people without really having to adjust anything from their normal operating experience.

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Whenever I was not eating barbecue food, I was eating Mexican food, which is plentiful in Texas due to it’s close proximity to, as well as history of being a part of, Mexico.  I visited several Mexican food establishments while in Texas, including a place many of us that live elsewhere should become familiar with: Torchy’s Tacos.  Later this year, they will expand beyond the borders of Texas, opening up a location in Denver, Colorado.  They may very well expand to some other areas as well.

In Bourne and New Braunfels (and places between), I got to experience a bit of the local culture.IMG_3949 IMG_3944

This area is often referred to as “Texas Hill Country”, as, well, unlike most of the Great Plains, it is kind of hilly.  Parts of it sort of remind me of the “Driftless Area” of Southwestern Wisconsin, with rolling hills one to several hundred feet tall.  Although, the geological history these regions is quite different.

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Here I attended a wedding, and took part in another local custom, floating the river.  At the wedding, the main thing I noticed about the culture here in Texas was the affinity for line dancing.  I had expected the country music line dancing.  But, what shocked me was how often people would just naturally form a line while dancing to other songs.  When YMCA, and Gangnam Style, came on, people here just naturally formed themselves into a line as if it were second nature.

In Texas, if is quite common for people to go on “floating”, or “tubing” trips.  It is basically an outdoorsy activity that is far more relaxing than the ones I usually take part in here in Colorado.  It mostly just involves laying in a tube, and gently floating down a river.  Many people here own their own tubes to float in, and bring floatable coolers, where they pack beer.  I have heard it is quite common for people to get quite intoxicated while taking part in a float trip.

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Texas hill country also contains a lot of natural features, some of which have become common family-type tourist destinations.  A few miles west of New Braunfels is a place called Natural Bridge Caverns, which, just as the name advertises, is a Natural Bridge above ground with a cavern below ground.

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Every time I visit a place like this, I always come away with mixed views regarding the commercialization of these natural features.  One one hand, I look at staircases, buildings, and all of these artificial looking features being present, and wonder if we are losing out on some of the experience.  But, I also see that having paved roads to get here, walkways through the area, and other comfort related conveniences opens up the experience of viewing these places to many people who otherwise would not have been able to see them.

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It was in San Antonio, however, where I learned about the history of Texas.  Downtown San Antonio kind of has an odd combination of historical significance.  On one end of downtown is The Alamo.  Originally a “mission“, the place later became a military post in the war for independence from Mexico, and now a museum, which is also considered a Shrine of Texas Liberty.  This place very much celebrates the people of Texas separating from Mexico, and, of course, later joining the United States.

On the other end of downtown is a place called Historic Market Square, a place that celebrates Mexican cultural heritage.  In the plaza, I saw T-Shirts for sale that exuded Mexican pride.  In fact, with authentic Mexican food and cultural items for sale everywhere, I almost felt like I could have actually been in Mexico.

It just makes me wonder.  Is this a City that is in conflict with itself?  How do those of Mexican decent here in San Antonio feel about Texas history?

The area between the Alamo and Historic Market Square was also kind of confusing.  On the surface, the city looked kind of dreary.  I kind of felt like I was in a bad part of Chicago, or any other big city that has a significant amount of blight.  But, underneath the surface was San Antonio’s Riverwalk, which is quite lively.

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In fact, San Antonio kind of pioneered the idea of riverwalks.  And, it appears other cities are trying to copy them.

After reading about Texas history, I kind of had a better understanding of the place.  Specifically, at the Alamo, they describe a struggle in Mexican politics.  On one side there was a group of people that strongly supported a Federalist type system of government based on a constitution that was modeled after the United States.  Under this system, some powers were devolved to the states, of which Texas (or Tejas) was one.  On the other side, was a group of centralizers that wanted more control in the hands of the central government in Mexico City.  Texans strongly supported the former over the latter, and when the latter won power, they felt their way of life threatened.  The successful defense of Texas, establishment of the Lone Star Republic, and later admission to a country whose values more closely resembled their own is viewed as a triumph.

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It is without a doubt that many Texans today see a lot of parallels (whether or not they are correct) to today’s political struggles in the United States.  Having this history, one in which many people in the state take pride, definitely explains why succession talk would be much more prevalent here than it would be in other states who strongly oppose some aspects of how our Federal government is operating.

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There was always some concern over whether I would fit in here in Texas.  Anyone that talks to me can clearly hear my Long Island accent.  I do not try to hide it.  Some people who have lived in Texas  told me that it would also be obvious that I am an outsider by the manner in which I conduct myself, and the types of topics I discuss on a regular basis.

But, I took a “leap of faith” of sorts, and just decided to be myself when interacting with people here.  And, I was actually received quite warmly here, by people who probably have a significantly different lifestyle and set of values than my own.  Everyone was friendly to me, and they were even receptive to the kinds of conversation topics I tend to engage people in.

As I thought through the acceptance I experienced here, as well as the history, the current succession talk and anger, I came to an important realization.  Maybe we are not nearly as divided as people make us out to be.  Maybe it is really only the most vocal (and angry) among us that display this division.  After all, if 1.4 Million people can live in a city which celebrates both it’s Mexican heritage and it’s struggle for independence from Mexico, maybe we can find a way to celebrate what makes everyone unique.