I drove to Kansas City a few days ago to visit my friend Emily, who moved from New York to KC last year. Emily wrote a casserole cookbook — THE casserole cookbook! — and also contributes to the great food blog Fifty Bucks a Week. She is thus a credentialed professional at eating well on a budget, which is probably why she took me to dinner at a gas station directly upon arrival.
Let’s be honest, I have eaten at gas stations before and I will do so again. May I be so bold as to recommend pairing your entree, the bag of Lay’s salt and vinegar chips, with a fine 2009 bottle of Sierra Mist?
But this was different. This was Oklahoma Joe’s. And I had the best barbecue in this gas station that I have ever had in my life. The sauce was sweet and peppery, the coleslaw was crunchy, the bread was Wonder.
And the meat. Oh, the meat! The pulled pork was so tender it was like biting into a marshmallow sandwich. A marshmallow sandwich made of delicious pig.
So we ate, and it was good.
Barbecue is a contentious topic in Kansas City. Everywhere I went, partisans spoke up for their favorites, from Arthur Bryant’s to Gates to Jack Stack. But Joe’s has a fine pedigree. Its sauce and just about every item on the menu has won barbecue awards throughout the land, including Grand Champion at the Bates County Beef-A-Thon and 1st Place Hot BBQ Sauce at the American Royal Invitational BBQ Sauce Contest, for which I’m pretty sure I’ll serve as judge after I pass through the pearly gates. The Atlantic’s Terrence Henry, who is on an “American food tour” this summer, stopped in KC about a week before I did, sampling Oklahoma Joe’s (he had the ribs) and concluding that it was well worth the trip. Anthony Bourdain put Joe’s on his list of 13 places to eat before you die, calling it “the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.” This place is the real deal.
To be honest, after gorging on Oklahoma Joe’s, I gave up on doing a thorough tour of the rest of Kansas City barbecue. I just didn’t have it in me. (“It” = stomach space.) So I admit this was not much of a throwdown, unless you count Oklahoma Joe’s throwing down the rest of the barbecue in the world and, like, stomping on it because it’s so totally gross in comparison.
As for the rest of Kansas City: we visited the spinning bar on the 42nd floor of the Hyatt Regency, we had an excellent cocktail at a new speakeasy-style bar (the kind of speakeasy that has a Facebook page), and Emily threw a great dinner party. On my last day in town, we headed to the National World War 1 Museum.
Inside, we learned all about…wait for it…World War I, including the Great War’s most devastating and lasting consequence:
Yes, I always like to go out on a cheap shot.
Farewell, Kansas City!
Farewell, Emily and Jack!
And farewell, Oklahoma Joe’s.
I think I’ll miss you most of all.