Arthur Bryant’s BBQ (Kansas City, MO)
We recently traveled to the great tornado-whipped state of Missouri for a wedding, a house-cleaning, and some strenuous and significant family time. But all of that was in Springfield, a city that I would imagine to be in a different state from Kansas City if the maps didn’t tell me otherwise. (Actually, that’s kind of a trick, but I digress.) We flew into Kansas City International Airport, which meant that before driving three-and-a-half long flat hours to Springfield, we were able to stop for some world-class barbeque. It was tough to choose our spot, but it came down to Oklahoma Joe’s, which Anthony Bourdain called “one of the 13 places to eat before you die,” Jack’s Stack, a chain that Zagat Survey named the “#1 Barbecue House in the Country,” and Arthur Bryant’s, which is, according to Calvin Trillin in 1974, “…possibly the single best restaurant in the world.” We went with Arthur Bryant’s, because it was most convenient and because I’m a huge Calvin Trillin fan. (Ed. note: Trillin spends his summers less than 5 miles from my parents, in Nova Scota.)
As for the food: delicious, but definitely not the best restaurant in the world. The highlight of the meal was the Beef Sandwich, which was a mountainous stack of fatty smoked brisket piled on pieces of white bread that were clearly overmatched by the meat’s juices. There were several choices of sauce, all varieties of the classic molasses- and tomato-based sauce Kansas City is known for. The rib tips were fairly charred, but the tender pieces of meat hidden beneath the blackened crusts were smoky and sweet. We also had a pork sandwich that was decent, but not memorable.
The restaurant itself was charmingly simple. A big, brick building in a dodgy neighborhood. The interior walls are unevenly covered in a smattering of local sports images, collages of prominent African-American public figures, and autographed photographs of celebrities and politicians. Among the most prominent of the latter category were photographs of Jimmy Carter eating with Arthur Bryant himself, as well as a series of images of John McCain and Sarah Palin enjoying a meal with-the-people while campaigning in 2008. I’d say that speaks to the universal appeal of the place, but who knows.
The Beef Sandwich. Fatty.
Again. Half eaten. Three sauces on the plate for dipping.
The special of the day: rib tips. Burnt.
The sweet, meaty parts.