Saturday, August 21, 2004

Food is Life - Life One Bite at a Time: Episode 1

I am loath to risk the fire-storm that today’s topic may invoke. For unlike relatively benign discussions of Politics or Religion, this is a truly volatile subject.


Believe it or not, I have a standard introduction to KC Barbeque I have occasion to present of a fairly regular basis. I deal on a regular basis with clients and business partners who are visiting the area. One of the items they always have on there agenda is always Bar-B-Q. KC has a Huge variety of excellent culinary choices. In fact, one regular complaint we receive when artists come into town for the Month and a Half rehearsal/performance stint at the Lyric Opera of KC is the 10 pounds of so they add while sampling the ubiquitous eateries… ;-)

And so, a brief synopsis.

KC BBQ breaks down into two basic camps:

The tangy-er slightly more vinegary sauce camp, best represented by the Legendary Arthur Bryant’s, and the numerous emporiums entrepreneur Ollie Gates has spread across the metropolitan area.

The sauce of a more sweet variety, exemplified by various incarnations of Smoke-Stack BBQ, as well as the American Royal BBQ Contest-winning KC Masterpiece sauce. (KC Masterpiece has a unique history, in that it existed as a sauce with retail distribution on grocery-store shelves before any restaurants baring it’s name existed.)

Keep in mind we are talking tomato-based sauces here. (None of that, SHUDDER, mustard-based drivel one gets in the Carolinas…) We are also talking smoked-meat with sauce applied more or less sparingly, either sometime during preparation or the actual cooking process. Quite often it is strictly added post-smoker, or offered on the side at the diners discretion. If you want to boil the living daylights out of pork or beef smothered in sauce and call it Barbeque, you are most welcome. This, however is unacceptable practice in areas of the country that actually RAISE hogs and cattle and understand their proper preparation for consumption by persons of discernment…

Bryant’s is a KC landmark. It is not what it once was when Arthur was still with us, but remains unique and a pilgrimage well worth undertaking. They still paint the sauce on with a brush and drop a hand-full (literally!) of fries onto the plate. Portions are Immense and a single sandwich will require a huge appetite for a single person. (My oldest and dearest English friend was always wont to proceed to Bryant’s for his ‘side of Beef’.) Honestly, it could easily satiate three sane people, but we are talking BBQ here, so sanity has little to do with anything… ;-) Many of the Famous and Powerful have passed through the culinary portal and left more than full, including many a US President. When Arthur passed, the KC Star featured a cartoon of his arrival at the pearly gates. St. Peter inquires as to how much sauce he brought along. I whole-heartedly concur, Heaven has a better bill-of-fare now that Arthur is up there sitting on his stool and supervising the smoke-house.

The Gates experience starts literally AS you walk through the door and is more widely available, so is probably more familiar to the KC public-at-large.

In my case, the original Smoke-Stack BBQ was a main-stay of South KC dining during my youth. My Father’s territory included this area and many was the night he would b bring home sandwiches, fries and the scrumptious Pit-Beans. Upon first arriving in KC, Dad discovered this place early-on and was quite impressed with their 29ers. (Sliced beef, lettuce and tomato, their signature sweet sauce on a long French roll. (A BBQ Hero, if you will. ;->) They cost 29cents, hence the name. They then became 39ers, then the price was raised to $.49, but they were still called 39ers… (Didn’t want to pay for new signage and menus?) Then 59ers, 69ers, 79ers and 89ers. Finally, after they went to one cent less than a buck, they remained 89ers through several years. This was back in the day, when Ma Bell was still a TRUE monopoly. They owned it all, not just the wires and switches, but the equipment on EACH END. The Lord himself only knows how many times-over the venerable Western Electric dial-phones of that era were paid-for in the monthly fees. The very CONCEPT of the customers actually owning their own phone was so foreign; I doubt even the most dedicated bean-counter even considered it. I mention this, because there were apparently so many fires at the old 71 Highway location that Bell refused to install a phone off and on throughout the 1960s…

Later, Jack Fiorella, a brother, I think, split off and opened Fiorella’s Jack-Stack BBQ in sub-urban Martin City. They have expanded to other locations, including the Freight=House district near Downtown’s Union Station.

And that location brings me to what prompted this little foray in KC culinary choices in the smoked-meat category.

True, the new Fiorella’s location is within the ‘urban-core’, though it is an industrial/business district, not a residential area. Well, there are some loft condominiums being sold in nearby re-habbed buildings. (How come things are re-habilitated, when they were never habilitated in the first place?) At best, this is a gentrified neighborhood. Even The Plaza, the original location for KC Masterpiece’s, restaurant, is hardly typical inner-city KC. It is what in many other cities is referred to as the Galleria. Hardly the destination of choice of the ‘common-man’. (I am fairly comfortable, but rarely venture to this, the original shopping-center for their lofty-priced goods.)

In short, sweeter BBQ is White people’s food, while the spicier variety has it’s roots in the urban core.

And we served Jack Stack at yesterday’s political get-together.

I suppose it represents a microcosm of the overall race.

For all I know Jack may be a supporter. I know where my candidate lives, and it would be the closest choice for BBQ.

I don’t know that it really says anything.

But I noticed…


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