Every time I visit Kansas City, someone tells me that I have to try Joe's. You just haven't had BBQ until you've had Joe's. I've heard the same thing about Q39, Jack Stack, Arthur Bryant's, Gates, you name it... But I haven't heard such consistent raving about any place other than Joe's from KC natives.
I finally decided that I had to try this legendary Joe's BBQ. It's on Anthony Bourdain's list of "13 Places to Eat Before You Die", after all.
If only it were that simple...
I started to ask around and check Yelp! reviews. Still with the consistent raving. One subtle problem, however... Some people were telling me I had to go to "Joe's", others said "Kansas City Joe's", still others said "Oklahoma Joe's". How many Joe's are there in Kansas City?
After some research (asking a KC native), I found out that "Oklahoma Joe's" was sold, so it became "Joe's". Some people will call it "Kansas City Joe's" because the sign says, "Joe's Kansas City BBQ".
Ok, so now I'm on the right track. I'm working in Olathe, KS and I see on the "Around Me" app that Joe's is nearby. I can barely contain my excitement. When I arrive, it's not the quaint, quirky gas station-like building that I was told about. It was in a strip mall.
Long story short: I went. I ate. It was good, but I was underwhelmed. It wasn't the magical experience that Anthony Bourdain (one of my most trusted advisors) and dozens of KC natives had promised me.
I relay my "meh" experience to a colleague from Kansas City and she says, "You went to the wrong Joe's." I can't believe what I'm hearing... "I thought they were all the same!", I say. She can sense my disappointment. "They are all the same company, but you have to go to the original location. The gas station..."
Oh, well of course...
What is this place?
My first question when pulling up to the original Joe's Kansas City BBQ "Gas Station Restaurant" was, "Is this a BBQ joint in an old gas station or a BBQ joint next to an old gas station?"
When I walked in, the answer was clear: this was neither and it was both. I was standing in a building that was part "Shamrock" gas station and part BBQ joint. It was a truly beautiful thing! I felt a bit like Lucy stepping through the back of the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia. I half expected to see Tumnus scurrying through the line or Gandolf the Grey manning the pit in the back. The experience of eating world-class barbecue off a styrofoam plate in the defunct service bay of a Shamrock gas station is powerful magic, indeed.
First of all, I really think the BBQ was better at the 47th and Mission location. Olathe was good. It was really good. But it wasn't great. Maybe it was just the day...
Besides the actual BBQ being better, the atmosphere changes the entire experience. This is coming off of a visit to Q39 the night before, which is a completely different animal (I'm imagining an alpaca with suspenders and a man bun for some reason). Don't get me wrong, I love the atmosphere at Q39. I'm a huge fan of the whole upscale, hipster BBQ thing, but there's no denying the simple, folky magic of Joe's. It's the apex of the humble wizardry of slow-smoked meat and sweet, but tangy sauce... If that's a marriage made in heaven, then this is the honeymoon phase and I hope it doesn't end...
Are you quite sure, Anthony?
I usually don't question the timeless wisdom of the silver haired oracle of gastronomy known as Anthony Bourdain, but... I am so on the fence between Joe's and Q39 that I just can't decide. They are too different to compare. If I did the math correctly, however, Anthony's announcement that Joe's was the "best BBQ in Kansas City, therefore the best BBQ in the world" was made before Q39 was even a twinkle in its founder's eye.
I think we need an update of the list. I'm not necessarily insinuating that Q39 should take Joe's place on the list, but I think, just maybe, they should share the title...
Bottom line? Joe's and Q39 should both be on everyone's bucket list. I have seen the top of the mountain and it is good.
4.8 out of 5 stars.