EAT KCK - 14 Stops on the Kansas City, Kansas Foodie Trail

Burnt Ends, one of beautifully smoked meats we enjoyed on this food tour of Kansas City, Kansas - Photo by Jerome Shaw for TravelBoldly.com
Burnt Ends, one of beautifully smoked meats we enjoyed on this food tour of Kansas City, Kansas
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Story and photos by Jerome Shaw

Mention barbecue and Kansas City is sure to come to mind as one of the locations that is famous for creating this American culinary classic.  But, which KC are you imagining?  Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas City, Kansas, the little brother of KC-MO?

KCK is no slouch when it comes to BBQ and certainly no one's little brother or sister.  KCK can hold its own with KC-MO and any of the other pretenders to the BBQ throne.

I was recently privileged to eat my way through KCK on a trip hosted by Visit Kansas City Kansas.  I’ll probably be accused of keyword stuffing by Google for the number of times I’ve used “Kansas" in the first 3 paragraphs but I want my readers to know with certainty what KC I'm talking about. It was an intense 48 hours of eating and it started off with a outdoor welcome dinner at the Chateau Avalon Hotel and Spa catered by five of best BBQ restaurants in the city.  I have few regrets in life, but this night provided one, in fact this whole trip provided a major regret.  I regret most profoundly that I wasn’t able to eat MORE!

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Chateau Avalon Hotel and Spa is a themed accommodation, there are 61 guest rooms with 23 different themes.  I checked in and discovered that I was in the New York Penthouse.  A great selection considering I always dreamed of living in NYC in loft in Tribeca or another artsy neighborhood.  I arrived early in the afternoon so I had time to enjoy my expansive suit.  One of the stellar features of the New York Penthouse is a spa tub right in the middle of living room.  I could not resist.  I ran a tub and had a soak. A nice hot soak. So hot in fact that I was still “glowing” a bit when I arrived in the lobby to meet with the other writers and our hosts from Visit Kansas City, Kansas.

Expert Tip: Do a little pre-checkin research online to find the theme you’d enjoy.  Certain themes are more fun than others.  My favorites were the island and Polynesian themed rooms.

Our host at the Chateau Avalon Hotel and Spa devised a scavenger hunt for us throughout the vacant rooms in the hotel.  We were divided into teams and proceeded to “walk quickly” through hotel (running was specifically forbidden.) The scavenger hunt provided both entertainment and a chance to see several of the other themed rooms. These competitive hunts originated when a corporate function was held at the hotel and the staff was asked if they had any “team building” activities.  The answer was “certainly” and they put together “The Great Room Race.  My team came in second - the name of the first place team shall not be spoken. (Melody Pittman from WhereEverIMayRoamBlog.com)

After racing around the hotel for nigh on 30 minutes we worked up a great thirst and tremendous (but still not large enough) hunger.  It was time for the losers to lick their wounds and winners to gloat in the d”Nile Wine Bar . I chose the Blue Nile, a signature cocktail made with Blue Curaçao by the able bartender.  Although it was a very photogenic drink I probably should have chosen another of their craft cocktails.

Expert tip: Skip the pretty blue drink and try one of the other vintage cocktails or absinthe serve properly. The scuttlebutt is they make a mean Sazerac.

It was time for some serious BBQ. We didn’t have to travel far, the BBQ came to us.  Slap’s BBQ, Joe’s KC Bar-B-Que, Arthur Bryant’s’ BBQ, Woodyard Bar-B-Que and Gates Bar-B-Q all set up tables of their BBQ and selected sides. The side dishes were tasty but the meat was the star of the show. I loved the ribs from Slap’s BBQ paired with their warm potato salad. Gates BBQ had one of the most original BBQ variations, Burnt Ends with dill pickle chips. We also got to sample Smoked Turkey (Woodyard) , Brisket (Joe’s) and Pulled Pork (Arthur Bryant’s.) One of the hits of this BBQ Buffet was the Cheesy Corn from Woodyards. Of course each BBQ place showcased their own BBQ Sauce.  Most are available bottled if you like to give them a preliminary taste before you head out to KCK. To top the night off was a platter of fudge in about any flavor you can imagine.

Expert tip: try fudge with a hoppy beer.  The Boulevard IPA, a Kansas City brew, was a good pairing with the sweetness of the fudge. Who knew?

Out first full day on the KCK Foodie Trail brought us to MeMa’s Bakery. It is truly hard to detail all the wonderful things we had a choice of at MeMa’s. I was up to the task and sample most everything. I had apple strudel, carrot cake, cinnamon roll, cherry and lemon danish and a new one on me Povitica Bread, a Croatian Layered Bread. Povitica is reason enough to for visit to MeMa’s and KCK.

Expert tip: Buy more of MeMa’s bake goods than you think you could possible need.  Don’t miss out on the Povitia Bread and get some to go.  Take a sampling of their pastries and cakes for the road. If I had been driving back to Denver none of pastries would have crossed the state line.

Double Expert Super Secret Tip: Buy a few of MeMa’s cinnamon rolls in jar. They have a long shelf life and make excellent & curious gifts.

Next stop, Krizman’s House of Sausage in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood.  After such a sweet-filled start to the day something savory sounded perfect for stop number two of the KCK Foodie Trail. We sampled a variety of Old World Sausages made by Joe Krizman just the way his father made sausages. At Krizman’s we not only got to sample the sausage but also see how it was made and even make a bit of sausage ourselves.  The old adage that you should NOT see sausage made if you want to continue enjoying it certainly didn’t apply at Krizman’s.

Expert tip: try their handmade sauerkraut with the Cheddar Jalapeño Sausage.

Is lunch time yet?  No, it barely past mid-morning.

Must be time for more BBQ.

Around the corner to Slap’s BBQ we go. Slaps's is another Strawberry Hill success story without quite as much history as The House of Sausage.  We get to meet the Big Guy himself and see where those delicious ribs from last night are smoked and sauced. Joe Pearce is the master smoker in charge of bringing out the smoky flavor Slap’s is famous for. He is also a local celebrity for his appearance on the TV’s BBQ Pitmaster. Slap’s (Squeal Like A Pig) is a relative newcomer to KC BBQ scene but with brother’s Mike,  Joe competes regularly on the BBQ circuit, which they credit for their innovative cooking style.  We got to sample Burnt Ends and Smoked Turkey along with sides of the Warm Potato Salad, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw and Creamed Corn (not be confused with the canned variety.) Both meats were fantastic but Burnt Ends were my favorite along with Creamed Corn and Warm Potato Salad.

Expert tip: don’t eat for several hours before a visit to Slap’s and then eat everything.

It is still morning and we’ve got more eating to do.  Pace yourself Jerome.

We enter El Camino Real in central Kansas City, KN and are immediately met by puffs of steam rising, the smell of onions and peppers frying and the staccato clatter of a spatula scraping the sizzling meats on the grill. El Camino has held true to their roots as a food cart, they are now just indoors. The small cafe puts out quite an array of Mexican inspired foods but you can’t call them street tacos, anymore. The is no frufru, quasi Mexican Restaurant. They serve the real deal, platers of tacos, burritos, gorditas and tortas with meat, onions and peppers. Scattered with cilantro and a few wedges of lime and you have El Camino.

Expert tip: it is not secret but don’t pass up the original fusion food, Tacos al Pastor. If you are a fan of chorizo this is the place to order it.

Finally it is time for lunch.

For lunch we are off to one of our non eating stops on the KCK Foodie Trail, Original Juan’s Specialty Foods. If you think your hot sauce, spaghetti sauce or BBQ sauce should be enjoyed by thousands if not millions this is where you go to get it manufactured, bottled and ready for the grocery shelf. Juan’s bottles more than 1300 sauces so you will have completion. They also house a hot sauce museum with hundreds of sauces on high shelves around the warehouse. You can also taste Da’Bomb’s Final Answer and The Source.  They are reported to be the world’s hottest hot sauces at over 7 million Scoville’s (The scale used to rank pepper hotness)  but you’ll have to sign a liability waiver first.

Expert tip: Just because you can does not mean your should. Don’t taste Da’Bomb if you plan to taste anything else on your trip to Kansas City, Kansas. Instead swing by the Juan’s closeout shelf and pickup a bargain on a hot sauce or spaghetti sauce.

Ester from Laugh With Us Blog give her
dough a flip at 1889 Pizza
At 1889 Pizza Napoletana we are going to get schooled before we eat. Owner’s Kellie and Jason Kolich have set up a pizza making workshop for us. We are going to learn how to turn a small ball of dough into their Signature Margherita pie. The word hand-tossed pizza is about to take on a new meaning as it is going to be our own hands doing the tossing. After we’ve work our ball of dough into a flat, thin mostly circular crust that we’ve flipped into the air with a twist of fists, we are each issued a wooden paddle with a long handle to hold our crust. We ladle on the sauce and spread it almost to the edges of the dough, tear up our ball of fresh mozzarella and scatter the ragged bits around the pizza and place fresh basil leaves between the bits of cheese. Drizzle a few threads of Extra Virgin Olive Oil around the pizza and scatter Parmigiano Reggiano around the pizza.

But our work is not done. 

We have to cook our masterpiece in Pizza 1889’s wood fired ovens. We are instructed by the resident
pizza chef a true Italian on how and where to slide our pizza into the oven.  It requires a deft hand to deliver the pizza to the back of the oven without sliding into or over another of the other pizzas already in the oven. But with a stroke similar to that of a skilled outdoor shuffleboard player I slide the paddle into the oven and with an abrupt stop of the paddle the pizza skids perfectly next to the fire. The chef monitors my pizza then using a long handled metal paddle he deftly rotates my pizza and tilts it toward the fire and after minute or so places it on a plate. Even though I am not the least bit hungry I eat a couple pieces the pizza I made and sample several of Pizza 1889’s salads and imbibe on a nice red wine.

Expert tip: Grab a Peach Nehi to go with your pizza. You won’t find Peach flavored Nehi very many places.  If your taste run a bit drier try one of their selection of Italian wines on tap.

We have another non eating stop next, thankfully.

We take a tour of the famous Kansas City Steak Company’s facility.  Before there was Amazon, Blue Apron and Plated there was Kansas City Steaks shipping food to your home. This is where they warehouse and ship the wide variety of meats they have on the website. It was absolutely immaculate and bitterly cold. No photos were permitted in the warehouse area but trust me, it is an efficiently run operation and not as automated as I expected. Even though they do employ robotics and lots of high-tech machinery, it is human beings that selects the steaks you ordered.

Expert tip: Buy a few gift cards to spread around at Christmas. You will be remember fondly by friends and family well into Spring. The steakburgers are an excellent value.

The final stop this afternoon is at Rowe Ridge Vineyard and Winery. This was a well place oasis of
calm on a hill outside KCK. It is a family affair, the grape growing and picking and the wine making. The family home sits beside the trellises of grapes. We took a walk through the vineyard and heard about what grapes grow well in the midwestern climate and what grapes haven’t taken to hills of Eastern Kansas. We also got to see first hand one of the grape presses being disassemble and the skins of the crushed grapes being removed. Making wine can be a messy process but is ultimately rewarding. Our reward came in wine tasting session with one of the owners, Pam Rowe. They offer tasting to the general public on weekends and by appointment.

Expert tip: My favorite wines at Rowe were the dry, light bodied but robust 2009 St. Vincent Red and the sweet, thick, boozy Blackberry Wine. These are wines at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Our KCK Foodie Trail is not yet complete but we take a short respite to relax back at the Chateau - I like saying that. “Back at the Chateau.”

We still have places to go and food to eat. Our mission is not yet complete.

The Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway is our final stop.  After we briefly wander through the casino we tour of the Final Cut Restaurant featuring a replica of Dorothy’s blue dress and ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz and Celine Dion’s nearly transparent dress that she wore to the 1997 Oscars.

Our final stop was not Final Cut but rather Turn 2 Sports Bar.  We are hosted out on the patio overlooking what else but turn two on the Kansas Speedway. The kitchen sent out the whole menu. We chowed down on a glut of pizza, salads, burgers, chicken wings and Catfish Po’ Boys while the sun set over the Speedway. I would dearly love to have one of those Catfish Po’ Boys right now.  It was too much food even if we hadn’t already eaten all day long but it made a savory and photogenic end to our day on the Kansas City, Kansas Foodie Trail.

Expert tip: While it may take advance preparations and a large party to have an event out on the terrace you can enjoy a great view of the Speedway through the glass walls that line the bar.

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