Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Shack

Guy Fieri might want to consider coming back to The BBQ Shack in Paola, Kansas, and taking down his posters.  When the Bit-By-Bit BBQ Pit Crawl arrived at the Shack with high expectations, based on Guy’s endorsement on his “Diner, Drive-Ins, and Dives” program, and on many word-of-mouth recommendations over the years, we were very disappointed.  Very little lived up to all that we had been told.

Admittedly, when we walked into the place shortly after noon, they were busy.  A girl’s softball team had arrived just ahead of us and pretty well filled the seating.  That circumstance caused some of the problems we experienced, but is not an excuse for the generally mediocre to poor quality of the food we were served.
One of BBQ’s basic staples, ribs, were not available to our group.  A little more than an hour after the Shack’s stated opening time, they were sold out.
Of the menu items we were able to try, our group found most to be very run-or-the mill, or inferior.  The list of our opinions is as follows:
·         The burnt ends were rubbery and chewy, and not very flavorful.
·         The beef brisket was dry, and hard, and again not particularly tasty.
·         The sausage, likewise, was dry.
·         The pulled pork was tender and moist, but it too was not very flavorful, as if not enough rub had been used to prepare it.
·         The Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwich was OK, but the slaw used on it wasn’t as tangy as I prefer.
·         The ½ chicken was OK, but not noteworthy.
·         The seasoned fries were under-seasoned.
·         The fried pickles were generally inferior to those we have tried at other BBQ restaurants.
·         The fried okra, cheese sticks, and corn nuggets were acceptable if you discount them being tepid instead of hot.
The few things our group sampled that we found to be good were:
·         The Atomic Buffalo Turds (bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with creamed cheese) were quite good.
·         The Sweet Fire BBQ sauce we found to be very tasty, with the Hot Sauce being a close second.
·         The Onion straws had good flavor and were cooked and seasoned well.
It should be noted that none of our food was really served hot.  It was mostly just warm, as if it had been sitting awhile.  If that were the case, and we believe it was, that would not have helped the quality problems.
The service was not good.  To start with, our group of four was not greeted or seated by the restaurant staff, but by the bus driver of the softball team, who juggled their group to make space for us.  When a waitress finally came to take our order, she warned us there might be a wait, but we had no expectation that it would end up being almost 2 hours.  That particular problem became increasingly annoying as more and more people who came in after we did, started getting served ahead of us.  When that number reached seven parties, we complained.  At that point, our food magically appeared within moments, and it was clear that it had been sitting awhile.
In picking the establishments we planned to visit and review, The BBQ Shack had been high on our list of places to try.  We left very disappointed and The Shack had fallen so far down the list that it will be some time before any of us try it again.

Dennis Constance on behalf of The Pit Crawlers

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Shawnee Mission, Kansas

Chicken is my favorite meat.  When I was born there was an ominous thunderclap, and a series of dark clouds could be seen over poultry farms throughout the Midwest. I picked Johnny’s for this leg of the pit crawl because their chicken was supposed to be the best in the region.  Before I get to the chicken, I should mention that a trip to Johnny’s is worth it just to see the way the place is decorated.  Hundreds and hundreds of barbecue sauce bottles adorn shelves on the walls when you first walk in.  My personal favorite was Fartless Barbecue Sauce, though I’m pretty sure that’s flagrant false advertising on the company’s part.  The guys and I spent several minutes looking at all of the bottles for names, places of origin and sauce ingredients.  In addition to the bottle collection there are numerous pictures of “classic” outhouses in and around the bathroom. 

Before I even sat down I got the impression that the people at Johnny’s knew what they were doing.  I believe that Johnny’s does have the best barbecued chicken I have eaten thus far.  I have not eaten as much barbecue as some of the other Pit Crawlers but I am the group appointed chicken connoisseur.  The dark meat was really really flavorful and moist.  Even the white meat had a lot of moisture to it, which is hard to do when you are barbecuing chicken. 

The other Pitcrawlers also spoke highly of the ribs there.  If you go to Johnny’s be sure and add a rib. Two of our number went so far as to say that the ribs were perfect, yep perfect. They may not be perfect every time but the staff at Johnny’s has it in their capacity to smoke a perfect rib. Although we didn't love all the sauces, the hottest sauce they offer is fantastic.   Also if you go, be sure and get the fried pickles.  Johnny’s pickles are cornbread fried, well-seasoned and firm.  When you bite into one you taste more than just salt.  We enjoyed them immensely.  Johnny’s BBQ is well worth the drive.  If you go, tell them the Barbecue Pit Crawlers sent you.
- Jack

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our Shirts

This is the design for most of our t-shirts.

Here's Zach's (he didn't show up when we made them)

Zarda Q

A few weeks ago Cary, Jack, Dennis and I sat down and made a list of five BBQ spots that we wanted to visit in KC for the first official leg of our crawl.  My choice was Zarda-Q. A few years ago one of my friends (a man we lovingly refer to as "loud ass Derek") had a birthday party that his family's restaurant catered.  It was Zarda Q.  Later on in the night, when I got the beer munchies I went downstairs to find multiple racks of deliciously cooked ribs waiting for me.  The meat was cooked perfectly (just the right amount of texture while still tender) and the sauce was a decent Kansas City flavored sauce.  I was blown away at the time but until this last week I've not had the opportunity to visit the restaurant's actual storefront.  That being the case, I didn't know if my friend got special treatment (being that he was a part of the family) or if everything at the restaurant was really that good.  Believe me when I tell you that it is that good!

Going to the restaurant was bad ass.  I ordered the sampler plate.  The sampler plate (although it says it feeds 1-2) feeds two people.  I was able to get through all my meats but goddamn it was an ungodly amount of food. Included in the plate were burnt ends, ribs, ham, brisket, sausage a quarter chicken and two sides (which for me were sweet potato fries and corn on the cob.)  The only bad thing out of that bunch was the corn.  It seemed undercooked and wasn't very sweet-- after all of that meat, it didn't really matter though.  The meats were cooked perfectly. The brisket was tender and not in the least bit dry.  To me, the ribs had a good texture and were tender throughout although Dennis said that his were dry at the ends. The sides (other than the corn) were great as well (I sampled other people's plates) but the star of the night were the burnt ends.  They were absolutely fantastic.  Tender enough and with a great Kansas City sauce. After the meal everyone seemed pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food and we're already talking about returning to Zarda Q (even though we have about 30 more BBQ restaurants left to hit on our crawl.) 

I guess the best pro tip for visiting this restaurant is to request the other sauces that they have at the counter.  The main sauce is located on the table but their best sauce is by request only.  I forget the exact name of the sauce but it was something generic like "bold."  It had the most flavor and is what it says it is-- a bolder version of the original sauce.  The other sauce that is available by request is the hickory sauce-- which I didn't think too much of.  I wish that they had a spicy sauce as well. I think it would round out the options and provide a better BBQ experience (whatever the hell that means).  

All in all, the service was friendly, the meat was fantastic and the atmosphere was good.  Everyone involved in this barbecue crawl felt like we hit a lead off home run by visiting Zarda-Q.  The only picture that we took was blurred because Dennis was in the process of sitting down to eat his food as he was taking it.  All in all, Zarda Q seems to be one of the unsung greats of Kansas City BBQ and I reccomend visiting this restaurant with no reservations!