Chow Town barbecue keeps getting better. Thanks to the phenomenal growth of competition barbecue, winning teams are leaping from contest success to catering, restaurant or food truck fame.
So it is with Steer Crazy, a competition barbecue team. Bruce Lemay, Maggie Lemay, Dan Isbell and Jen Isbell launched Crazy Good Eats catering and now a restaurant after competing and winning at barbecue contests.
Steer Crazy divides tasks based on each team member’s strengths. Dan is the pitmaster. Bruce is Dan’s assistant, specializing in chicken. Jen, Bruce, Maggie and Dan test each meat for tenderness and taste and offer suggestions. Bruce cuts the meat samples for judges and Maggie is the turn-in box expert. Bruce told me Maggie also has “a great feel for the right tenderness for brisket and burnt ends.”
At the restaurant and catering business, Dan is the pitmaster while Bruce and Maggie are responsible for staffing, daily operations, inventory, scheduling and other business details in addition to working in the kitchen.
Like all pitmasters who strive for excellence, Dan constantly works on upping his game by learning from others. His most recent mentors were championship pitmaster Rod Gray of Pellet Envy and American Royal Grand Champion Todd Johns of Plowboys. Bruce and Dan have also taken judging classes to sharpen their competitive edge.
Dan has adapted some tips from Rod and Todd, such as highlighting the natural flavors that happen when smoke and fire meet meat, and tweaked them to create Crazy Good’s own signature flavors. Instead of injecting and mopping excessive sweet and/or salty seasonings into and onto the meat, Crazy Good is packed with natural flavors. The burnt ends, for example, taste like they benefit from pit drippings-enhanced au jus, thus marrying flavorful rendered fat and meat juices back into the meat.
Dan developed the two current sauces, Competition Bar-B-Q Sauce and Red Eye Bar-B-Q Sauce. Both balance sweet and sour notes reminiscent of old-time Kansas City vinegar-based sauces. Red Eye’s red label signifies hot, but don’t expect a palate scorcher; it is gentle. Watch for their new Extra Napkins — a sweet, Kansas City-style thick sauce, coming soon.
Steer Crazy plucked “crazy” from their team name and branded their catering and restaurant operation Crazy Good Eats. They are living up to that crazy good reputation since opening the restaurant less than three months ago.
Crazy Good Eats’ baby back ribs, pulled pork, sausage and brisket get high marks on appearance, tenderness and taste, except the appearance of the brisket. From the top it looks perfect. Individual slices, however, look bland, lean and unremarkable. As contest judges have learned, appearance isn’t always a good indication of flavor and tenderness. Each bite of Crazy Good Eats’ brisket is tender, flavorful and spot-on delicious. The burnt ends pit beans, coleslaw, cornbread and fries are perfect complementary sides.
I look forward to trying the Mad Meatballs appetizer and the creative repertoire of sandwiches.
Leave it to these bold barbecue entrepreneurs bitten by the barbecue bug to open a new joint in Olathe, attracting barbecue lovers along with other heavy hitters such as Joe’s Kansas City, Johnny’s, Smokin’ Joe’s and The Rub. Their Heritage Square location is an ideal niche in the sprawling Olathe barbecue market. The decor is cheerful, clean and bright, with a mix of orange and red walls, corrugated metal roofing panels, hanging lights in pickle jars, and a creative logo that catches your eyes when you enter. The setting attracts customers. The barbecue keeps them coming back. Crazy Good Eats is off to a crazy great barbecue restaurant start.
Crazy Good Eats is located at 16695A W. 151st St. in Olathe. Its telephone number is 913-905-2744, and it can be found on the web at http://www.crazygoodeats.com/.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent release is “America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition),” with chef Paul Kirk.