Chow Town’s barbecue scene is rich with a diversity of settings, flavors, traditions, signature plates and sandwiches.
We cover the spectrum from original Kansas City style and contest style to cutting-edge fusion. Dominated by restaurants spawned from the competition barbecue network, our legacy restaurants, with pedigrees that date back to the historic superstars that made Kansas City famous for barbecue, are still immensely popular and holding their own.
Each place has distinct signature flavors, but when you feast at Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Rosedale, Jack Stack, Snead’s, B.B.’s, Johnny’s, Big Q, Big T, Smokehouse, LC’s and Danny Edwards Blvd, you’re putting some grassroots legacy Kansas City barbecue in your mouth.
Danny Edwards Blvd Barbecue, for example, can rightly claim bragging rights for a lineage dating to the 1930s, when Danny’s dad, the famous Jake Edwards, started his business during the Great Depression and was in full swing by 1938. Later, young Danny — dubbed “Lil’ Jake” by friends and customers — learned the barbecue business from butts to bones by working alongside Big Jake. Danny eventually got Dad’s secret sauce recipe.
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He had one question: “Dad, why do you make this sauce so hot!?”
“Because I don’t want to have to make a lot of sauce every day,” was the reply. The sauce you get from Danny today — slightly sweet and peppery with a gentle chili pepper/cayenne kick — is tweaked from Dad’s version sans fire in your mouth. Danny wants his customers to like his sauce so much that he has to make more.
“Dad was getting old and tired,” he allowed. Understood, and I’m sure Dad would get a kick out of this story if he could hear it today.
Danny started his own barbecue business 35 years ago in an 18-seater lunch-only joint on Grand Avenue called Lil’ Jake’s Eat It & Beat It. When he had to move to make room for the Power & Light District a few years ago, he chose the current larger location on Southwest Boulevard. It is still lunch-only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the lunch rush, it’s as busy and full as Lil’ Jake’s used to be. Danny’s loyal customers know how to go with the flow: Either eat it and beat it, or if there’s room at your table for others, invite them to have a seat. When barbecue is on the table, no one is a stranger.
My favorites at Danny’s are the sliced beef sandwiches — Big D and the 35th Anniversary Special — the burnt ends sandwich, the ribs and the pulled pork. On the side I love the beans, coleslaw, fries and sweet potato fries. Sue’s homemade brownies or the bread pudding is a perfect sweet ending.
As I was leaving the other day, Danny shared a story that brought tears to my eyes. He said one day a downtown customer at Lil’ Jake’s walked in and asked, “What do you have?”
Danny pointed to the posted menu.
“My eyes ain’t too good. Can you just tell me what you have?”
Danny realized the customer couldn’t read. “I was surprised at how many other downtown customers couldn’t read,” he said. “After that, I told staff to just tell them about the special of the day, and that’s what we did.”
Sure, that was good business, but it says a lot about Danny’s empathy and respect for the dignity of others, literate or not.
Go wish Danny and the crew a happy 35th anniversary. While you’re there, put some Chow Town legacy barbecue in your mouth, top it off with Sue’s homemade brownies and buy a bottle of sauce to take home.
Danny Edwards Blvd Barbecue is at 2900 Southwest Blvd. Its telephone number is 816-283-0880 and it can be found on the Internet at dannyedwardsblvdbbq.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.