Why drive south on Interstate 35 about an hour from metro Kansas City for barbecue? Two words: Smoked Creations.
When you step inside Smoked Creations BBQ expect a friendly greeting and to be seated in three minutes or less, unless you hit a busy peak when there’s a wait. Give your order to a server and it will likely arrive within 10 minutes, give or take a few.
Lifelong Ottawans and co-owners/pitmasters Jeremy Clevenger and Chancy Reims are committed to serving consistently delicious barbecue with friendly attentive service seven days a week.
Chancy’s and Jeremy’s barbecue skills are mostly self-taught, along with tips learned from the competition barbecue network and the proven reliability of an Ole Hickory cooker. Jeremy also got some tips from Myron Mixon’s barbecue class in Unadilla, Ga.
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This hometown place is in tune with popular culture yet honors Ottawa’s past. Compliments of the Franklin County Historical Society, framed black-and-white photos from Ottawa’s past adorn the walls of the upstairs dining rooms.
My favorites: a regretful gentleman in straw hat, growler can gripped behind his back, reading a sign taped on a shop window, “No Beer. Open Tomorrow”; Santa on a motorcycle, pointing at a sign taped to a gas pump as a station attendant holds a pump nozzle in his right hand with his left hand extended toward Santa: “No Gas Without Ration Card”; and a Prohibition-era law enforcement officer taking inventory of a stash of illegal spirits recovered in a bootlegger raid.
Smoked Creation’s natural stained wood-planked floors and brick wall ambiance puts your mind at ease and your appetite in gear. Gary Bronkema and I were puzzled by the black-and-yellow paint theme in the upstairs dining rooms, but our server, Julie, told us that Ottawa University’s official school colors are black and yellow. The private event space on the ground level is painted with the red and white colors of the Ottawa High School Cyclones.
The menu is loaded with so much variety that an online preview before you arrive is a good idea. Chancy mentioned that although they are a barbecue restaurant, they offer something for everyone.
Besides pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, turkey, sausage and pork spareribs, the menu is loaded with creative options. Fried pickle spears, fried cauliflower, fried okra, Buffalo dip and chips and loaded potato crisps are standout appetizers.
Thirteen delicious sides include hand-cut fries — regular or Cajun — barbecue pit beans, creamy coleslaw, fried seasoned corn on the cob, spicy red beans and rice, baked potato salad and baked sweet potato.
You can get a barbecue sandwich in a slider bun, regular bun or large bun, or you can get Something a Little Different. Of those 21 different options I’m delighted that barbecue street tacos and a large deep-fried barbecue burrito made the cut. On a previous visit, Gretchen and our friend Diane loved the loaded sweet potato with pulled pork, cheese, barbecue sauce and sour cream.
Longhorn is the best-selling sandwich, a combo of brisket, bacon, pepper jack cheese, pickles, bistro sauce and barbecue sauce, topped with two onion rings in a telera roll. Non-barbecue items include country fried steak, pork tenderloin and a Reuben sandwich.
My standout Smoked Creations favorite is the ribs, although my first impression was “Here we go again: candied ribs.” Thank goodness I didn’t put them aside for dessert.
Slathered with a sweet saucy glaze, the neatly trimmed contest-style St. Louis cut rack has tender meat that pulls from the bone with a gentle tug. Wow! The seasonings dance splendidly with the hickory smoke-kissed meat. Although I like bark on my ribs, these ribs were so good that I didn’t give a thought to bark.
And yes, Chow Towners, burnt ends are served on Fridays and Saturdays while they last.
Smoked Creations’ house, spicy, habanero and honey mustard sauces start with commercially available bases embellished with Jeremy and Chancy’s secret signature flavor tweaks. They go through 50 gallons of sauce per week.
Julie Smith, our server during a recent visit, exemplifies the Smoked Creations business philosophy: product knowledge and friendly, attentive service that grows a loyal customer base. All staff and the entire operation remind me of the “Come Back Sauce” philosophy at Kansas City’s Bichelmeyer Meats.
Jeremy and Chancy started in Ottawa’s Country Mart parking lot in 2010, then moved to a downtown restaurant in 2012 that they outgrew in three months. They’ve been in their current location since 2014.
Smoked Creations is proof positive that if you’re good at orchestrating fire, smoke and meat with Come Back Sauce, customers will find you. Besides the Ottawa area and metro KC, there are loyal business customers from as far away as the United Kingdom and Dubai.
Staff grew from nine downtown to 37 in the new location. Three family members help: Linda Clevenger serves as host and helps with catering events. Ron Clevenger works in the kitchen and with catering. Marissa Riemer does double duty as front of the house manager and server.
Why the name Smoked Creations? Jeremy credits his mother, Linda Clevenger. After taking stylish photos of his barbecue dishes, she titled her photos “Smoked Creations.” When Jeremy and Chancy decided to quit their day jobs and jump into full-time barbecue entrepreneurship, giving it a name was a no-brainer.
Smoked Creations BBQ is located at 222 E. Logan St. in Ottawa. 785-242-4227
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. He is author/co-author of 11 published barbecue books and is a 2016 inductee into the Barbecue Hall of Fame.