Chow Town

Joe’s KC partners in new ice house concept at Power & Light District

Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

On Thursday, Kansas City barbecue behemoth Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que announced its new restaurant concept opening in the Power & Light District in February 2018. To celebrate, Walnut Street was blocked off and employees fired up the competition smokers to serve samples to the public.

County Line Ice House will be based around the smoked meats Joe’s Kansas City has made famous, as well as burgers, tacos and ice cold beer. It will move into the 8,500-square-foot space once occupied by Gordon Biersch. An original tenant of Power & Light, Gordon Biersch closed Aug. 13.

The ice house is Joe’s Kansas City’s first restaurant on the Missouri side of the state line.

Owner Jeff Stehney chose the downtown location because there is now a neighborhood of young professionals who live and work in the area.

“The whole restaurant revolves around smoked meats and cold beer,” Stehney said Thursday as lines began to form.

Word spread quickly among downtown office workers eager to try a free sampler plate of Carolina pulled pork sandwiches, burnt end barbacoa tacos, jalapeno-cheese sausage and Mexican charro beans.

At wooden tables set up under a tent, IT co-workers Brian Engel and Joel VanMeter weighed in.

“The beans didn’t do anything for me,” said Engel, who is an elite member of Yelp! and posts regularly.

“They really just taste like refried beans,” VanMeter said.

But they gave a thumbs up to the jalapeno-cheese sausage and the burnt end barbacoa tacos.

Although the menu is far from finalized, it will include starters, bowls, tacos, burgers, sandwiches and desserts, as well such signature items as spare ribs and sliced meats and sides.

“I love the idea to broaden the menu so it appeals to more people,” Stehney said of his new venture. “To me it’s a natural evolution … the ability to come in and really spread my culinary team’s wings and let them take the idea of smoked meats different from what’s on a typical barbecue menu and have fun with it.”

Other items to get a twist: a Z-Man burger made from a custom beef blend, Texas Torpedoes (creamy cheddar, smoked pork and jalapeno fried nuggets with house ranch dressing), beef short ribs and “What About Bob Armstrong” meat and queso dip.

Don’t know Bob Armstrong?

“People in north Texas and Austin know exactly what Bob Armstrong dip is. That’s why we say, ‘What About Bob Armstrong?’ because we’re gonna have to kinda explain what that is,” Stehney said.

But does Kansas City need to import Texas barbecue?

“People can say it’s Texas, but it’s really the lifestyle and all that we’re trying to import. Texans are pretty good at hangin’ out and drinkin’ beer.”

Ice houses are part of the Texas barbecue landscape — and one that Stehney and his partners are eager to bring here.

“Ice houses started in Texas and the South back before there was refrigeration,” Stehney said. “People would go to the ice house to get their ice to keep perishables. The ice house people early on figured out it became a pretty good place to sell cold beer out of … and as people had their own refrigeration, the ice house became sort of a mercantile and a gathering place.”

The new concept is a collaboration between Joe’s Kansas City and Back Napkin Restaurant Group. Back Napkin, owned by Zach Marten and Bret Springs, is behind Westport Alehouse and Rockhill Grille.

“This is a whole new old thing for Kansas City. In the South, ice houses have been around for a long time; big spaces where people gather to kick back, laugh and talk, and drink some beer. It’s going to be a lot of fun to bring this concept to Kansas City,” Marten said in a press release.

“One of our primary goals in managing the Power & Light District is making sure that downtown is not only a place Kansas City can be proud of but also a place that reflects what makes Kansas City great,” said Nick Benjamin, executive director of Kansas City Power & Light District in a press release.

“Joe’s Kansas City BBQ is one of Kansas City’s most impressive local businesses — a reason people visit Kansas City and a reason people love living in Kansas City. We know this collaboration between Joe’s and the locally owned Back Napkin Restaurant Group will have a similar impact, and we are all anxiously awaiting our first meal there early next year.”

While Joe’s KC is fast-casual, service at County Line Ice House will be sit-down. It will be the only Joe’s KC location to serve barbecue on Sunday.

County Line Ice House will also serve cold beer, and the selections will be focused on “popular beers” rather than craft beers. There may be as few as 10 taps, with additional offerings in bottles and cans.

Expect a sound track featuring country music and use of patio space. Stehney said they’ll be adding heating and cooling units to extend the outdoor season as long as possible.

Joe’s Kansas City was founded by Jeff and Joy Stehney in 1996. In 2006, the Stehneys opened a second restaurant in Olathe, and in 2012, a third restaurant opened in Leawood.