Chow Town

‘Soul Food’ author savors a Chow Town barbecue crawl

Burnt ends, sliced brisket & sliced pork at L.C.’s.
Burnt ends, sliced brisket & sliced pork at L.C.’s. Special to The Kansas City Star

“She gave you her recipe for mambo sauce?” Adrian Miller asked with a look of astonishment.

“No,” I replied, “but I watched her make it enough times that I know how to make it her way.”

I had mentioned a former neighbor who made fiery mambo chicken wing sauce for potluck dinners one hot summer in Washington, D.C., years ago. Most cooks keep their mambo, or mumbo, sauce recipe a secret. The origin of the sauce is disputed from Chicago to the District of Columbia to New York.

We were en route to L.C.’s Bar-B-Q, our first stop on a Chow Town barbecue crawl before Adrian’s book signing and fried chicken soul food dinner at Rye. Besides mambo sauce, we kicked around a variety of culinary topics: differences in white and black barbecue methods; the Chow Town barbecue and fried chicken scene; pig snoots and our respective new projects.

A KC Barbecue Tours mini-bus was parked at L.C.’s. Inside, a tour group was devouring ribs, burnt ends, pork, brisket and beans. We didn’t ask if L.C.’s was their first stop. If they were pacing themselves to save room for more at the next three stops, you could have fooled me.

We ordered burnt ends, brisket, pork, ribs, beans and fries, staked out a table near where L.C. Richardson usually sits and waited for our order. To our delight, L.C. walked in and sat near us as we savored his barbecue —smoke-kissed, tender, juicy, lightly sauced and with crunchy bark. We could have stayed the rest of the day, visiting with L.C., marveling at his stories about inventive barbecue pits he has used from Mississippi to Chow Town.

Pits hand-dug in the sides of cliffs, huge truck wheel grills, 55-gallon drum pits and modern, stainless steel professional-grade pits: L.C. has mastered it all. We knew better than to ask for his sauce recipe.

Adrian discusses the origin of chicken wings in hot sauce, whether they’re called buffalo chicken wings, mambo wings or mumbo wings, in his new book, “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time” (UNC Press; 2013).

Referring to a New Yorker magazine article by Calvin Trillin, Adrian shares an alternative to the oft-repeated story out of the Bellissimo family’s Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. He points to a possible mid-1960s origin in the person of John Young, who told Trillin that his mambo sauce is the original signature hot sauce for chicken wings instead of the Anchor Bar’s buffalo chicken wings.

Adrian diplomatically observes, “Though no one really knows for sure, a chicken wing drowning in hot sauce fit squarely within the soul food tradition, and less so with Italian American foodways. That history should cause us to consider another plausible origin for buffalo wings other than the one commonly accepted.”

Remember the story about Arthur Bryant toning down Charlie Bryant’s hot barbecue sauce when he inherited the business? Adrian doesn’t tell that story, but what he shares about the long tradition of one or more extremely hot barbecue sauces available at African-American barbecue joints puts it in historical context.

Our next stop was Rosedale Barbeque. We sampled ribs, brisket, beans and slaw and put what was left in a to-go container. The Rosedale and L.C.’s stashes were saved for Adrian’s trip home to Denver.

I noted that since we were on Southwest Boulevard, not far from the Tenderloin Grill, why not stop by for a pig snoot sandwich. He didn’t commit to eating snoot, but he was game to stop by.

To our regret, a “Back at 4” message was taped on the door. Next time we’ll make the Tenderloin Grill our first stop. I wonder how Herrera’s Secret Hot Sauce for pig snoot, tenderloins, hot dogs, fish filet and burgers compares to Adrian’s favorite chicken wing sauce.

L.C.’s Bar-B-Q is at 5800 Blue Parkway in Kansas City. Its telephone number is 816-923-4484.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He 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 also the author of books on barbecue. His most recent release is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”