Chow Town

Bates City Bar-B-Que a Shawnee gem

Bates City burnt ends with fries.
Bates City burnt ends with fries. Special to The Star

Step inside Bates City Bar-B-Que for the first time and a concept you learned in Art Appreciation 101 may come to mind: horror vacui—defined as a “fear of” or “aversion to” empty space. In today’s data overload culture, all except those who want minimal visuals easily acclimate to the covered walls of Bates City.

Expired license plates take up the most wall space. Next most prominent are posters, photos and life-size cutouts of expired sports icons, movie stars, musicians, local celebrities and Americana totems. Also sprinkled throughout on the walls and windows are corny, funny and wise hand-written aphorisms on butcher paper, guest checks and metal signs. Pig art, bobble heads and old signs add to the ambiance.

Why call it Bates City Bar-B-Que in the world capital of barbecue? Tom Roberts, owner/pitmaster, opened a barbecue joint in Bates City, Missouri, in 1976, with his hometown friend Mike Atwood. When Tom moved to Kansas City, he opened his own Bates City Bar-B-Que in Shawnee, Kansas, in 2000. Mike Atwood is proprietor of the original in Bates City.

Besides the name, Bates City goes rogue another way. In a city that trends in the direction of high-dollar, neatly trimmed contest-style ribs that don’t fall off the bones, Bates City smokes untrimmed original Kansas City style ribs with meat so tender that it does fall off the bones. Tom knows how to turn out contest-style ribs, but he chooses to smoke them the way his customers want them. They are delicious, with or without sauce, and I have yet to find a lower-priced daily slab in Chow Town. Don’t expect fancy. Do expect tender and flavorful.

Besides ribs, Bates City offers standard beef, pork, ham, turkey and sausage sandwiches, plus a rib sandwich — three ribs with two pieces of bread and sauce — or a saucy burnt ends sandwich with two pieces of bread.

Tommy Boy, the biggest sandwich on the menu, features your choice of beef brisket, turkey, ham or sausage in a bun with sauce. My favorite Tommy Boy thus far is the kissed-with-smoke beef, thin-sliced and hearty.

Shawnee Southern is Bates’ version of a Carolina Pulled Pork sandwich topped with remarkably delicious slaw.

Don’t miss the homemade Bates City fries, beans and slaw on the side. Unskinned russet potatoes are cut and fried in-house to crispy perfection “by the book,” as staffer Owen Stevermer remarked. The coleslaw, lightly dressed with a kiss of sugar, is an uncomplicated complement to the barbecue; likewise the meaty homemade beans. The extra care that goes into each homemade side pays off in flavor.

Expect three standout perks at Bates City: friendly/speedy service, lowest-price every day rib slabs in town, and dollar longnecks.

No surprise if you’ve never heard of Bates City Bar-B-Que. They maintain a website, but the marketing is mostly word-of-mouth. Word about Bates has been going around town for more than fourteen years. Find it and feast.

Bates City Bar B Que

6493 Quivira Road

Shawnee KS 66216