“Are you sure it makes sense to open a new barbecue restaurant in Kansas City, the most competitive barbecue restaurant landscape on the planet?”
Joe Tulipana struggled with variations of that question before he decided to launch Blind Box BBQ, “A modern take on classic Kansas City barbecue.”
Blind Box wasn’t spawned from a string of barbecue contest trophies and ribbons. Nor does Tulipana bring formal culinary training to Blind Box. Nevertheless, his culinary skills in the kitchen and the barbecue pit are evident throughout the Blind Box menu.
Tulipana, a Rockhurst High School graduate with a civil engineering degree from the University of Missouri, was on a solid career path as a software programmer.
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Yet, he couldn’t shake his dream of owning and operating a barbecue restaurant. He reasoned that he is young enough at the age of 25 years old to pursue that dream and if it doesn’t work out there’s a long road of other opportunities ahead.
Blind Box BBQ is defined on the wall above the kitchen entrance as a noun, meaning, “A box in which BBQ competition teams prepare their entries for presentation and turn-in.” It is blind to judges because a number instead of a team name is on the box.
Tulipana knows better than to serve his barbecue in a contest-style Styrofoam box. Blind Box barbecue is presented with far more visual appeal than is allowed in contest boxes.
Gary Bronkema and I stopped in during the first soft opening week. We had already enjoyed a hearty barbecue lunch at McGonigle’s, but there’s no stopping us from checking out a new KC barbecue joint.
Blind Box “belly sliders” — smoked pork belly cubes on thinly sliced crescents of pickled green apple — were perfect starters, followed by the Carolina Q sandwich, pulled pork topped with slaw and onion straws in a grill-toasted bun with a side of fries. Excellent.
Last week I sampled Blind Box babybacks, spareribs, “Lil Juicy” sandwich and the “Notorious P.I.G.” sandwich, with sides of bourbon baked beans, baked potato salad, house slaw and “BBQ Street Corn.”
Perfect ribs make you salivate at first sight; the meat pulls from the bone with a gentle tug and is moist, easy to chew, kissed with smoke and complementary seasonings.
Blind Box ribs are strong on eye appeal and tenderness. Less rub and more smoke would maximize the natural rib meat flavor. They are delicious with or without the house sauce, a thin, smooth tomato base sauce with a cumin/cayenne hit up front and a sour/sweet/smoky finish.
Perfect burnt ends are a juicy, tender trio of meat, fat and bark, needing minimal or no sauce. Blind Box burnt ends score high on flavor, but fall short of the gold standard set by Joe’s Kansas City, LC’s, Q39 and SLAP’s.
Blind Box pulled pork is a tender and juicy butt star in the Carolina Q sandwich.
I haven’t tried the brisket yet, but his shaved tri-tip steak in the Lil’ Juicy signature sandwich suggests that Tulipana knows beef.
Picky Texans would not throw bones at Blind Box sausage. Locally made, lean and mean, served sliced and splashed with sauce.
A duo of diced, red potatoes and carrots dressed with a lightly seasoned whole grain mustard/vinaigrette dressing is Tulipana’s modern take on baked potato salad. Cool instead of warm; crunchy instead of soft.
Blind Box slaw is a refreshing crunchy medley of white shredded cabbage laced with shredded purple cabbage and carrots, lightly seasoned with Greek yogurt sauce, hinting of celery seeds.
The bourbon baked beans are a standout favorite: thick and hearty with generous portions of barbecue meat. I could enjoy this dish as an entrée.
Street Corn, a seasonal side, is grilled sweet cob served with lime wedges for zest: a perfect summertime complement with any item on the menu.
I look forward to trying the brisket, chicken wings, chicken, salmon, KC Strip, Mediterranean Shrimp Pasta, BLT+C and Short Rib Smash sandwiches on future visits, plus the Blind Box Bramble signature cocktail or a Reunion Rye Dark Horse Feather from the fully stocked bar.
Andrew Olsen, mixologist of Rieger, Drum Room, Cleaver & Cork fame, advised Tulipana on developing the cocktail menu.
Tulipana’s smokers, custom-made in Sacramento by a Navy buddy of Tulipana’s dad, turn out such juicy meats that he named the original “Lil’ Juicy,” and the newer three times larger model, “Papa Juice.” Hickory is Tulipana’s wood of choice. He may experiment with other woods such as white oak in the future.
There is always room for a new barbecue joint in Chow Town. Blind Box BBQ’s location and “modern take on classic Kansas City barbecue” makes sense. Dine at Blind Box and welcome Joe Tulipana as the newest member of the Chow Town barbecue community.
Blind Box BBQ is located at 13214 W. 62nd Terrace in Shawnee. Its telephone number is 913-268-4227 and can be found on the web at blindboxbbq.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.