KC makes ‘great U.S. food cities’ list for 3 barbecues, 2 Westport operations & more

Kansas City BBQ: What’s so special about it?

Famous Kansas City barbecue restaurants, from Arthur Bryant's to Joe's Kansas City to Q39.
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Famous Kansas City barbecue restaurants, from Arthur Bryant's to Joe's Kansas City to Q39.

Thrillist has put Kansas City on its new list of 9 Surprisingly Great US Food Cities You Have to Visit.

It says you visit certain cities for the food, but others you visit despite the food. There’s the “old guard of Important Food Destinations” — San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans — but who are the up-and-comers, the places whose culinary reps should be rising fastest?

How about Kansas City?

“You know it for its barbecue. There’s a lot more here … but do start with that barbecue,” said Thrillist, a digital lifestyle brand.KCMO’s legacy of slow-cooked meat slathered with thick, heavy molasses sauce has long set it apart from other BBQ giants further south. It also has the distinction of being the birthplace of burnt ends. The fatty, tender end pieces of the brisket were originally throwaway scraps, until legendary pitmasters at Arthur Bryant’s began selling these meat candy cubes in the 1970s.”

Thrillist said you will have no problem gorging yourself on the blue ribbon-brisket at Q39 or the hallowed burnt-end sandwich at SLAP’s (an acronym for “squeal like a pig”).

But it also lists other options beyond barbecue, including “the standard-bearer for KC fine dining” Bluestem, upscale Rieger (order anything with bison, Thrillist recommends), or the newly opened Antler Room, where “artful, delicate plates like foie gras torchon atop beet carpaccio have landed it on national best new restaurant lists.”

The “line cook’s lunch” at Happy Gillis, house-made pork terrine and chicken liver mousse on a ciabatta bun, is “one of the best eats in town.” After hours, Thrillist says to get the croque madame at Westport’s Ça Va, a Parisian-inspired Champagne bar, “pretty much the furthest thing from BBQ there is.”

But if you have just one meal it recommends ordering “The End is Near” at Slap’s, a sliced burnt-end sandwich.

Other cities on the list include San Diego, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Honolulu.

Bluestem’s bar manager, Andrew Olsen, 29, also recently made Zagat’s new 30 Under 30 list. In January, Zagat had an open call, then vetted nominations from readers, its local editors, previous honorees and industry insiders to come up with 60 potential honorees. It cut that down to 45 finalists in June, and then selected the 30 “representing some of the best, brightest” — from a cookie dough magnate to a hydroponic farmer.

Zagat said of Olsen: “By using imaginative ingredients ranging from yogurt to orange marmalade, he crafts drinks as approachable as they are artful. Olsen never imagined a life in the industry — he grew up in rural Missouri and joined the U.S. Marines after high school — but is grateful for the way things have turned out.”

Joyce Smith: 816-234-4692, @JoyceKC