Almost 11 years ago, chef Bob Palmgren left fine dining behind to open RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack off of Lamar Avenue and Johnson Drive in Mission.
Palmgren, whose resume includes stints at Kansas City restaurants such as the River Club, Houlihan’s and Plaza III, knew that he was taking a risk. But the chef was passionate about barbecue — and he wanted to use his classic French culinary background to put a fresh twist on smoked meat.
“I didn’t want to be everybody else’s barbecue joint,” Palmgren says.
So in addition to brisket and ribs, Palmgren served hickory-smoked bison empanadas, crispy deep-fried pig tails, gumbo, lamb ribs and homemade jalapeno sausage smoked in corn husks. The corn husks, Palmgren explains, let smoke in without letting moisture out.
Business at RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack, which is named after Palmgren’s son, was slow at first, particularly on Sundays. So Palmgren started serving country breakfast, with eggs, smoked ham, sausage, bacon and cinnamon rolls.
RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack debuted its country breakfast on Easter. Palmgren prepared for a huge crowd — but only about 30 customers showed up.
“Nobody knew about us,” he says. “It was pretty sad.”
But as word caught on, crowds started flocking to RJ’s on weekend mornings. The parking lot in front of the small building — which has the cozy feel of a shack-style Ozarks smokehouse — was at capacity when I went on a recent Sunday.
Inside, the restaurant was filled with customers sipping bacon-infused Bloody Marys ($5) and chowing down on huge plates of biscuits and gravy and Burnt End Hash ($9.95) —brisket burnt ends sauteed with onions, peppers, mushrooms and smoked bacon and served with two eggs.
“Sunday has gone from my worst day to my best day,” Palmgren says. That’s thanks in part to the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which featured RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack four years ago.
Palmgren says customers come from all over the world to sample the dishes featured on the show, including Denver-cut lamb ribs ($15.95), brisket steak soup ($4.45 for a cup or $6.45 for a bowl) and corn husk-wrapped pork and jalapeno sausage ($5.95), served with flour tortillas, mustard and barbecue sauce.
“We’re like a tourist attraction,” Palmgren says. “We’ve had customers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, England, Korea, Japan and Germany. It’s unreal.”
Palmgren modeled his hearty brisket steak soup after a steak soup recipe from Plaza III that he used 35 years ago. “I took that recipe and I barbecue-tized it” with smoked brisket and Rotel, which “gives it some zip,” the chef says.
Palmgren also barbecue-tized the classic Bloody Mary by infusing vodka with hickory-smoked bacon to make his Bacon Bloody Mary ($5). The best-selling drink is garnished with a thick-cut strip of RJ’s bacon, which gets its flavor from real hickory wood smoke — not fake liquid flavoring. RJ’s smokes 50 to 60 pounds of bacon every Saturday and Sunday.
I enjoyed the Bacon Bloody Mary, but my favorite drink on RJ’s menu is the BBQ Bloody Mary ($5), made with barbecue sauce and lots of horseradish and served in a hurricane glass with a barbecue rub-dusted rim.
“You can barbecue everything,” Palmgren says.
Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at email@example.com or tweet @sarah_gish.
RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack
Location: 5835 Lamar Ave. in Mission
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Country breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: The jalapeno sausage ($5.95), brisket steak soup ($4.45 for a cup or $6.45 for a bowl) and the Denver-cut lamb ribs ($15.95). At breakfast, try the burnt end hash ($9.95) and the BBQ Bloody Mary ($5).
Vegetarian: Several appetizers are meat-free, including the corn fritters ($4.45), the deep-fried okra ($4.45) and the jumbo onion rings ($4.45 for six or $6.25 for 12). Angie’s Salad ($4.45) comes with romaine, dried cranberries, croutons, bell peppers, tomatoes and dill pickle slices.