There are picky eaters, and then there’s Rob Harris.
“I don’t like anyone else’s cooking,” Harris says. “So I’ve always been the cook for the family.”
For years, Harris made his living building police cars. But last summer, after a disappointing meal at a local barbecue joint, Harris decided he could do better. So he asked his son Jason, 21, if he wanted to team up to open a smokehouse.
“I was all in,” says Jason. “I’ve had a dream to own my own restaurant since I was 16.”
In September, Smokey’s on the Blvd opened in a shopping center at 145th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park. (The Harrises originally intended to open Smokey’s on College Boulevard, but that location didn’t pan out).
Jason, who previously managed another local barbecue restaurant, came up with recipes for the double-smoked burnt ends, the freshly chopped Carolina-style coleslaw, and the not-too-sweet, not-too-tangy barbecue sauce.
Rob came up with spice rubs and BBQ Spaghetti ($8.99), which tops a nest of noodles with your choice of smoked meat. I ordered it with the smoky burnt ends, and it reminded me of a cowboy version of spaghetti and meatballs, with baked beans instead of marinara. Sounds strange, but it’s surprisingly good.
Together, the father-and-son team came up with Smokey’s signature sandwich, the BLVD. The $6.99 butter-toasted sandwich tops crispy-around-the-edges pulled pork with smoked Havarti cheese, two crunchy onion rings, and a drizzle of Smokey’s orange BLVD sauce. The smoky, tangy sauce gets its color from cayenne pepper. But unlike traditional Kansas City barbecue sauce, it’s sugar-free.
“I’m diabetic, and I don’t like sweet barbecue sauce,” Rob says.
Even without sauce, Smokey’s pulled pork is packed with flavor. It starts with a full pork butt, or shoulder.
“We season it with our rub, then smoke it for 20 hours,” Rob says. “That develops what’s called a bark, a crust. We cut (the pork) down until it’s in very small pieces. Then we work the crust back in to give it flavor.”
Simplicity is a top priority at Smokey’s. The restaurant’s interior is minimal — a colorful mural of classic cars is the only decoration — and the food is similar to what you’d eat at a backyard barbecue.
The baked beans are equal parts sweet and smoky. The potato salad was tart yet creamy, with just a hint of pickle and a sprinkling of paprika. The mac and cheese didn’t have any gourmet add-ins like pancetta or gouda. It was just soft, squishy elbows in gooey yellow cheese.
“You can’t not like it,” Rob says, “because that’s what Mom did.”
This is a true family business: Rob and Jason cook everything themselves and rarely take a day off. Rob’s wife, Mandy, does the books and their 16-year-old daughter, Denise, takes orders at the front counter. Even 12-year-old daughter Kristen does dishes sometimes.
“We’re working for a dream,” Jason says. “It’s an empire we’re trying to build.”