Kansas City is world famous for many things.: jazz music, fountains, the Chiefs, and the Plaza Christmas lights. These are just a few of the things I love about this town. But right at the top of my list would have to be Kansas City Barbecue.
We have a barbecue tradition going back many decades, one that is world renowned. There are surely close to 100 barbecue restaurants in our area, with thousands more “amateur” enthusiasts smoking up the backyards on any given Sunday summer afternoon. The smell of hickory smoke is mixed in our blood.
I will FORCE myself, with a heroic smile upon my face, to now and again sample the fairs of various purveyors of this ambrosia, and let you, the reader, know what is out there for your dining enjoyment. It’s a tough job, but one I feel MUST be done. So, to kick off this series, I visit:
“Hi! Can I HELP you?”
Those words, belted out at a volume carefully calculated to just miss shattering glass, greet me as I walk through the door of the Gates Bar-B-Q restaurant on 40 Hiway in Independence, Missouri. This is the standard greeting at ANY of the 5 Gates locations in the greater Kansas City area. I almost believe I’ve heard as much discussion of the greeting as I have of the food! Where many find the boisterous welcome to be exuberantly friendly, some are put off by it, calling it more rude than quaint. MOST have an opinion, one way or the other. The same is true of the barbecue, though I dare say far more opinions are favorable in that area.
Gates Bar B-Q was founded in 1946 by George W. Gates. Legend has it that George was mentored by the great Henry Perry, the man believed to have originated Kansas City barbecue, which he sold hot from his backyard grill, wrapped in the daily newspaper, in the 1920’s.
George soon became a legend himself, perfecting his recipes, sauces, and restaurants. But it was his son, Ollie Gates, who propelled the small chain of restaurants, and the sauce, into national prominence. Ollie is still seen making guest appearances nationally, one of the most recent being on the Martha Stewart TV show. Today, the tradition of the company is being carried on by Ollie’s children, Arzelia Gates and George Gates III.
The restaurants are all clean and neat, a good place to take the family. The employees are friendly and competent. Gates sends each employee through special training at their own school, Rib Tech. The menu offers many delectable meats and side dishes, including ribs (both long and short end), beef, ham, turkey, chicken, mutton, beef sausage, coleslaw, fries, onion rings, and beans. If you’re a bean lover, be sure to try the beans here. They have a deliciously sweet, smoky flavor. Sandwiches come piled high on your choice of white bread or a bun. My favorite is the ham and beef combo. The meats are all of high quality and very well prepared. The sauces are available for you to add to your own taste at the end of the cafeteria style serving line. Be sure to get some extra for dipping the thick cut fries into. Prices at the restaurants are moderate, and you receive a generous portion for your money. You won’t go away hungry.
Gates sauces and rubs are available through a large network of retail outlets outside of their home state of Missouri, including some Walmart stores. They can also be ordered by phone, at 1-877-GSAUCES, or from their website at http://gatesbbq.com. The website also contains much information on the Gates history, recipes, and other items of interest.
The Gates family, restaurants, and sauces are cornerstones in the Kansas City Barbecue mystique. If you’re in the area, don’t miss a chance to sample this wonderful food. If possible, pick up a bottle of sauce to try on your own creations. I keep one handy, to use whenever the mood strikes me. Sometime I’ll tell you about my BBQ omelet.