It had been years since I'd been to Arthur Bryant's barbecue joint in Kansas City (see map) that I wanted to try it again. I still think Jack Stack Barbecue is the best in Kansas City, but something was just calling me the day I stopped in Arthur Bryant's original location recently. I had to work a dealer event that evening and wanted to have a big lunch as I knew I probably wouldn't be eating again that day.
Arthur Bryant's is world renown in that heads of state, celebrities and average "Joe's" have been eating there since 1930. Arthur Bryant (right) took barbecue out of the dingy back room place in Kansas City and helped transform the town into one of the select cities for barbecue in the world.
Henry Perry was known as the "Father of Barbecue" in Kansas City. His barbecue place was one of many that sprang up during the Depression. One of his workers was a guy by the name of Charlie Bryant. Charlie's brother, Arthur, came to visit him one time and fell in love with Perry's place. After Henry died, Charlie took over the running of the business with Arthur at his side. When Charlie died, Arthur took over. Tons of barbecue places have come and gone in Kansas City over the years, but Bryant's was really the first one that made it available to the masses.
Arthur Bryant died in his restaurant in 1982 at the age of 80, doing what he loved doing the most. Bryant's closed down after that, but was revitalized two months later by two investors - Gary Berbiglia and Bill Rauschelbach. Both continue to run the original one at 18th and Brooklyn, as well as two other locations around Kansas City - all of which hold the same traditions of smoked foods, tangy sauces and large portions that Arthur held so dear.
It was around 2 p.m. when I got into Arthur Bryant's. It had been - oh, God - about 18 years since I was last in the place. And it was exactly the same as it was before. You have a serving line where you take a tray and order directly with the guy who serves up your food. The menu is posted on a board above the serving area.
I remember the beef brisket sandwich being not only very good but very big. I ordered up a brisket sandwich with fries for $9.35. For fun, I decided to try some of their baked beans for an additional $2.25. The guy behind the counter grabbed a handful of succulent, thin shaved beef brisket and formed kind of a ball of meat on top of a piece of white bread. Then he topped it off with another slice of white bread and a shit load of fries.
I grabbed a couple of beers and the bill came to about $18.00. Expensive, but what the hell. It was Arthur Bryant's and it was good barbecue.
First of all, there's no way you can eat a beef brisket sandwich with your hands at Arthur Bryant's. You pour a little sauce on the top and dig in with a knife and fork. The sauces at Arthur Bryant's are OK - nothing special. The Original Sauce has a vinegar base to it and it pretty runny. The Rich and Spicy sauce is more thick, but I didn't think it was all that spicy. Still, I liked it better than the Original.
And the amount of food - oh, shit! There's a good pound of beef brisket and a like amount of fries. The bowl of beans wasn't all that big, but it was enough. I poured some of the two different sauces in with the beans and tried it that way. They were good, but not outstanding.
But the brisket was great. I'm a sucker for a good brisket. It was tender and juicy with the right amount of smoky flavor. Even though I never came close to finishing half the fries and beans, I made damn sure there wasn't an morsel of beef left on my plate.
Actually, I think of Arthur Bryant's as more of a tourist trap these days than a top notch barbecue joint. The beef brisket sandwich was very good, however. I would go back there in a heartbeat just for that alone. And I'll probably do just that. Jesus, my stomach is doing back flips as I write this!