Once again, I'm sorry that I don't have the name of the person who sent me an e-mail last summer telling me that I had to go to Woodyard Barbeque on the Kansas side of Kansas City. I do remember that I was told that it wasn't much to look at as far as atmosphere is concerned, but to overlook all that because the food was pretty good. On one trip to Kansas City just before the end of the year, I had dinner at Woodyard Barbeque on Merriam Lane in Kansas City, KS. (see map) Merriam Lane runs parallel to Interstate 35, just before it meets up with Interstate 635 that takes people from Johnson County in Kansas up to Kansas City International Airport. I used to make that run years and years ago when I worked for a company in southwest suburban Olathe for about five years back in the 80's when I first started to travel for work. I know I had passed Woodyard Barbeque hundreds of times over the years on trips to Kansas City, but it turns out that it has only been open as a full time barbeque house for about 10 years.
It was a cold night when I drove down Merriam Lane past warehouses, industrial businesses and other non-descript commercial buildings. Set back from a street a bit is the old farm house that serves as the nerve center for Woodyard Barbeque. I drove past the place and then doubled back and pulled into the parking lot in front of the place. There was a faint smell of smoky wood in the air and it was coming from the large brick smoker located in front of the house. It was the smoke remnants of the meat that was cooked earlier in the day.
There is an outside patio - actually a couple of them that I saw. There's one that attached to the front of the house and another one across the lane from the house to the west. The patios feature picnic tables and antique-looking metal tables and chairs. It was very rustic in its appearance. Since it was cold, of course, no one was seated outside. But I was told that in the summertime, especially on the weekends, the patios can get packed.
The inside of the main building for Woodyard Barbeque featured a small dining room next to the counter where you order your food. A couple guys were in there enjoying their barbeque at the old farm-style wooden tables. A large picture of Guy Fieri, host of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. I went up to the counter and a guy greeted me. I said, "Guy's been here?"
He said, "Oh, yeah. He did a piece on us a couple years ago." I found the video for Woodyard Barbeque from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on You Tube:
Even though there was a big board with all the food they do at Woodyard Barbeque, the guy at the counter asked if I needed a menu. I did and he pointed out some basic printed menus in a bin on the wall next to the counter. He asked, "First time here?"
I told him it was and that I had been told about this place by someone. I said, "This place looks pretty interesting and it smells pretty good, so far."
He told me that Woodyard Barbeque had been at this location for over 60 years, and they'd been doing barbeque for about 30 years. And just within the past 10 years that they started to sell barbeque full time.
The genesis of Woodyard Barbeque began back in 1913 when Frank Schloegel (pronounced SCHLAY-gul) opened the Southside Coal Company near the Westport area of Kansas City where he and his son, Frank, Jr., sold heating coal to customers around Kansas City. Once fuel oil took over for coal heating, Frank, Jr. moved the business to the current location in the 50's and changed the name to Southside Patio and Wood. He sold wood for customers that still needed wood for heat, but he also sold patio bricks, lawn ornaments, sand and other things that people would ask for.
With the advent of the barbeque craze in Kansas City, Frank, Jr. began to provide other barbecue joints in the area the apple, pecan, cherry, hickory or oak wood they used to cook their barbeque. During the weekends, Frank, Jr. would fire up his grill and cook free food for his customers over the wood that he supplied to other barbeque vendors.
His son, Frank III, took over the business and continued the practice of smoking meats on the weekend. But he took it a step farther as he began to smoke meats for charity fundraisers and church groups. Because his smoked meat was so good, Frank III was pressured into opening a restaurant that served barbeque. Initially, it was only opened on weekends, but about 10 years ago, Frank Schloegel IV - yep, the fourth generation son, decided to open through the week (they're closed on Sundays).
It became a family thing for the Schloegels - Frank IV's sisters helped lay bricks in the patio out front. His cousin helped with the design of the large brick smoker and his brother-in-law helped him build it. Today, Frank IV's cousin Mark O'Bryan is the pitmaster, smoking the meats on a nearly daily basis. And former manager Joe Daly is now a co-owner of the place along with Frank Schloegel IV.
I'm not certain, but it may have very well been Joe Daly at the counter that particular visit. He was showing me pictures of Frank Schloegel III who still comes in from time to time to talk barbeque with the steady customers they get in the summertime. "Wintertime, we're a little more slow at night," he told me. "But we still have a pretty good lunch crowd. And we do a bunch of Christmas-time catering. We can do groups as small as 10 or as large as 10,000."
I looked through the menu, trying to find some sort of a sampler platter. They had the usual ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, turkey, ham, and sausage on the menu. They had a combo that had two ribs, a chicken leg, sausage and brisket. I'm not big on smoked chicken and I would have rather had pulled pork than sausage. Just under that, they had a four meat combo platter. I took the pulled pork, ham and double brisket. "You don't want any burnt ends," he asked me.
"Naw," I replied. "I know a lot of people think of burnt ends as a delicacy, but I've never warmed up to 'em."
He said, "We have a burnt end chili that is to die for." I told him that I thought I had enough food for that particular visit. But at the last moment, I asked if I could get a couple baby-back rib samples - they sold them for $1.75 each. He asked me what side I wanted and I took their baked beans over cheesy corn, potato salad or cole slaw. I grabbed a couple beers to take to my table while I waited for the food to show up.
The guy brought out the meet platter and the ribs about five minutes after I ordered them. Man, this was a lot of food for $13.50! He told me that the barbecue sauce was over by the door. They had two different types of homemade sauces - an original that was a sweet Kansas City style, and a hot that had a sweet and peppery taste. The guy seated at the table near the sauce dispensers said to me, "The hot isn't all that hot." He was right - it had a little spiciness to it, but it wasn't overpowering in heat.
I dug in and grabbed a rib first. Big and thick with succulent pork, the ribs are dry rubbed with a homemade concoction that includes garlic, cayenne, sea salt, lemon pepper and three spices that you don't normally associate with barbeque - ground cloves, ground cardamom and ground tumeric, three spices you'd usually find in Indian food. The meat was moist, tender and pulled effortlessly off the bone. One thing they don't do at Woodyard Barbeque is pull the skin off the back of the ribs like other places will. It helps keep the moisture in and it's easy to peel off during the eating process. (I'm gonna have to try that the next time I do ribs. I have a good friend who taught me to take the skin off. It's a pain in the ass to do, but he says that's the way to do it. I may beg to differ after having the ribs at Woodyard Barbeque.) The combination of the faint smoke taste and the rub concoction gave the baby back rib a wonderful taste sensation. It was very good even without any sauce added to it. I made quick work of the two ribs I had.
I dug into the pulled pork next. It may have been some of the best pulled pork that I'd ever had. It was moist, flavorful and had a hint of smoke. With a little bit of the homemade hot sauce, it was fabulous. I immediately wished I would have gotten a double portion of the pulled pork instead of the brisket.
The brisket was, eh! Actually, it was a little cold as it wasn't heated up enough (I'm sure they smoke a lot of their meat and refrigerate it as a number of barbecue houses do these days). It was OK, but it was far from the best brisket I ever had. I was disappointed in the brisket, to say the least.
The ham was very good, but not anywhere as good as the pulled pork. The ham was thinly sliced, had a great cured smoke flavor to it. I was sort of craving ham that particular day and I'm glad I got it.
The baked beans were good, not outstanding, but good enough. They were good without adding any additional barbeque sauce, as I like to do. But they weren't anything special, even with the sauce.
I got back up to get some more barbecue sauce and by this time another gentleman had joined the guy at the table next to the sauce dispensers. I heard him say, "Man, I love this chili!" I looked over and he had a bowl of Woodyard Barbeque's famous burnt end chili and it did look very good. It had large chunks of pork burnt ends, and was thick and rich. I thought about taking some to go with me and heating it up in the morning in the microwave. But after I finished what I could of my meal, I decided that I'd come back and get pulled pork and a bowl of chili the next time.
So, my scorecard for Woodyard BBQ - Baby back ribs = Excellent. Pulled pork = May have been the best pulled pork I've ever had. Ham = Above average. Brisket = Below average. Sauces = Average. Baked Beans = Average. Ambiance = Interesting. History = Overly interesting.
Woodyard Barbeque is not a fancy place, even for a regular Kansas City-style barbeque joint. If you can get past the fact that it's a little rugged and rustic, the food at Woodyard Barbeque was - overall - very good. I even left with a smoky wood smell on my clothes. The ribs and pulled pork more than made up for the short fall in the quality of the brisket. Next time, I'm going for more pulled pork and a bowl of chili.