I came across a barbecue place that has been open for awhile in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Burnt End BBQ. I was sort of surprised that I hadn't been there before, but I just happened to look over to my left as I was sitting at a traffic light and saw the sign. When I went in to try the place, I asked one of the workers how long they'd been open. "Oh, I don't know. Four years, at least," is what he told me. So, here is the story of my visit to try the barbecue at Burnt End BBQ.
Burnt End BBQ is one of a handful of restaurants under the PB&J Restaurants banner that includes YaYa's European Bistro with locations in Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver and Little Rock, the Newport Grill with locations in Kansas City and Wichita, and the Paradise Diner in Kansas City. The head of PB&J Restaurants Paul Khoury also has a hand in Red Robin and Twin Peaks franchises around the Kansas City area.
Khoury has had a long career in the restaurant business starting in the mid-70's with the Gilbert/Robinson corporation that oversaw Houlihan's and the Bristol Seafood Restaurants. In 1978, he got into the management-trainee program with Gilbert/Robinson and met another management trainee by the name of Bill Crooks. For the next nine years, Khoury and Crooks managed restaurants for Gilbert/Robinson, but they eventually decided to do something for themselves. In 1987, they opened their first restaurant - the Paradise Grill - in the Oak Park Shopping Mall in Olathe.
Kansas Citians didn't take to Paradise Grill right away as it was more of an upscale diner featuring a fusion menu of Southwestern and American fare. But as more of the population got used to the out-of-the-box thinking that Khoury and Crooks were conjuring up in the kitchen, Paradise Grill became a popular destination.
From there, the duo were contacted by a local developer who was building an upscale shopping complex in suburban Mission. It was there that they opened the Coyote Grill in 1989. Two years later the same developer had built the Town Pavillion in downtown Kansas City and Khoury and Crooks opened their City Scene restaurant there. The same year, another developer worked with them to open the first Grand Street Cafe location in Kansas City. They also had a Southwestern restaurant called Paulo & Bill in the Kansas City area, and they opened two restaurants in St. Louis - Cafe Eau (now known as the Chase Club located in the luxurious Chase Park Plaza) and Eau Bistro. From there, they opened the first YaYa's Mediterranean Bistros in Memphis and Denver. (The original name of Ya'sYa's was Yia's Yia's. They transitioned over to the Ya Ya's moniker with openings in St. Louis and Little Rock a few years later.)
9/11 hit the restaurant business hard in 2002 and Khoury and Crooks started to look at restaurant opportunities where the check amounts would be much smaller than the $25 to $35 per person meals they had been working with at their restaurants. That's when the partners became Red Robin franchisees. They sold Paulo & Bill and the two St. Louis restaurants in 2002, then sold the Grand Street Cafe in 2003 and opened the first Red Robin restaurants in the Kansas City area.
Crooks, growing weary of the restaurant business, sold his shares in PB&J to Khoury in 2006. (Today, Crooks heads Good Food Good Future, a consulting firm for start up restaurants in the Kansas City area.) Khoury continued on with the restaurants, soldiering on through the recession of 2008 and in 2009 opening a YaYa's in St. Louis and in Little Rock. Some of the PB&J restaurants closed during that period, but by 2010 Khoury was ready to start a new upscale restaurant venture opening the first Newport Grill in Wichita. When the Prairefire shopping and entertainment district opened in 2014, PB&J put in two restaurants in the complex - a new Paradise Grill concept that focuses on seafood, and a Newport Grill.
Pictured right - Paul Khoury. Photo courtesy Kansas City Business Journal
PB&J has also garnered a reputation in the Kansas City area for giving long-time employees Harley-Davidson motorcycles as an appreciation gift. Once an employee hits 15 years of working for one of the PB&J restaurants, they receive a free motorcycle. This started when one of the chefs at one of his restaurants asked Khoury if there was any bonus for 1 year of employment, 5 years of employment and 10 years of employment. Khoury said, "I suppose one extra week of vacation." When the chef asked Khoury what he would get at 15 years, he said, "Well, what would you want?"
The chef told him that he wanted a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Khoury got to thinking that keeping employees in an industry where turnover happens at a furious place, maybe something like a Harley-Davidson would be an incentive to those who would stick with him. Even though the chef who put the idea in Khoury's head didn't make it to the 15 year mark, Khoury has now given away well over 40 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to employees who have stuck around for at least 15 years.
Steven "Smokey" Schwartz got his start in the barbecue business as a co-owner of Joe's Barn Barbecue in suburban Olathe in the early 80's. After Joe's Barn closed, he went over to the famed Fiorella's Jack Stack in Martin City working his way up to executive chef and pit master. (Click here to read Road Tips' entry about Fiorella's Jack Stack. This was from 10 years ago and, admittedly, it was not that good of an entry. The place deserves a better write-up with pictures.) After 10 years at Jack Stack, Schwartz went to PB&J Restaurants in 2005 to work on barbecue concepts for their restaurants. Schwartz helped open Burnt End BBQ in 2011 at the corner of W. 135th and Nieman Road in Overland Park. Their catering business was a hit, but the walk-in traffic they experienced was not up to par. They moved to a much higher profile location at the corner of Metcalf and W. 119th St. in Overland Park in February of 2014. (see map) Earlier this year, PB&J opened a second Burnt End BBQ location in Denver's Tech Center area.
I got into Burnt End BBQ around 8 p.m. on a warm evening in Kansas City. It's counter service to order your meal and there was no line in front of me when I got in there. The dining room was contemporary, well-lit and comfortable enough.
The menu is printed on back-lit boards as you walk into the restaurant. They have all the typical Kansas City-style smoked meats available at Burnt End BBQ - brisket, pulled pork, ham, spare ribs, turkey, chicken, sausage, and, of course, burnt ends. Most of the meats are available either on their own or in sandwiches. They also have steak burgers on the menu, as well as specialty sandwiches such as The Chop - a blend of brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork in Burnt End's traditional Kansas City-style barbecue sauce and topped with onion straws, or The Stack - brisket, ham and turkey topped with smoked bacon slices and a pepper jack cheese sauce.
I like to try a little bit of everything when I go to a barbecue joint for the first time and they had a two meat platter with a choice of two sides on the menu. However, one of the meats I wanted to try - the brisket - I was informed that they were out of that night. "Just ran out about 15 minutes ago," the guy behind the counter told me. Somewhat crestfallen, I ended up getting the burnt ends and pulled pork. For my sides, I got baked beans and I couldn't decide what else to get. They had items such as both a classic-style potato salad and a baked potato salad, mac & cheese, white cheddar grits, and a cucumber-tomato salad. Fries, potato wedges and onion straws were also available, but they weren't part of the "sides" package with the platter. I ended up getting the baked beans and the sweet and spicy cole slaw on the recommendation of the guy who took my order. The meats were served on a slice of Texas toast and dill pickle slices also came with the platter. I got a Boulevard Frequent Flier Session IPA to go along with my meal that evening.
When I first started to go to Kansas City a number of years ago - over 35 years ago now - I didn't care much for burnt ends cut from brisket. The first ones that I tried were so dried out and tasteless that I was sort of turned off to burnt ends after that. I started to work for a company in Kansas City in the mid-80's and my boss used to take us to Fiorella's Jack Stack in Martin City for barbecue and he always ordered the burnt ends. I was more of a brisket, rib or pulled pork kind of guy and never really got into burnt ends. But I'm starting to come around to burnt ends after having some at other Kansas City and St. Louis area barbecue joints over the past few years. The namesake burnt ends at Burnt End BBQ were thick and meaty, tender and smoky with a nice bark on the outer shell. These were some of the better burnt ends I'd ever had.
The pulled pork was equally as good - moist, flavorful and a slight smoky flavor. This was shaping up to be one of the better barbecue meals I've had during my visits to Kansas City area barbecue joints.
If you're a regular reader to Road Tips, you know that I'm a sauce man. Many barbecue chefs say that you generally don't need barbecue sauce on the meat if it's flavorful enough. And I agree with that. I generally start out eating the meats without any sauce to experience the overall taste. But if they have some interesting barbecue sauces, I'll give them a try. (Many times I like to dip fries into the sauces and try them that way. But I didn't get fries this time.) They had three different sauces at Burnt End BBQ developed by pit master Steven "Smokey" Schwartz - a traditional Kansas City sweet and smoky sauce, a sweet honey glaze sauce, and a spicy Southwest style sauce that had a bit of a sweetness to the front end of the taste with a somewhat spicy and peppery bite on the backside. I liked the southwest spicy sauce the best with the traditional K.C.-style sauce right behind it. While the honey glaze sauce was good, I didn't think it was as good as the others.
I usually like to add some barbecue sauce to the baked beans at most barbecue places to give them a little sweet and spicy zip to the taste, but the beans they had at Burnt End BBQ didn't need any help. They were already sweet and a little spicy with a hint of hickory smoke. The consistency of the baked beans were thick helped by the sauces and the chunks of brisket and pork mixed in with the beans.
But I have to saw that the sweet and spicy cole slaw even topped the good taste of the baked beans. The sweet/sour/spicy combination that was going on with the cole slaw was an outstanding taste sensation. Overall, this was a very good to outstanding barbecue meal.
You can't think of Kansas City with out thinking of barbecue. And because there are so many good barbecue places in the city, it would be very tough to go wrong with wherever you go. But some stand out more than others and I have to say that I would very much recommend Burnt End BBQ if you go on a barbecue quest in the greater Kansas City area. Although I was disappointed they didn't have brisket that evening, the namesake burnt ends were a wonderful substitute. The pulled pork was some of the best I'd had in Kansas City, and the sides - superb baked beans and an excellent sweet and spicy cole slaw - were a great compliment to the meal. Burnt End BBQ more than holds its own against some of the more famous and established barbecue joints in Kansas City.