On my (seemingly) never-ending quest to try all the barbecue places in Kansas City, I had been reading about a place in Overland Park that has been open for over 4 years that was supposed to have top quality barbecue. Jon Russell's BBQ is the culminating effort of two high school friends who started on the barbecue competition circuit over 25 years ago.
Jon Russell's is named after the two owners - Jon Niederbremer and Russell Muehlberger - who started out in 1990 as a competitive barbecue team. In just their second year of competition, Niederbremer and Muehlberger were named Grand Reserve Champions at the prestigious American Royal barbecue competition held annually in Kansas City. The following year in 1992, the pair won the coveted Grand Champion award at the competition. Over the years, the two have won numerous local and regional barbecue competitions and continue to compete when they can today.
It turns out that Muehlberger is the one with a culinary background working for years as a chef in upscale restaurants and as a consultant for other restaurants. Niederbremer was in the building trade before they opened Jon Russell's BBQ in the summer of 2012 in a former Quizno's location in the Prairie Center office, retail and restaurant complex at the corner of Quivira Road and W. 135th in Overland Park (see map). Jon Russell's is part of the 39BevCo group that also includes the Club 1000 event and reception center in downtown Kansas City, MO; and two upscale convenience stores - the Prairie Market in Lenexa, KS (which also features Jon Russell's barbecued meats to go) and the 39th Street Market located in World of Spirits near the Westport neighborhood in Kansas City, MO.
It was just before noon on a sunny weekday when I pulled into the parking lot in front of Jon Russell's BBQ. It was a little confusing getting into the parking lot at Jon Russell's from Quivira, but I was able to find it with a few twists and turns in the Prairie Center complex.
Walking into the place, you'll find a large chalkboard behind the front counter with the menu on it. It's your typical Kansas City barbecue fare such as ribs, burnt ends, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, sausage, ham, and turkey. They have platters available as well as barbecued meat sandwiches and salads on the menu. Sides include baked beans, mac and cheese, cole slaw (when available), house-fried potato chips, onion rings and fries.
After I ordered at the counter, I found a seat in one of the booths along the wall. The dining area wasn't anything fancy, but it was comfortable enough. There was a pop dispenser, utensil station (plastic utensils, at that), and a barbecue sauce counter along the opposite wall from the booths.
One of the workers in the kitchen brought my lunch out to me. I had ordered the Blue Ribbon Combo Platter - brisket, burnt ends and ribs. For sides, I got the baked beans and an order of fries. I got a Boulevard Pale Ale to go along with my meal.
The ribs at Jon Russell's BBQ are their signature item and I have to say they were very good. They were meaty with a hint of a smoky taste and they were very tender. Not "fall-off-the-bone" tender, but tender enough where they easily pulled away from the bone with each bite. The outer bark on the ribs was crispy, but not burnt.
The burnt ends were equally as tasty. The thick chunks of brisket ends were moist and tender. They were very good. And the brisket slice that I got was thick and juicy, and it easily cut with the plastic fork they provide at Jon Russell's BBQ.
For the sides, the French fries were seasoned and pretty good. I used the to dip into the different barbecue sauces they had to offer at Jon Russell's BBQ. (More on the sauces in a bit.) And the baked beans were thick and sweet with a spicy bite on the back end. They also had chunks of meat in the baked beans. Normally, I like to zip up the taste of baked beans with a spicy barbecue sauce, but these were fine as they were served.
Being a sauce guy, Jon Russell's had a number of different sauces to choose from. However, many of the sauces were fruit-based - a nod to Russell Muehlberger's barbecue mentor - the late Karen Putnam - who was a charter member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society and a competitive barbecue chef on her own. I'm usually not big on fruity barbecue sauces, but I have to say the spicy blueberry sauce was very good. It had the sweet and tart blueberry taste with a spicy zing on the back end. The combination of the blueberry and the spicy hot pepper taste were a great combination.
They also had a cherry chipotle sauce that had that great smoky chipotle taste that was cut with the sweet and tart cherry flavor. There was a honey and spice sauce that I thought was pretty good. The pineapple poblano sauce was an interesting combination, but I was too chicken to try the Smokin' Ghost sauce - a sweet sauce mixed with ghost peppers. Out of the sauces, I liked the spicy blueberry and the cherry chipotle the best. But I would have also liked to have had a good ol' sweet and smoky Kansas City-style sauce, as well.
Trophies and awards line the walls at Jon Russell's BBQ and it's no wonder why they have won so many barbecue competitions over the past 25 plus years. I thought the ribs were some of the best I've ever had in the Kansas City area, the burnt ends were also top-notch, and the brisket was moist, tender and flavorful. The sauces - especially the spicy blueberry and the chipotle cherry - were also very good. Jon Russell's BBQ can easily go up against the more famous and established barbecue places in Kansas City, possibly very well surpassing some of those in the quality of their barbecue. Jon Russell's BBQ is one of the better barbecue places I've found in Kansas City.