Kansas City has long been my favorite place for barbecue. The last couple of visits to the city, I've gone in different culinary directions searching out burgers, Mexican food and Indian cuisine. On my last visit to the area, I made it a point to search out a barbecue joint that has been on my radar for quite sometime, a place on the far west side of Kansas City, KS called Papa Bob's Bar-B-Que.
Bob Caviar is the man behind Papa Bob's, a nickname bestowed on him by his seven grandchildren. A big guy with grey hair and a pony tail, Bob Caviar fell in love with barbecuing and smoking meats when he was in his mid-teens. He opened up his barbecue joint along a stretch of Kansas state highway 32 near Bonner Springs (see map) and not far from the Cricket Wireless Amphitheater (a.k.a. Sandstone Amphitheater) where Papa Bob's maintains a concession booth to sell their barbecue during concerts.
To help call attention to his little barbecue place, Bob Caviar came up with a sandwich called the Ultimate Destroyer. It is over five pounds of a combination of pulled and sliced pork, smoked turkey, three smoked burgers, smoked brisket, smoked sausage, a bunch of bread and barbecue sauce, and topped with Papa Bob's homemade horseradish dill pickles. Oh, and for good measure they throw in a pound and a half of fries on the side. Dozens of people have failed to finish the behemoth sandwich in the allotted 45 minute time period including Adam Richman from the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food program. (Pictured right) Only five people have been able to finish the Ultimate Destroyer including Omaha's Molly Schuyler who is one of the best competitive eaters in America.
Finding Papa Bob's - which is just about two miles west of the Kansas 32 exit along Interstate 435 - I pulled into the parking lot only to find the lot was full of cars. This was good thing, I thought initially. However, I couldn't find a parking spot and ended up heading in toward Bonner Springs to get some gas. By the time I made it back out to Papa Bob's about 15 minutes later, a car was pulling out of a space near the front door. I took that spot, parked the car and went inside.
As I walked in the front door, I figured out why the parking lot was full. I was met by a large crowd of men who were standing in line to pay their food checks. They had just finished a dinner meeting for some club they were involved in. I took a seat in a booth in the back corner of the front dining room (there was a back dining room that the men had just come from) and waited patiently for the young lady - who was both cashier and waitress - to finish up to come over.
The main dining room at Papa Bob's kind of has a 60's-diner motif to the place. Brightly lit with a series of vinyl-topped booths and tables, it also had an old style counter that looked like it was more home to a malt shoppe than a barbecue joint. On the wall near the door that went into the side dining room were dozens of pictures of the people who tried - and failed - to eat the Ultimate Destroyer, as well as pictures of the five who were able to eat everything in under 45 minutes.
While the girl was still cashing the rest of the men's dinner checks, a worker from the back came over with a menu and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I ordered up a draft beer and figured that I had a lot of time to take a good look at the menu.
The menu at Papa Bob's Bar-B-Que is rather extensive. First of all, the featured nine or ten appetizers including fried okra, sweet potato fries, chicken fingers and mini corn dogs. For barbecued and smoked meats, they featured brisket, ham, turkey, sausage, pork, pulled pork and, of course, ribs including baby back ribs. And they also serve a Kansas City barbecue staple - burnt ends. I've never been a big fan of burnt ends, but there are tons of people who love 'em.
Papa Bob's also features a number of sandwiches including a grilled chicken sandwich, a breaded pork tenderloin, and hickory-smoked corned beef or pastrami served on rye bread. They also have smoked burgers on the menu, as well as a long list of sides that include tater tots, creamy or sweet and sour cole slaw, pesto pasta salad, onion rings, and potato salad.
When the young lady finally finished up at the cash register, she made it over to the table to greet me. She apologized for the wait and I told her it was no problem. I asked what the large group was all about and she said that she got a call around 5:30 to see if they could accommodate 16 people at 6 p.m. She said that it wasn't any problem until she found out that it was more like 28 people instead of 16. "We've been running around here like we've had our heads cut off for the last hour and a half," she told me.
I was ready to order my dinner and I went with the deluxe meat platter - your choice of two types of smoked meats and with it you get two ribs and two sides. I picked pulled pork and brisket for my meats and I ordered fries and something they called "Brooke's Bad Ass Beans" - slow simmered baked beans that were full of chunks of pork and beef. I also had to get a side of the horseradish dill pickles. The young girl asked me, "Do you like horseradish?" I said that I did. "And you like dill pickles?" Again, I said that I did. She said, "OK, well, some people order them up and say they don't like them." She said the description is pretty self-explanatory - horseradish dill pickles - but people are still somewhat surprised by the taste. I told her that I would give them a shot.
About 10 minutes after I ordered, Papa Bob, himself, brought my platter of food out to my table. As you can see by the picture, it was a ton of food. The ribs were big and meaty, there was easily a 1/3 pound of both the pulled pork and the sliced brisket. A large plate of fries accompanied the smoked meats along with a cup of the baked beans. The horseradish dill pickles were in a small dish - about nine or ten chips in total.
There were two different bottles of barbecue sauce on the table so I asked Bob Caviar what the story was on the sauce. He said one of the two bottles was their sweet barbecue sauce, the other was sort of a sweet and spicy sauce. "And..." he said as he hesitated for a moment looking back behind him, "...she's bringing out some of the Bob-anero sauce for you." Some what? "Bob-anero sauce. It's a special concoction I came up with that's sort of sweet with a spicy bite from chopped habanero peppers." I told him that I'd like to give that a try.
"We've got others that are hotter," Bob volunteered. He named a couple - H2 OMG sauce, Crazy Dog chipotle sauce. "We got this stuff called Blazin' Butt sauce, too. I can bring some samples of that our for ya." I declined his offer. I was fine with the three sauces that were on the table.
The first thing I ripped into were the ribs. The ribs were huge with a lot of tender meat that pulled easily away from the bone. The meat had a slightly smoky taste and I enjoyed them with the little bit of the regular sauce that was on them.
The next thing I tried was the brisket. Thinly sliced, the brisket had a slight smoke ring along the outside rim and the taste was very good. I like a good brisket and Papa Bob's had some very good brisket.
The pulled pork was slightly dry and copious amounts of the barbecue sauce helped make it a bit more moist. Of the three items on the plate I'd put the pulled pork at the bottom. It was still good, but the ribs were outstanding and the brisket was very good.
I'm a sauce guy when it comes to barbecue and the sauces at Papa Bob's were all very good. The regular sauce was a thick sweet and smoky Kansas City-style that hung onto the meat very well. The "hot" sauce at Papa Bob's had sort of a black pepper aftertaste to it and had a nice lingering spicy bite. Surprisingly, the Bob-anero sauce had a lot of things going on. It had a sweet front end that slowly turned into a spicy back side. There seemed to be a lot flavors going on between the initial sweetness to the lingering spicy taste on the Bob-anero. Quite actually, I thought the "hot" sauce was more spicy than the Bob-anero sauce.
The fries were crisp and I ate just a handful of them, primarily using them to test the sauces. I probably should have gotten the sweet and sour cole slaw instead of the fries, but the fries served their purpose in allowing me to try the different sauces with a more neutral taste.
The baked beans - served in a common coffee cup, an interesting twist - were thick and had a lot of chunks of pork and beef mixed in. On their own, the beans were very good. As I'm wont to do with baked beans, I added some of the hot barbecue sauce to them to zip them up. The beans were outstanding.
But the winner of the evening at Papa Bob's were the horseradish dill pickle chips. They had a slight - but not overpowering - taste of fresh ground horseradish. Mixed with the vinegar dill flavor, the overall taste of the pickles was immensely heightened. Looking back, I should have just bought a quart jar of the horseradish dill pickles to take back home with me. But I still had three more days on the road and I was worried that they wouldn't last the week.
The barbecue at Papa Bob's, well, I'd put it up against many other places I've tried in the Kansas City area. I don't know if I can call it the best I've had - the pulled pork was really the only thing that I can say held it back from being a truly memorable meal. But the ribs and brisket were very good, as were the baked beans and the sauces provided. And the horseradish dill pickles? They were to die for. I'm going to make it back to Papa Bob's to try more barbecue at some point, as well as picking up a quart jar of the horseradish dill pickles. I'll have to hide them in trunk of the car, though - out of sight, out of mind. That way I wouldn't be tempted to eat them as I'm driving down the road.