I was traveling with a colleague in the Kansas City area recently and he wanted to try some good authentic KC-style barbecue. We were on the east side of the metro area in Independence and a place that I'd heard about wasn't far from where we were. We drove to a place called A Little BBQ Joint along U.S. Highway 24 in the heart of Independence, not far from the Harry S. Truman Library. (see map)
Like many barbecue places, A Little BBQ Joint got its start in the backyard. Don Bauer and his son Fabian are the owners of Glory Days Custom Shop, a company that restores classic cars. In their spare time, the Bauers would do some barbecue in their backyard for family and friends. Fabian was the main guy with the smoker, mentored by Ed "Fast Eddy" Maurin, a long-time championship pit master in the Kansas City area. Fabian impressed enough people who eventually talked him into opening his own barbecue place in Independence.
The Bauers opened A Little BBQ Joint in April of 2013. Fabian Bauer installed a pellet smoker, one that was designed by "Fast Eddy" Maurin and marketed by Cookshack. On their first day they sold out of everything. It got to a point that they were selling up to 500 pounds of brisket, 300 pounds of pork and 14 cases of ribs each week. To help out in the restaurant, Fabian's sister Amy joined the family business, and he hired Nick Alonge as a pit master for the restaurant.
The building that A Little BBQ Joint is housed in looks like it could have been an old repair shop at one point in time. A large garage door faces the east side of the building. The Bauers used their expertise in metal fabrication of classic cars to outfit the restaurant. Car seats from classic cars are used in the booths, one of the bench seats up front for people waiting for tables to open or for "to-go" is from a 1967 Cadillac. Forged into the bar is the front end of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala.
The decor is fantastically creative. The Bauers fabricated everything in the restaurant from the bar to the tables to much of the automotive-inspired decor. Everything from old car doors to shop tools to the top of an old school bus are used inside and out of the building for functional, yet whimsical decorations. Even if you weren't hungry, a stop for a beer and a look around at the decor would be worth it. And I would be remiss in telling you that the men's restroom is one of the nicest - and most interesting - that I've encountered in a barbecue joint.
We were seated at a table in the center of the restaurant during the noon lunch rush. A lot of people were getting barbecue to go, but the restaurant was over half full on what was a beautiful Spring day in Kansas City. Our server, Margo, came over with a couple menus. She asked if we wanted anything to drink and my colleague spied that they had Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. How appropriate for a barbecue joint with a decided blue collar feel! We both got a PBR while we looked through the menu.
While the food offerings aren't overly extensive at A Little BBQ Joint, but there's enough of the staples of barbecue to appease most customers. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends and chicken are the main attractions. A number of sandwiches are available as well as a handful of appetizers such as onion rings, chicken tenders and chili cheese fries.
It was Wednesday and the special that day was the bacon-wrapped smoked meatloaf for $8.99. That's what my colleague ordered that came with two sides. He got fries and potato salad for his sides. And it was a thick slab of meat loaf, at that. They definitely didn't skimp on the size of the meat loaf served at A Little BBQ Joint.
I went with a two meat sampler plate with brisket and pulled pork. I knew I wanted baked beans as my side, but I wasn't certain what I wanted for my second side. The spicy cole slaw caught my eye and I asked Margo how it was. "Oh, my gosh," she gushed. "It's my favorite!" I took her word for it and got the spicy cole slaw.
All the meats at A Little BBQ Joint are smoked without sauce. But they provide three different sauces on the tables. The Sweet Sister had a nice Kansas City-style thick and sweet taste to it. The Mad Housewife sauce had a bit of a zippy taste with what seemed like the Sweet Sister base. But the Mad Mother-in-Law was definitely an attention getter. It snuck up on the back end with a definite spicy taste. I mixed some of the combinations to test with the brisket and pulled pork.
I'm big on barbecue sauces, but if you aren't then you'll still like the brisket and the pulled pork at A Little BBQ Joint. The brisket was thick sliced with a nice little smoked taste to the beef. It was tender and cut easily with a fork. It was excellent brisket. The pulled pork was on par with the brisket. Moist and flavorful, the pulled pork also had a distinct smoky flavor that was pleasant but not overpowering.
The two sides didn't disappoint either. The spicy slaw was, well, spicy! I mean REALLY spicy, but in a very good way. The sweetness of the slaw helped balance the overall spicy taste. It was simply outstanding. But I can't even begin to tell you about how much I liked the baked beans. Normally, I have to add some sweet and spicy barbecue sauces to most baked beans that I get at other barbecue places. But the baked beans they have at A Little BBQ Joint were an exception. They had a sweet, somewhat spicy and nice smoky taste to them. I did add a bit of the Mad Housewife sauce to the beans, but they didn't need the boost in taste or texture. They were very, very good on their own.
My colleague was more than happy with his smoked meat loaf. He remarked that he was going to get some ribs, but he couldn't pass up the temptation of the smoked meat loaf. And he was glad he went in that direction. It did look good and I may have to go back there on a Wednesday at some point to give it a try.
A Little BBQ Joint is certainly getting a following for diners on the east side of the Kansas City metro. I've eaten at a number of outstanding barbecue places in the greater Kansas City area over the years and I'd have to put A Little BBQ Joint up there with some of the best. The barbecue was outstanding and I can't say enough about the taste sensations of the spicy cole slaw and the baked beans. The sauces they have were also very good. Margo's friendly and efficient service just heightened the experience we had at A Little BBQ Joint. Go for the food, linger for the decor and enjoy your visit to A Little BBQ Joint.