On a recent trip from Kansas City to Jefferson City, my GPS had me head over to the capital city of Missouri on U.S. Highway 50. Halfway between K.C. and Jeff City is Sedalia, MO, a town that I don't think I've ever been to before. It was getting to be around 1 p.m. and I thought I'd stop somewhere for lunch. Looking up on the GPS for restaurants in the area, I saw a place under "Barbeque" called Kehde's Barbeque. I thought I'd seek it out and give it a try.
I found Kehde's on the south side of Sedalia, just across from the grounds of the Missouri State Fair. At first look, it seemed like it used to be a drive-in. It turns out that it once was. But on the second glance, it looked like there was a train car attached to the side of the restaurant. There was. In doing some background work on the place, I found a pretty interesting story of Kehde's Barbeque and the Kehde (pronounced KAY-dee) family.
Ed Kehde moved to Sedalia in 1947 and saw that the future would be the mobility of Americans due to the automobile and cheap gasoline prices. Dog n Suds Drive In had started in Champaign, IL in the early 50's and they almost immediately began to offer franchises around the Midwest. Ed Kehde jumped at the chance to open the first Dog n Suds in Sedalia in 1955. Helping him out in the restaurant was his wife, Ruth, and his 10-year-old son, John. Sedalia's first Dog n Suds was located just south of the intersection of U.S Highways 50 and 65 on Limit Ave. Each summer, thousands of people would stop by Ed Kehde's Dog n Suds to get hot dogs and a root beer float on their way to and from the Ozarks.
The Kehde's built a second Dog n Suds just down U.S. Highway 65/Limit Ave. in 1960. Nine years later, they built their third Dog n Suds at the corner of W. 20th St. and S. Limit Ave., the present day location of Kehde's Barbeque. (see map) It was at this location that John Kehde - then 24-years-old - was helping to run the day-to-day operations for the family business. At one point, Kehde's Dog n Suds sold the most root beer annually of all the nearly 600 franchises across America at the time.
The 70's came and a proliferation of fast food burger joints cut into Dog n Suds' business. Local lore has it that Ed Kehde was involved in a high stakes poker game and one of the participants put up a secret barbeque sauce recipe as collateral to stay in the game. He lost and Ed Kehde won, and with that he got the sauce recipe that set the motion into a change of a business model for the Kehde's. The Kehde's changed their Dog n Suds franchise into Kehde's Barbeque in the mid-70's. In the late 70's, the third generation of Kehde's, Roger Kehde, joined his father and grandfather in the business.
At first, the Kehde's, admittedly, didn't know what they were doing when it came to barbecue. There were no barbecue societies or master barbecue chefs at the time. But the Kehde's found that high quality meat made all the difference in the world. They would also trim the fat off their meat and take the skin membrane off the back of ribs before cooking them. (I've heard both ways when it comes to removing the membrane or not.) Eventually, Roger Kehde took over the chore of smoking the meats for Kehde's Barbeque. But the one thing they had going for them was the delicious sauce that they served.
Ed Kehde died in May of 1989, almost 4 months after Ruth passed away. A few years later, John Kehde decided to do something to help remind people of the rich heritage of what the Missouri Pacific and Katy Railroads meant to the early growth of Sedalia. He bought a 1920's-era train car - the Katy Flyer - restored it, put booths for dining in it, and attached it to the side of the original Dog n Suds building from 1969. Unfortunately, the interior of the original building was damaged by fire in 2005, but the Kehde's rebuilt and redecorated the place with railroad signs and memorabilia. John Kehde - now approaching 70 - still runs the place along with his son, Roger.
I entered the front door of the restaurant and it looked like the front counter was where the original Dog n Suds counter once was. Old railroad signage, old license plates and assorted railroad memorabilia was in the front entrance area. A waitress saw me and asked how many in the party. She grabbed a menu and took me into a dining room that look like it had been added on to the original building at some point. The room had tin ceiling tiles and sort of a faux-antique look.
The waitress took me to a booth toward the back. There were a lot of old pictures on the wall. The room was almost too busy looking with the abundance of pictures and other railway memorabilia.
I took a long look through the menu at Kehde's Barbeque. In addition to standard barbecue fare on the menu, they feature burgers, sandwiches, salads, chicken entrees, Tex-Mex food, and something called Posh potatoes - a variety of buttered and seasoned baked potatoes topped with melted cheese, veggies, and barbecued meats. They're also big on portabello mushrooms at Kehde's featuring a number of sandwiches with grilled portabello's on them. They even have deep fried portabello mushrooms, as well as their popular deep fried dill pickles.
But I focused on the barbecue. They have a sampler plate at Kehde's that consists of a 1/2 rack of ribs, and your choice between brisket, pulled pork, ham or turkey, all smoked on-site. That sounded like a lot of food, so I just concentrated on getting one of the "plates" - your choice of sliced smoked meat and sides that they call "baggage" at Kehde's.
A nice lady came back to wait on me and I was ready to order. I told her that I'd take the brisket plate and that I'd take baked beans for one of my sides. I said, "I don't know about the other side. What do you suggest?"
She said, "The cole slaw is real popular. It's a family recipe from the owner's grandmother." I looked on the menu and, sure enough, it said, "Slaw - My Grandmother's Recipe". She said it was sweet vinegar slaw, "but it also has a little kick to it." I signed up for that. They do have beer at Kehde's, but I decided to just have water with my meal.
It wasn't long after I ordered when she brought my plate out to me. It featured a generous portion of sliced brisket topped with an equally generous amount of Kehde's barbeque sauce. The baked beans and slaw were in seperate bowls. The plate was also adorned with Texas toast and a dill pickle spear.
The brisket was tender and very good. The barbeque sauce was thick and had a sweet smoky taste with a bit of a spicy bite on the back end. I can see why John Kehde's dad would want to win it in a poker game.
The beans were very good. They had chunks of beef, ham, turkey and pork in them. Even though they didn't need it, I still poured a little bit of the Kehde's barbeque sauce in and mixed it up. They were outstanding beans.
The cole slaw, however, was out of this world. First of all, it reminded me of the sweet marinated cole slaw at the old Belgian Village Inn in Moline, IL. But it had flakes of red peppers mixed in to give it a nice little spicyness on the back end. It was absolutely fabulous. And in doing on-line research of Kehde's Barbeque, I found the recipe for the slaw, courtesy of John Kehde, himself.
Grandma Anna Kehde’s Cole Slaw
2 pounds cole slaw mix
1/4 cup onion, chopped
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
Mix together red pepper, oil, sugar, vinegar, water, celery seed, salt and pepper. Stir seasoning mixture into slaw mix and chopped onion.
This is definitely something that I'll be making at some point this summer.
Before I left, I went back to the railroad dining car. They fashioned small booths - about a dozen or so -into the old car. It was ornate with a restored 1920's feel to it. The booths weren't big - comfy enough for two people each, but four people in a booth would feel a little crowded. It was a nifty use of an old railroad car.
I had little to complain about on my visit to Kehde's Barbeque. The brisket was tender and flavorful, the beans were outstanding and the family-recipe cole slaw was even better. My server was very friendly and helpful I was thoroughly impressed with my visit to Kehde's Barbeque. I don't know if I will be back through Sedalia anytime soon, but Kehde's would be worthy of another stop if I should have the chance.
(Note - Kehde's Barbeque is open every day except Tuesday.)