May 23, 2015
Have you ever had one of those experiences where you didn’t understand exactly what was going on but you knew you were in the midst of something great? It is like what I imagine it would have been like to see Jimi Hendrix before he was The Experience. Think about what it would have been like to see him really early in his career, like his first bus tour early. You may not have truly understood how revolutionary, how progressive and how influential he would be, but you knew it was good.
That is a little what my first few trips to Q39 were like. Immediately I knew the food was fantastic. The smoked meats were some of the best I’ve had in a town literally World Famous for smoked meats. The sides were classic, yet unique and inspired. But even knowing that the food was great, there was something that never quite clicked for me. It was like seeing Hendrix for the first time. I knew it was good, but until Jake and I went with our wives to do our review I didn’t quite understand what I was experiencing.
At this point Q39 has been around long enough and built up enough of a reputation that walking in on a weekend night and snaring a table around dinner time is out of the question. You are going to wait. Conveniently though, they do offer an online reservation system on their website that can eliminate much of your time standing around the entry way waiting for a table. If you plan on going at traditional feeding times, I highly recommend taking advantage of this feature. We tried to book an 8:00pm spot at about 4:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday and no luck. It was already full, so plan early. We went ahead and booked a 9:00 and showed up about 8:00 anyway hoping that someone had cancelled or people weren’t lingering. We got lucky and had a table by about 8:20.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in the front door at Q39 is it doesn’t really look like any other BBQ place we have visited. It has an industrial feel with concrete floors and walls and and exposed beam ceiling. As you stand in the entry way there is a full, and busy, bar to your left, a large community style table directly in front of you and a large dining room with many tightly placed tables wrapping around the bar and community table. Around the corner to the right is the open BBQ kitchen, which Q39 claims is the only one of its kind in Kansas City. The dining area and bar were both packed and there was an obvious energy in the room. On previous visits this was one of the things I did not quite get. It didn’t feel like a BBQ joint and it didn’t feel like an upscale restaurant. It had more of a hip neighborhood bar vibe than anything else. We were shown to our table and quickly decided that a pair of Judge’s Plates and a Q Bacon Club for Mrs. Jake would give us everything we needed to get a nice sampling of the board of fare.
My thoughts on the Food:
Brisket: Let’s start off with a bang. These were my notes in totality for the brisket, “Thick cut. Perfect. Smoke, beef, bark, perfect.” The smoke was present in a visible smoke ring and in flavor in every bite. Slices were about 1/4″ and they were lightly sprinkled with BBQ rub on the plate. The bark had tons of flavor and was the perfect crust to compliment the beef. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling quite a bit of brisket from various places in KC and this ranks right at the top of the list.
Pulled Pork: This was another home run. The flavor on the pork was unlike anything we’ve had anywhere else. It was pulled very fine and had almost a buttery texture. Flavor was very complex for pork and it seemed like a layer of flavor was added every step of the cooking process. It tasted like it was either heated in or served with the juices created by cooking. Again, this pork is right at the top of the list of what we have had out in KC.
Burnt Ends: These were really tasty as well. They were on the lean side for burnt ends,which personally I really prefer. These were moist and had tons of beef and smoke flavor. As good as the sliced brisket was I expected top flight burnt ends and was not disappointed.
Sausage: Q39 uses a coarse grind for their sausage which is pretty unique. There was a distinct pink smoke ring and pieces of herbs visible on the bias cut pieces. It was very tender and tasted fresh. Overall, it was quite enjoyable.
Ribs: The ribs were sweet and sticky. They had a great texture with just the right amount of pull and bite. Like all the meat, the smoke was present and complimented the meat, rub, and other flavors really well.
Chicken: We got this as a bone in leg quarter and it had the least amount of smoke of any of the meats but even though it was subtle, it was definitely there. The skin was crispy so I’d guess it gets finished off on the grill before serving. It was tender and juicy and a very nice smoked chicken.
Turkey: The turkey took on more smoke than most turkey and it tasted like the real deal, not some processed “turkey product”. It was however, still just turkey.
The tarragon potato salad consisted of smallish diced potatoes that when combined with the dressing almost came out like a cool chunky mashed potato. (that is meant as a good thing). The tarragon added an unexpected but incredibly pleasant fresh herb note to the flavor and really sets this apart from any other potato salad I’ve had anywhere.
The apple coleslaw was the other stand out side for me. It was a simple blend of cabbage, carrot, onion, and apple. The apple adds a little sweetness and the slaw is not overly dressed. It tasted very fresh, had great texture and was a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and crunchy.
The BBQ beans were adorned with big chunks of meat. White beans were an unexpected surprise in the mix. These were absent the super sweet note that many KC style beans have. They were good, but took a back seat to the slaw and potato salad for me.
The fries are hand cut, fried crisp and served with large flaked salt and chipotle ketchup on the side. This was the least impressive of all the sides to me. For fries to justify costing $4.00 extra as a side they better be pretty stinking earth shattering. These just aren’t. It’s not that they are bad by any means, just that your side dish dollar will get you more elsewhere on the menu.
The plates were served with a jalapeno cornbread that, while tasty, seemed a little like an afterthought and was kind of overshadowed by everything else on the plate.
Q39 offers 2 sauces. They have an original and a zesty. The original was tangier than most “regular” sauces we have encountered. It is just a little sweet and that balances the bite. Overall I liked it quite a bit. The Zesty sauce was a little thinner, had more vinegar bite, less sweetness, and another level of heat from more (and visible) black pepper. This was a nice compliment to the richness of the pulled pork (which was wonderful without sauce) and added yet another layer of flavor to that meat.
This is not a normal section in our food review mainly because very few places have dessert. Q39 boasts some award winning* desserts so we thought we ought to give them a try. We ordered the made to order doughnuts (yes, they were precisely as good as it sounds) and the Champion Cheesecake. The doughnuts were cinnamon and sugar dusted fried dough balls and served with a raspberry and a chocolate sauce. The cheesecake was accompanied by a chocolate ganache, dulce de leche and pecans. We actually found that dipping bites of cheesecake in the raspberry sauce from the doughnuts was quite tasty as well. I highly suggest if you have not completely gorged yourself on smoked meats to give some of the desserts a shot.
*I have no idea what awards they won, but I concur.
Like I said above, Q39 offers a full bar. We generally don’t partake in libations when we do reviews unless we have some time to kill. This is for no reason usually other than when we do these reviews we try to encompass as much of the menu offerings as reasonably possible based on the people present and that’s not cheap, so plunking down another $4-$10 for a beer, wine or cocktail just kind of runs up the bill to the point of sticker shock. However, after we finished our meal I glanced behind the bar and noticed a green ball atop a Bell’s tap handle and realized they had Bell’s Hopslam on tap which may be one of my favorite beers from anyone. (Yeah, I know that beer comes out in February and I’m posting this review in May. I’ve been busy. Shut up.) At that point the beer geeks in both Jake and me took over and we ordered a round. That is also the point when we decided to add the dessert to the meal and made it just kind of a “hang out for a while” meal. And that is when it clicked. That is when I truly got the appeal of Q39. Beyond the fantastic BBQ it is just an easy relaxed place to grab a meal, or make it an evening and grab a drink with your significant other or a group of friends. Why, in Kansas City, would you expect a cool hangout spot to have anything but World Class BBQ?
It took a couple of trips to Q39 for me to understand what they really have going for them. This place is just a flat out neat experience. You may notice on your first visit that this isn’t your typical BBQ joint. It’s different. I’ll admit that I had sticker shock when I first glanced at the menu. But once my meal was served, the value started to sink in. You don’t typically find the kind of care in plating a BBQ meal as you will see at Q39. After my first bite, I was hooked. My mind was conflicted. Do I accept this new place, less than a year old at the time, as an awesome soon-to-be Kansas City BBQ landmark? Well, after reflection, I sure do. They are successfully changing the experience of BBQ while serving some of the finest smoked meats you will see anywhere. I recommend giving them a try. Don’t worry if you have to go back a couple of times until you understand how great this places really is. I did.