August 31, 2017
Kansas City’s much-buzzed-about Midtown barbecue restaurant Q39 opened a second outpost in mid-August, this time in the former Hayward’s Pit BBQ space on Antioch Road in Overland Park, Kansas, holding its brisket-cutting ceremony – a cheeky twist on the traditional ribbon cutting – weeks ahead of their originally announced opening date. “When’s the last time you heard of a restaurant opening earlier than anticipated?” laughs chef-owner Rob Magee, with mile-a-minute infectious excitement.
For anyone who’s tracked Magee’s career thus far, this hit-the-ground-running approach comes as no surprise. Classically trained at the venerable The Culinary Institute of America, Magee climbed the ranks as a chef and food-and-beverage director in hotel and lodging. This trajectory led him to the Hilton Kansas City Airport. “That’s where I got my foothold into the barbecue competitions,” Magee says.
It was here that Magee assembled Munchin’ Hogs, his nationally renowned competitive barbecue pit team, spending the next 12 years assuming dual identities: by week, working food and beverage at the Hilton and on weekends, venturing out to barbecue competitions across the country, arriving just in time to get the competition meats smoking and leaving as soon as awards were doled out. At its heyday, the Munchin’ Hogs were doing up to 42 competitions a year, thrice earning Grand Champion awards at the lauded Jack Daniels World Champion Barbecue Invitational.
Drawing from Magee’s competitive travel experience as well as geographical flavor profiles from hotel food-and-beverage positions across the country, Q39 offers a uniquely elevated barbecue experience in a rustic-chic environs. Magee’s classic sauce draws from stints in the southwest, incorporating deeper, richer Texas flavors with the familiar Kansas City sweet sauce. He recommends his Texas-inspired chipotle-cilantro sauce paired with what his menu declares as the “best wings on the planet” – and so far the moniker holds up. “I have not caught any slack calling it the best chicken wings on the planet, as of today,” Magee says. Rubs and sauces, all available for purchase at both Q39 locations, are Magee’s own recipes and were developed to complement each other in flavor profile.
These days, the Munchin’ Hogs’ competition is the daily lunch and dinner service, and its judges are every person who walks in to eat at Q39. “Not only did we enter into Kansas City, one of the toughest markets in barbecue, but we [also] took all the experience of competition and all the experience of being an executive chef and put them together to get Q39,” Magee says, “There are fun, whimsical items, as well as competition barbecue – we even have some vegetarian options.” Magee goes on to describe a fire-grilled salmon salad with herb butter, served on bibb lettuce with pickled onion, strawberries and almonds, served with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
Magee’s old pit team gets a special nod in the Munchin’ Hogs section of the menu, where diners can find what Magee describes as “hardcore, straight-up sandwiches.” The burnt-end burger is perhaps what Q39 is best known for – a beef burger topped with burnt brisket ends, classic sauce and a spicy pickle slaw. “That burger is off the hook,” Magee says. New to the menu is the Triple Threat – a homemade sausage burger fired on an oak grill, topped with smoked and grilled pork belly, pulled pork, zesty sauce and an apple coleslaw, served on a toasted egg bun.
The Overland Park location is every bit as Q39 as the Midtown location, just without the 39th Street address. Magee’s design team, the same firm that created the concept for the flagship location, led a multimillion-dollar gut renovation of the Hayward’s space with an open kitchen, rustic décor, open ceilings, cement floor, expanded waiting area and large outdoor patio complete with an outdoor fireplace. A temperature-controlled butcher’s room has windows where diners can see butchers making fresh-ground hamburgers, homemade sausage, brisket, pork, ribs and more. “I took Mr. [Hayward] Spears [Sr., the founder of Hayward’s] and showed him around, and he was so excited for us, being in the same spot that he made his name back in 1981,” Magee said. “[The Overland Park location has] a tribute to Mr. Spears, with pictures of Hayward’s going on the wall to show what this place started as. Mr. Hayward knows he’s welcome in our restaurant anytime.”