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Kansas City Barbecue: when pigs fly

Rib tips: another six-dollar find!

The beef brisket plate, $22.95.
The beef brisket plate, $22.95.

Somehow, I seem to be stuck on a BBQ kick. Just can’t get enough of it. Take tonight: it’s dusk, and I’m looking across the street to the long, low Kansas City Barbecue, the last single-story building on Harbor Drive, I swear. And definitely, the Drive’s brightest lights. I mean, how can you resist? There are probably classier joints around these grand old ladies, the Marriott and the Hyatt. But none has the life that’s pumping out of KCBBQ right now. Its patio is lit up, it’s crowded, TVs flash a hoops game. You wanna be there.

Place

Kansas City Barbeque

600 West Harbor Drive, San Diego

I cross over. Game’s UNC Vs. Kansas. Have always liked KC BBQ, specially after its gutsy response to the fire that gutted it in 2008. Everybody said this place was like, history, done for. “It’ll come back when pigs fly!” someone said. But come back it did. Tonight, 40 years after it was originally built, it looks exactly as it must have in 1983.

Fan Stephanie drives Jayhawks support for the UNC-Kansas game.

The location is great, because the Seaport Village trolley station sits right behind it. I can get home from straight out the door. And right now, out front, where its terrace faces Harbor Drive, you have the bonus of a sunset-luminous lawn, in Downtown! So right now, folks fill the terrace. Others line up for the chance. Me, I head straight for the inside, where, yes, Top Gun’s piano scene with Maverick and Goose happened. Also the bar, the one where countless navy sailors’ hats dangle from the ceiling, surrounded by tossed-off bras that cavort around, attached to spinning overhead fans.

The reason I really wanna be here? I caught the sign at the patio entrance that said “Special: St. Louis-style rib tips, and Buffalo chicken thighs.” The incredible thing: they each cost $6. (Six bucks! This is the second time in two weeks. Remember BBQ House, OB?)

I pass the cutouts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis where you fill the head-holes with your mugs for a photo, and walk into the inner sanctums of the main bar. Place is rockin’! Barman Chris is pouring, mixing, slapping Lincoln tips into the jar, and you’d better not keep him waiting when he comes for your order. “Bud Light,” I say. It’s $5.

“To eat?”

Oh man. The guy’s going to be gone and around the other side if I don’t speak up.

I know, the $6 deal, but I can’t resist a peek at the menu in front of me. Pork baby back ribs, $19.95 (that’s with two sides like mac’n cheese and slaw), or a sandwich version with one side for $12.95. Then a sliced beef brisket plate that goes for $22.95, or a pulled pork sandwich plate for $11.95. They have an absolute ton of other things, but I want to capture Chris while I’ve got him. And who but a fool would ignore those $6 rib tips? I don’t. In no time at all, considering the crowd, he’s laid a plate full of them in front of me, plus a beer beside me. Aah. I’m looking at maybe a dozen chopped up hot rib tips drowned in a St. Louis sauce. Folks back there in the Midwest take this stuff seriously. Turns out that this place’s owners, Martin and Cindy Blair, have roots there.

Cool: outside terrace.

I mean, I’m not expecting high-end perfection. The Marina district is total tourist-trap territory, after all. But I have to say, this St. Louis-style ’cue has a sexiness you can’t get enough of. And a real cultural background. They don’t just cook on hickory wood; they do extras, like providing white bread for you to soak up your sauce.

They say St. Louis and Kansas City are sisters under the skin, at least BBQ sauce-wise. In the late 1800s, they both boomed in America’s heartland as important river ports. KC was also “the crossroads of two of the busiest railways, and the terminus of numerous cattle drives,” says the menu. (Think Lonesome Dove.) “Many ‘joints’ like ours made Kansas City barbecue famous. Burnt Ends are a Kansas City delicacy.” Huh? Burnt Ends? Hadn’t heard of those before. They’re “pieces of brisket taken from the point and cooked a little longer.” I see that a plateful “when available” costs $21.95 (that’s with two sides; $13.95 with one side).

Chris, the lightning barman.

Got to try that sometime, but not now. It’s hard enough getting chews in between chats as it is. So much bar conversation going on: Shane from North Carolina to my left, Mike from Kansas to my right. Shane’s at a seating conference. Yeah, seating. Mike’s here at a technology and education conference. “Teachers won’t disrupt themselves!” he complains.

If I let my mind drift, I can see this place as a setting for a movie. Oh, hey, it was the setting for a movie. But I’m thinking a spy movie. A John le Carré-type meeting place, where shadowy figures pass notes at the bar, covered by the raucous convo that always seems to burst out this time of night.

“This is great!” yells Shane. “It’s the nearest thing to a North Carolina bar outside Greensboro!” He’s shouting over the game between Kansas and UNC. (And yes, his Mom and Dad did name him “Shane” after the movie.) “Go Jayhawks!” yells Stephanie. She’s this gal dressed in a blue and gray Jayhawks suit and wearing huge red Jayhawk gloves.

I’ll definitely come back, if only for the good company. But also for those Burnt Ends, and even more, for my rib tips. At $6, here downtown in tourist central, these delicious, moist, tender, almost boneless little babies can’t be beat.

It’s hard to leave. But now I’m behind the rear side of Kansas City Barbecue, waiting for the Green Line trolley. Suddenly I feel surrounded: on their back wall, someone has painted a whole herd of pigs. Flying pigs.

  • The Place: Kansas City Barbecue, 600 West Harbor Drive, Marina District, downtown, 619-231-9680
  • Prices: Rib tips, $6; pork baby back ribs, $19.95 (with two sides such as mac’n cheese and slaw); sandwich version, one side, $12.95; beef brisket plate, $22.95; pulled pork sandwich plate for $11.95; smoked hot dog, $6.95; half chicken, $9.95; chillie Mac, $8.95; burnt ends, when available, $13.95
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Seaport Village
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The beef brisket plate, $22.95.
The beef brisket plate, $22.95.

Somehow, I seem to be stuck on a BBQ kick. Just can’t get enough of it. Take tonight: it’s dusk, and I’m looking across the street to the long, low Kansas City Barbecue, the last single-story building on Harbor Drive, I swear. And definitely, the Drive’s brightest lights. I mean, how can you resist? There are probably classier joints around these grand old ladies, the Marriott and the Hyatt. But none has the life that’s pumping out of KCBBQ right now. Its patio is lit up, it’s crowded, TVs flash a hoops game. You wanna be there.

Place

Kansas City Barbeque

600 West Harbor Drive, San Diego

I cross over. Game’s UNC Vs. Kansas. Have always liked KC BBQ, specially after its gutsy response to the fire that gutted it in 2008. Everybody said this place was like, history, done for. “It’ll come back when pigs fly!” someone said. But come back it did. Tonight, 40 years after it was originally built, it looks exactly as it must have in 1983.

Fan Stephanie drives Jayhawks support for the UNC-Kansas game.

The location is great, because the Seaport Village trolley station sits right behind it. I can get home from straight out the door. And right now, out front, where its terrace faces Harbor Drive, you have the bonus of a sunset-luminous lawn, in Downtown! So right now, folks fill the terrace. Others line up for the chance. Me, I head straight for the inside, where, yes, Top Gun’s piano scene with Maverick and Goose happened. Also the bar, the one where countless navy sailors’ hats dangle from the ceiling, surrounded by tossed-off bras that cavort around, attached to spinning overhead fans.

The reason I really wanna be here? I caught the sign at the patio entrance that said “Special: St. Louis-style rib tips, and Buffalo chicken thighs.” The incredible thing: they each cost $6. (Six bucks! This is the second time in two weeks. Remember BBQ House, OB?)

I pass the cutouts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis where you fill the head-holes with your mugs for a photo, and walk into the inner sanctums of the main bar. Place is rockin’! Barman Chris is pouring, mixing, slapping Lincoln tips into the jar, and you’d better not keep him waiting when he comes for your order. “Bud Light,” I say. It’s $5.

“To eat?”

Oh man. The guy’s going to be gone and around the other side if I don’t speak up.

I know, the $6 deal, but I can’t resist a peek at the menu in front of me. Pork baby back ribs, $19.95 (that’s with two sides like mac’n cheese and slaw), or a sandwich version with one side for $12.95. Then a sliced beef brisket plate that goes for $22.95, or a pulled pork sandwich plate for $11.95. They have an absolute ton of other things, but I want to capture Chris while I’ve got him. And who but a fool would ignore those $6 rib tips? I don’t. In no time at all, considering the crowd, he’s laid a plate full of them in front of me, plus a beer beside me. Aah. I’m looking at maybe a dozen chopped up hot rib tips drowned in a St. Louis sauce. Folks back there in the Midwest take this stuff seriously. Turns out that this place’s owners, Martin and Cindy Blair, have roots there.

Cool: outside terrace.

I mean, I’m not expecting high-end perfection. The Marina district is total tourist-trap territory, after all. But I have to say, this St. Louis-style ’cue has a sexiness you can’t get enough of. And a real cultural background. They don’t just cook on hickory wood; they do extras, like providing white bread for you to soak up your sauce.

They say St. Louis and Kansas City are sisters under the skin, at least BBQ sauce-wise. In the late 1800s, they both boomed in America’s heartland as important river ports. KC was also “the crossroads of two of the busiest railways, and the terminus of numerous cattle drives,” says the menu. (Think Lonesome Dove.) “Many ‘joints’ like ours made Kansas City barbecue famous. Burnt Ends are a Kansas City delicacy.” Huh? Burnt Ends? Hadn’t heard of those before. They’re “pieces of brisket taken from the point and cooked a little longer.” I see that a plateful “when available” costs $21.95 (that’s with two sides; $13.95 with one side).

Chris, the lightning barman.

Got to try that sometime, but not now. It’s hard enough getting chews in between chats as it is. So much bar conversation going on: Shane from North Carolina to my left, Mike from Kansas to my right. Shane’s at a seating conference. Yeah, seating. Mike’s here at a technology and education conference. “Teachers won’t disrupt themselves!” he complains.

If I let my mind drift, I can see this place as a setting for a movie. Oh, hey, it was the setting for a movie. But I’m thinking a spy movie. A John le Carré-type meeting place, where shadowy figures pass notes at the bar, covered by the raucous convo that always seems to burst out this time of night.

“This is great!” yells Shane. “It’s the nearest thing to a North Carolina bar outside Greensboro!” He’s shouting over the game between Kansas and UNC. (And yes, his Mom and Dad did name him “Shane” after the movie.) “Go Jayhawks!” yells Stephanie. She’s this gal dressed in a blue and gray Jayhawks suit and wearing huge red Jayhawk gloves.

I’ll definitely come back, if only for the good company. But also for those Burnt Ends, and even more, for my rib tips. At $6, here downtown in tourist central, these delicious, moist, tender, almost boneless little babies can’t be beat.

It’s hard to leave. But now I’m behind the rear side of Kansas City Barbecue, waiting for the Green Line trolley. Suddenly I feel surrounded: on their back wall, someone has painted a whole herd of pigs. Flying pigs.

  • The Place: Kansas City Barbecue, 600 West Harbor Drive, Marina District, downtown, 619-231-9680
  • Prices: Rib tips, $6; pork baby back ribs, $19.95 (with two sides such as mac’n cheese and slaw); sandwich version, one side, $12.95; beef brisket plate, $22.95; pulled pork sandwich plate for $11.95; smoked hot dog, $6.95; half chicken, $9.95; chillie Mac, $8.95; burnt ends, when available, $13.95
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Seaport Village
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