As soon as you walk in you are hit with a greeting of “Hi, may I help you?” Of course, if you’re new here then at least a quick scan of the overhead menu will be necessary. So step aside and listen to the regulars place their orders: it’s like another language. Folks here are very specific about how they want their meats cut, their meals prepared. Slice this cut of beef in such-and-such a manner from that side, extra meat on a roll. None of these options appear on the menu, mind you; they are simply the requests of experienced barbecue eaters who know what they like. Newcomers can get flustered and overwhelmed.
We asked for a burnt ends sandwich and were warned that the burnt ends are trimmings from the beef. We know burnt ends but we hedged our bet and changed the order to a combo sandwich of burnt ends and regular beef. They were happy to oblige. These burnt ends really are the trimmings, unlike most others that try to emulate trimmings but are actually prepared to be burnt ends. Gates ends are luscious and smoky, and frankly fatty (trimmings!). We love them.
On this trip we tried spare ribs at Gates, Jack Stack, Woodyard, Oklahoma Joe’s, and even Wabash up in Excelsior Springs. Not a bad batch of ribs in the lot, but crusty and gorgeous-looking as some of them were, we found the smokiness to be surprisingly restrained. Except for the ribs at Gates, that is. They are far from the largest racks in Kansas City, but they are also well-seasoned with a rub before they spend their alotted time in the smoker, and this pork-smoke-rub is a heady combination, especially towards the end of the short end (unless you are buying the whole rack, ribs in KC come in “short end” and “long end” versions). We didn’t get to our favorite KC Q joint, LC’s, during this trip, but of the ribs we sampled this go-round, Gates came out on top.
Gates, along with Arthur Bryant’s, are the two descendants of Kansas City’s founding father of BBQ, Henry Perry. They’ve both been around a long time, and we’ve been hearing a lot of mixed reports on AB’s these days, and weren’t sure what to expect from Gates. There are currently six Gates branches around town, two of them on the Kansas side of the state line, and their slick appearance and comfortable dining rooms belie the fact that they are really cafeterias with sassy, but friendly, service, and real Kansas City barbecue.