The credit card machine kept disconnecting. I didn’t have cash, or my checkbook. “No problem,” said Perry Foster, “mail me a check.” Perry Foster’s Bar-B-Que embodied all that is good about humankind: Trust and harmony and world peace. Oh, and taste. My lunch was a combo sandwich, generously endowed with smoked ham, brisket, chicken and burnt ends slathered with sauce, accompanied by a steering wheel-sized platter of homemade seasoned French fries. Perry and his cook laughed when I approached the sandwich with a knife and fork. “Your hands! Use your hands,” the cook coached me. “Eating barbecue ain’t pretty. It’s just good.”
Good? No, great.
A great barbecue joint goes beyond great food. Back when Perry Foster’s BBQ was in business on the south side of Warrensburg, several hundred photos adorned its walls. Among visages of Kansas City Chiefs and cheerleaders and Hank’s boy, Perry pointed to his favorite picture. “That’s the commander of Whiteman,” he said, “flanked by the two top generals in the Russian air force.” All three were smiling. When the Russian generals reported the highlights of their American experience, their favorite stop was Perry’s.
I sat back down, and finished exactly half my sandwich. Perry wrapped the rest, including the French fries, which I devoured the next day when I got home. But first, I sent him a check.
Barbecue is a way of life. It’s the foundation of our culture and will singlehandedly see us through tough economic times. Somewhere, there should be a mutual fund specializing in barbecue-related industries: sauces, grills, utensils, clothing and tailgating. Barbecue is the perfect marriage of sloppy and civil. It distinguishes humans from sharks.
If Atlantic City held a beauty pageant for words, barbecue would not win. The word can be spelled more ways than any other word in the English language. It’s imprecise. It’s messy, and impolitic, the product of smoke-filled back rooms. Yet more ballads have been crooned to barbecue than to all the Miss Americas combined.
I still remember my first bar-b-q. Miles outside of Jeff City, on a curvy scary road that led to the Lake of the Ozarks, the sweet smoke smell of burnt hickory permeated the rock walls of Alta Vista Barbecue. It was nothing fancy. And to this day, I dismiss any barbecue restaurant that looks too tidy. For example, folks flock to the rugged elegance of the world-famous Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City. I frequent a couple other joints near Swope Parkway, Big T BarBq, and LC’s, right across from one another.
Rustic spots dot the landscape. Bates City Barbecue can raise a sweat on your brow. Biffle’s in Concordia will smoke your clothes on contact. When the wind was blowing right, I could smell the smoker from Sutton’s, just down the street from my house.
Cider’s BBQ in High Point has no windows. Outside there’s a big black smoker, and a hand-lettered sign that reads, “Sorry, Sold Out.” That’s a good sign, for those that got some.
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