Gates Bar-B-Q (Kansas City)

Here now is my last meal report from our brief visit to Kansas City in July and quite appropriately it is of a meal eaten at one of the city’s most sanctified barbecue institutions, perhaps second only to Arthur Bryant’s in that sense. I am referring, of course, to Gates Bar-B-Q. It too traces its history back to Henry Perry—the father of Kansas City barbecue and the man whose restaurant evolved into Arthur Bryant’s. The original location of Gates was founded in 1946, with the Gates family partnering with another of Perry’s employees/students, Arthur Pinkard. Unlike Arthur Bryant’s, Gates is still black-owned and indeed still in the Gates family. That original location, at 18th and Vine, does not appear to still be extant. Gates does have six locations in the Kansas City metro now. Of those, we dined at the large restaurant on Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., selecting it for its proximity both to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, which was our previous port of call and to access to the highway back to Minnesota, which would be our next. It was a fine meal and a fine farewell to Kansas City.

I don’t know what the other locations of Gates are like but the Emanuel Cleaver branch doesn’t quite have the atmosphere of Arthur Bryant’s. You order in a central lobby-like space—with lines separated for carry-out and dine-in customers—and if dining in, select one of several dining rooms to sit in. Servers are then on hand to help you with water, clear tables etc. The ordering system is similar. You grab a tray at the start of the line and by the time you get to the person taking your order you should know what you want. Now, here is the part where I will tell you that Gates is famous for chivvying its customers along with constant refrains of “Can I help you?”. I read reports of how this question becomes more pointed the longer you take but in practice I found this to be essentially shtick unconnected to what customers were actually doing in line. In fact, it seemed to have become a kind of habit/tic for the staff taking orders, who were sometimes calling it out even when there were not many people in line. In short, don’t worry about getting yelled at because you probably won’t. And if you do you can say you had the full experience.

What did we eat? Gates, unusually, does mutton ribs but that’s only on weekends and so we couldn’t try them. Our order was simple and very similar to what we’d eaten at Arthur Bryant’s two days prior: ribs, sausage and a burnt ends sandwich. This last was quite a bit larger than the 3B at Arthur Bryant’s and rather good. The sausage and ribs were also very good. For sides we got the potato salad, slaw and beans. All were good though none were our favourites in the categories on this trip. They too have a few varieties of sauces: Original Classic, Spicy, and Sweet. Of these we liked the Original Classic the best (and purchased a bottle).

For a look at the restaurant the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next.

As at Arthur Bryant’s and Joe’s Kansas City, this was extremely affordable for the quality and quantity of food. With drinks, tax and tip we paid just about $67 (and took some of the food home with us to Minnesota in our cooler).

Alright, that’s Kansas City in the rearview mirror. I’m not sure if we’ll do a full-on trip there again anytime soon but hope to stop for meals on the way out of and back to Minnesota for other parts south. If that comes to pass we’ll try more of the city’s celebrated barbecue establishments.

Coming over the next few weekends will be the remaining reports from our trip to Madison. Before that, I’ll have a report on an excellent takeout Thai meal we had today from a restaurant in St. Paul.


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