Aug
23

Baseball, Barbecue, Beer and Burgers: A Travelogue

By

Kauffman Stadium awaits a crowd and a game. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

At around this time last week, my flight to Kansas City was just about to touch down, and I had one thing in mind: Barbecue. I had been to Arthur Bryant’s once before ten years ago, and I wanted lunch. After picking up my car, I drove down into KC from the airport where I sampled some burnt ends and brisket, enjoyed a few ribs and a scoop of pulled pork. It was as good as I remembered, and it wouldn’t even be the best barbecue of my trip.

After taking the bar in late July and spending the previous summer months studying for it, I wanted to spend some time in August on the road. I knew the Yanks too were heading west this month, and so I followed them. I caught the last two games in Kansas City before settling in for a long weekend in Minneapolis. Along the way, I ate well, I drank well and I enjoyed a successful 4-2 stint with the Yanks during which I encountered many knowledgeable, passionate and friendly baseball fans.

The Kansas City leg of a trip was a short one. After my lunch at Arthur Bryant’s, I stopped by my hotel, across the street from Kauffman Stadium, and decamped for the ballpark. The K is a lovely stadium. It opened in 1973, and it’s now one of the game’s oldest ballparks. You wouldn’t know it though from the trip. It’s a small, intimate setting for a baseball game. The upper deck tapers off at the end, and the seating bowl holds just over 37,000. For the mid-week series against the Yanks, the last-place Royals drew just over 22,000 to each of the two games I saw.

In Kansas City, I wasn’t the lone Yankee fan there. My hotel was swarming with families decked out in Yankee gear. Not many had traveled from New York, but others had taken the trip from near and far. Some came in from Nebraska and Oklahoma, fans of the Yankees since the Mick roamed center field. Others were up from Arkansas to see their favorite team play. Throughout the games, chants of “Let’s go, Yanks” drowned out those KC natives trying to pull for the Royals.

When the Royals beat the Yankees on a disputed home run call last Wednesday, the crowd went crazy. We might mock these fans as boosters of a last-place club, but they drew some baseball joy from seeing the Royals beat the Yankees. Although some fans had the typical “Yankees suck” shirts, those I spoke with were resigned to rooting for a losing team, and when David conquered the $200 million Goliath, they found a minute of happiness amidst yet another lost season.

In KC, I found a city that respects its baseball history. The recently renovated Kauffman Stadium has a new Hall of Fame-curated Royals-specific museum with tributes to the great Royals clubs from the 1980s, images of David Cone and Bret Saberhagen and a monument to George Brett in baseballs. They want to be good again, and maybe soon, the Royals, with a stocked farm system, will be.

The best lunch you will ever eat at a gas station. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Outside of baseball, I ate my way through the city. Thanks to a tip from Mark Feinsand, I left the Missouri part of town and ventured to a gas station in Kansas where I found the best barbecue I’ve had. Oklahoma Joe’s, not a quite a secret to those who know about it, operates in the second half of a gas station convenience store, and it was packed with Yankee fans. I downed succulent half rack of ribs, some pulled pork and a bit of cole slaw. I wanted seconds. After the barbecue, I toured Boulevard Brewery, Kansas City’s expanding and delicious microbrewery. The trip was worth it for the food alone.

Following my 36 hours of beer, baseball and barbecue in Kansas City, I flew north for a four-game stay in Minneapolis and switched out the barbecue for some burgers. The specialty of Minneapolis are Jucy Lucy’s or Juicy Lucy’s depending upon which restaurant you frequent. These are burger patties with the cheese inside of them. They are rich, messy and delicious. My first stop was a high-end joint, the Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, but over the weekend, I also dropped in on Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. With some Summit or Surly to accompany the food, I ate well.

But the focus was again on baseball. I saw four games on Target Field over the weekend, and it is an electric baseball atmosphere. The Twins and Populous have constructed a temple to baseball in Minnesota. From the gates numbered for Minnesota’s retired uniforms to the local materials used in construction, this ballpark oozes Minnesota history. (You can, however, skip the infamous pork chop-on-a-stick.) For one game, I sat atop the overhang in right field, and for the others, I sat with views of the Downtown Minneapolis skyline. It is outdoor baseball away from the confines of the Metrodome.

Target Field at night. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Unlike in Kansas City, Twins fans packed the house, and Yankee fans had to find a fit. These days, Twins fans love their team. Everyone in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area had on a Twins hat, a t-shirt, a jersey, and when I showed up in my Yankee shirt, they would playfully tease me. And it was a playful teasing for everyone I met in Minnesota was as friendly as New Yorkers think they would be. It’s midwest hospitality at its finest.

While Royals fans cheer for a bad team, the Twins this year have been bitten by the injury bug, and their fans have grown accustomed to Yankee dominance. The Yanks have won all but four games they’ve played against the Twins since the start of 2009, and when you consider that the Twins have made the playoffs twice since then, it’s a rather astounding fact. So the Target Field faithful went into the weekend expecting loses, and outside of A.J.’s blow-up, the Yanks delivered.

By the time I returned home yesterday, I was full. I had stopped at burger and barbecue joints around the midwest. I had eaten pancakes at Al’s Breakfast and eggs at Hell’s Kitchen. I had seen two barbecue places, a brewery, six Yankee games and an irate Joe Girardi chew out Jack Curry. It’s a trip well worth planning for any baseball fan with a few days or a weekend to spare, and although I don’t need to eat much for a little while, I’m off to Yankee Stadium again tonight. After all, I can never have enough baseball.

Categories : Musings

37 Comments»

  1. breich315 says:

    what about the greatest B of them all — BOOBS!

  2. IRF says:

    Have you tried Bluke Smoke and/or Hill Country? Is it at all comparable to the real stuff?

    • I’ve been to both, and while both are good, they don’t come close to KC barbecue. I love New York’s growing BBQ scene, but it’s a different beast.

      • nyyankfan7 says:

        So glad to hear you went to Oklahoma Joe’s, I started reading your article and thought you came to Kansas City and only ate Arthur Bryants. Joe’s blows it out of the water. Next time (if there is one) try JackStack BBQ only if you want something different otherwise there is no better suggestion than Oklahoma Joe’s, and a night out at the Power and Light district.

        • Jonathan says:

          This is a true KC BBQ connoisseur. I’ve lived in Kansas all my life and ever sense Haywards has gone down hill Jack Stack/Joe’s are the way to go. Sad to see KC Masterpiece go as well.

    • Gonzo says:

      I’ve done a BBQ trail on places near the I95 a fewe times, and it’s a different type of BBQ than those two. I absolutely disliked Blue Smoke’s offerings (I hear they have a killer burger though). I liked Hill’s brisket (I have never been to TX for the real thing mind you), but i was only was satisfied with the rest of their offerings.

      Real Q means different things around this country. So you have to find what you like and go to the mecca of it. KC boasts the best of TX and eastern parts because they were the crossroads for many of those places.

      • NYinTX says:

        I’ve gotta think that TX BBQ is the best hands down. Once you’ve been to Salt Lick outside Austin or Snow’s in Lexington, everything else is competing for second place.

  3. Laurie says:

    KC’s Sheridans had the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. I walked around the concourse to the store instead of buying off the cart and it was well worth the walk.

  4. CBean says:

    I like the way you vacation.

  5. Ethan says:

    Those ribs look so good. Mmmm

  6. Marc says:

    Are a Minnesotan who’s been to TF more times in the last year then 20+ years of the dome. What was your favorite part of Target Field?

  7. the Other Steve S. says:

    Next time try Jack Stack’s. A little mainstream but damn, it’s good.

  8. FIPster Doofus says:

    Benjamin Kabak: No Reservations.

    Move over, Anthony Bourdain.

  9. Jon in ???JH says:

    Good to see you enjoying a great midwestern baseball experience. I visited Minny during a Yankees series last May and loved it. Can’t say enough about the quality of the park and the friendliness of the locals.

  10. thurdonpaul says:

    Ben, damnnn, if that was lunch how much did you eat for dinner ? :)

  11. Joltin Joe says:

    I am glad you enjoyed the Midwest Ben, I have had Arthur Bryant’s, Oklahoma Joe’s, Juicy Lucy’s and Jucy Lucy’s. As a lifelong Yankee fan growing up 3 hrs from Kauffman it has always been a road trip for me to see a game. However the renovations to KC’s park and the new field in Minny make the trips well worth while. I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of BLVD. Brewery good beers and a very nice facility. Too bad we didnt meet up I could have shown you the wonderful blues clubs in KC and the strong underground music scene in Minneapolis

  12. The Constant Gardner says:

    Baseball, barbeque, beer, and burgers – Happy Bartday!

  13. Gonzo says:

    Anyone ever been to Mo Gridder’s in the Bronx? Is it any good? I am thinking of going next time I visit my parents.

  14. bobtaco says:

    How much was lunch at Oklahoma Joe’s? That looks tasty.

  15. FanSince'48 says:

    When my daughter lived in KC, she had season tickets for the Royals – real nice seats in the 3rd row behind the Royals dugout. I would fly out for the Yankee series each year, and she would get me Diamond club or other good seats, and we’d see all the games.
    Having eaten in KC rather often for an East Coaster, I can second the recommendation of Jack’s Stack, although it can be a little touristy (well…I am a tourist) with my favorite being Jack’s Best (BBQ beef burnt ends, baby back ribs and beef short ribs). Also highly recommend Oklahoma Joe’s (the second best restaurant in a gas station in which I’ve eaten). But my favorite is Stroud’s for the best fried (pan fried) chicken I’ve ever eaten.
    For ice cream, try Graeter’s from Cincinnati – you’ll never see chocolate chips like these!
    Kaufman Stadium is quite nice and their chicken fingers and Blue Moon draught make a great snack.
    Too bad she’s no longer there….

  16. Ethan says:

    All this talk about food is making me seriously hungry from some good BBQ

  17. CS Yankee says:

    Offered to buy you a beer in a post…never heard back (oh well).

    Drove out from Colorado (with a Sox fan) for the last Yankee game plus the first Sox game.

    Things I learned;
    1) The K is great and I think it has the best scoreboard ever made…pictures do not do it justice.
    2) Quite a lot of baseball fans from surrounding states that are Yankee, Sox or Royal fan base.
    3) NLBM was good, a must see but a few people visiting felt it was a let down not realizing that those were hard times in America and most of those teams had a different set of challenges.
    4) Royal HOF is in LF and it is decent. Great video of Bo Jackson, etc.
    5) Great BBQ, amazing mirco-brew & live local Jazz/Blues bands playing beyond CF pregame.

    As far as the BBQ;
    1) Jack Stack (pricey though)
    2) Oklahoma Joe’s (great to go)
    3) Arthur Bryant’s (classic old-time)
    4) Gates (feels too much like Chilli’s though)
    BTW, two through four vary depending on one’s taste.

    Thanks for the recap of the excursion.

  18. Jimmy McNulty says:

    Yeah, the midwest is a pretty nice place. The worst part of living around these parts is the insane blackout rules. There’s a lot of good baseball towns around these parts: Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and other cities.

  19. Bobby two knives says:

    great article. Thanks! You experienced something I dream of doing; now maybe I will do it.

  20. Mariano's Pimp Hand says:

    In that picture of the barbeque are those your pants I can see under the table? LOL

  21. Giovanni Galasso says:

    Hey Ben,

    I’m a NY’er who moved to Minnesota for college a few years ago and met my girlfriend who is from Kansas City. So a couple notes about both places.

    I’ve tried most of the BBQ in KC from trips to visit my girlfriends family and I’d definitely rank Oklahoma Joe’s as my favorite. Others are good, but don’t live up to the price/value of the gas station.

    I’m not a Juicy Lucy fan but my favorite burger by far is Glaciers Cafe, good price, but not the best area in town. Next time you come back if you like ice cream you should really check out all of the local small ice cream places. People in MN love their ice cream (even in the winter) and they have an assortment of great little ice cream shops (Sebastian Joe’s is my favorite).

    As far as the MN fans being nice, it depends, I’m a pretty reasonable guy and hardly ever drink. I went to one playoff game alone in 2004 (Game 4 ALDS?) and had groups of people throwing stuff at me the entire game and guys acting like they wanted to fight. Most of them were drunk and it goes to show you what alcohol can do to people. I’ve had a few other situations like that but none quite as bad.

    Anyway glad you had a good trip here!

  22. Rosemary McNerney Winkler says:

    I am one of those “fans of the Yankees since the Mick roamed center field” and saw the Yanks play the Kansas City Athletics in 1959. Roger Maris played for KC that day, but was soon traded to the Yanks. At the time, the Athletics were known as the Yankee farm team, because every time they got a great player, they traded him to the Yanks. I went to KC with my hubby last week because my cousin held tickets to the August 15 game. I, too, was surprised at how many fans wore Yankee gear–including me!

    Rosemary

  23. Jake H says:

    KC BBQ is the best. Glad you enjoyed the Q. Kauffman is really nice. Cheap tickets typically and great Q. Glad I live here even thou I’m a Yankees fan.

  24. Urban says:

    My fleeting memories of KC when I was there once for business:

    Took in a Royals game. Purchased a ticket from a scalper at less-than-face value. Sat right behind third base, maybe four or five rows back. Excellent seats. They won in the 9th, so it was a fun, festive atmosphere. It was a great game because I didn’t care who won. All I wanted was a good game to enjoy on a nice sunny day.

    Tornado warnings.

    Everything has beef. Even vegitarian meals had beef. Beef, beef, and more beef. I like beef.

  25. Jonathan says:

    Glad you enjoyed KC Ben. Generally the K has hands down the worst fans I’ve ever experienced but their new HOF is pretty awesome, the food is good and the scoreboard is amazing. Did you notice how when they replayed Billy’s “home run” that they cut the feed about .0001 seconds before it hit the wall? Up until this year they literally didn’t show replays on the scoreboard. Just the stats. I’m glad they finally are putting it to use. Did you do the Early Bird tour at all? Thanks to it in the past two years I’ve gotten Reggie Jackson (twice), Mo (twice), Jeter, Robbie (twice), Andruw (twice), Joba, Cone (thrice), Tex, Granderson and Kerry Wood’s autographs while getting into the park early and a tour of the HOF without all of the crowd to deal with. I’ve been to every Yankee game in KC for as long as I can remember and live about 30 minutes away so if you ever come back let me know. I can usually get amazing tickets for less than $50 or free (I sat in row C behind the 1st base dugout) and help you on your BBQ quest.

    You were also spot on with your analysis of the fans but for some reason there weren’t nearly as many this year. Usually every Yankee game is completely packed. Every single one not impacted by weather I’ve been to has been full in the last 10-15 years. Usually it’s about 2/3 Yankee fans and 1/3 Royals “fans”. They haven’t had a winner in so long that the fanbase is basically made up of people who only survive by the memory of 1985/1980 and people that know little to nothing about the game and spend their time not paying attention or attempting to be the worst hecklers ever. They literally treat playing the Yankees like it’s their World Series and I’ve heard the phrase, “Jeter sucks” probably a million times. They think the Yankees ruined baseball, they’re all on steroids (and the only ones ever…hello Jose Guillen/Mike Jacobs, we just buy championships, Jeter is overrated, ARod isn’t a team player etc etc etc and every other annoying ignorant stereotype about us there is. Whenever the Yankees win everyone I know doesn’t care, but when the Royals win their 1 game of the series I get 100 texts from people giving me shit when they couldn’t even name 5 players on the Royals.

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