Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kansas City, MO: BBQ & Boulevard Beer, Oh Yes!

In 2011 Sj and I went on a tour of Ireland with the amazing Kansas City celtic rock band The Elders.  On that fated trip to the storied Emerald Isle we met two wonderful people:  Ali is sparkling (literally often covered with glitter,) effervescent and draws friendship like a flower brings honeybees; while Greg is solid, calm, yet quick with a grin or subtle joke.  These two had love we could see radiating off them in waves and at first we assumed they were newlyweds.  In fact this perfectly matched couple had known each other for years, but had only started dating fairly recently.  Fast forward to current day Kansas City and their upcoming nuptials.  They were kind enough to invite us down for the wedding and this was just the kick we needed to finally check out the home of our favorite band and of Boulevard beer!

On Wednesday we awoke early, packed up the car and started our trek due south on Highway 35.  The trip took about seven hours (minus a stop at the saddest Culver's ever in Iowa,)  and we were accompanied by a fine drizzle most of the way.  Sj and I spent the trip there and back listening to Stephen King's Duma Key on CD, narrated by John Slattery (Roger Sterling from Mad Men!) As per most SK books, it is enormous and we barely made it past half way through the book on the entire trip.  I was actually surprised that KC was almost as close to us by car as Milwaukee.  Maybe heading south just seems farther away!  We hit KC just at rush-hour, but traffic was nearly non-existent and we sailed through town and to our hotel.  This peculiar lack of traffic persisted during our stay resulting in relative ease navigating the city.

The first evening we were lucky to be able to meet up with Ali and Greg in between their extreme wedding decoration binges.  We met at The Record Bar, an old joint in a strip mall with a very relaxed and personable feel.  Bob Walkenhorst from The Rainmakers was playing that night and the band included Norm and Brent from The Elders.  They were a solid band, playing rock, bluegrass, country and Americana music.  Interestingly, The Rainmakers' lyrics were quoted in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers and Gerald's Game.  I'm pretty sure that Ali knew everyone in the bar and we met all sorts of different people over the evening.  They had several local brews on tap (as well as PBR) and I tried Mother's Three Blind Mice brown ale and Boulevard's Dark Truth there.  The food was standard bar fare, but with great names based on classic rock songs...I had meat-tastic sandwich fittingly called The Nuge.

Day two started early with a trip down to Boulevard Brewing.  This was one of the cornerstones of our trip to KC and had been percolating in my beer-addled brain since we met the brew master at a Happy Gnome dinner several years ago.  They offer a special 1.5 hour tour but it sells out months in advance and I cursed my inability to get into it.  They have a free tour a few times a day, with the ticket sales starting promptly at 10 AM.  Driving up to the sprawling complex just before 10, there was already a queue of thirsty beer fans forming out front.  We stood in line for a short time, with more people slowly adding to the snaking line behind us.  While waiting, we struck up a conversation with some people from Des Moines and they pointed us toward a new brewpub there for our way back to Minnesota.  More on that in a future entry!  The flood gates opened and we got our free tickets for the 12:30 tour.  The gift shop was packed with lots of good brewery swag including Patagonia clothing, glassware, mustard, and of course beer!  They offered a 10% discount with my AHA card, so I had to buy some brewerania for the home.  In addition to the discount you actually get a free pint of beer at the tasting room with your membership!  So at 10:30 AM we were allowed into the "closed" tasting room and got to bother Dane, a very pleasant guy who offered several suggestions of things to do in KC as well as letting us try several of the beers on tap.

The iconic chimney stack!

In addition to their standards, they had four experimental beers available and all were very interesting.  One was what they unofficially call Dillsner: a version of their pilsner with an experimental numbered hop that tastes like dill, cucumber and melon.  They had a West Coast IPA and Session IPA that were both better than the Single and Double Wide versions.  The stand-out was a beer made with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and muscat grape juice.  That unnamed beer was brilliant, with a light refreshing wine-like flavor and aroma.  I would buy a case of it if I could.  Dane said that they were tossing around the idea of making it a seasonal and I would highly encourage them to make it so!

After killing time (and possibly brain cells) at the tasting room, we walked through some unsavory chop-shop areas along the Boulevard to Danny Edward's BBQ.  In classic KC fashion, this unpretentious place felt like a throw-back to the 1950's with cheap Formica tables, counter service and simple but extremely flavorful dishes.  The pulled pork sandwich was out of this world...but get the regular size, not the large!  Seriously, that bad-boy stayed with me all day!  Despite the counter service, the place had several ladies bussing dishes, refilling sodas and bustling about.  Perhaps TMI, but on entry to the tiny bathroom you are hit by a wave of BBQ smoke, making this the best smelling men's room in the world.

In the ghetto, KC
Which is more disturbing?

After levering my over-stuffed bulk out of the old rickety chair, Sj and I tottered back through the Barrio toward the brewery once more.  On the way back we passed a giant old derelict brewery, multiple examples of spray-paint art murals, shady tex-mex joints, and of course more chop-shops.  From a distance we saw a WWII era DC 3 prop plane soaring over the tops of the local squat buildings and self-storage facilities.  Drawn to this out-of-place marvel we headed for it and discovered a gem hidden amongst the tattered and somewhat decrepit surroundings.  This was the warehouse/storefront of The Roasterie, a 20 year old local coffee company.  They offer tours, have a relaxing cafe, have photo-ops and of course sell coffee.  We later picked up a bottle of Vodka infused with their coffee, and we will have to experiment with that little purchase...  This is one of the examples of why one should wander through new territory when traveling.

Upon our return to Boulevard we had a very nice tour of the facilities given by Ted and Dane and ended up in the tasting room for more free samples.  Between the morning excursion and splitting our afternoon samples we were able to sample pretty much all of the 12 beers they had on tap!  Not a bad deal for free, but plan ahead and get there early for tickets...they were turning away people at the door since they had sold out when we were there earlier.

After this we moved on to more ephemeral pursuits, taking a long and arduous hike to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The grounds are epic with massively scaled shuttlecocks scattered about the area.  We wandered the sprawling sculpture gardens ogling great strange bloody bronzes, disturbing headless ranks of grey people, and shiny metallic trees that might have escaped from H.P. Lovecraft's Chthulhu mythos.  We spent less time in doors, but made sure to look at the photography exhibit since I have been messing around with my iphone camera recently.

After that, more walking to the nearby Westport District for dinner and a beer.  Since our friend Nick has been working at McCoy's Public House here in Minnesota, I figured we should stop by their primary brewpub site right there walking distance from our hotel.  The brewpub is located near The Foundry and Beer Kitchen (also owned by the same people, but not brewpubs.)  The bar and restaurant are inviting and hopping, with multiple levels of action, as well as an outdoor seating area with accessory bar.  We had an excellent bartender who served us up a sampler of the house brews.  How shall I say this...The beer wasn't good.  Per my wonderful wife, "The brown ale smells like lakewater."  And tasted like it as well.  The maibock was not too bad, but most of these beers had flaws that I rarely see at commercial breweries nowadays.  If the food is anything like our MN site, I can recommend it, but we didn't have any room left to try it during this trip.  I'm happy that McCoy's in Minnesota has moved to just commercial beers.

Off to bed and another day in KC!  Oh and check out my wife's blog entry for a different take on the same trip!


Brady said...

I hope the place you stopped at on your way back through Des Moines was El Bait Shop & the High life Lounge. Though neither are brewpubs so I'm guessing not. Massive tap beer selection at El Bait shop, cool grandma's basement atmosphere and everyting high life at the HL Lounge.

Brady said...

for Next time you're in DM