Normally I try to avoid eating at gas stations. Usually you end up with something like this, a quick and easy take on an all-American favorite made almost entirely of lab-engineered, preservative-laden versions of real food. Inevitably, it tastes like absolute crap.
However, on rare occasions, you can find something in a convenience store that’s actually worth eating. Saturday afternoon, I had just one of those experiences. At the repeated insistence of several of my friends, the wife and I finally made the trip over to 47th and Mission to try Oklahoma Joe’s Barbeque.
Had I heard nothing of Oklahoma Joe’s before dining there, I would have greeted the place with a great deal of skepticism. I mean, really, one of the best barbeque joints in Kansas City is located in a gas station in Fairway?
Were this any other type of restaurant, this would be an instant strike against it, but somehow, it actually works for the place. With the barbeque and country memorabilia on the walls and Johnny Cash coming through the speakers, the flow of gas station customers off to the side felt right at home. The cramped and slightly dirty tables with their rolls of paper towels and greasy barbeque sauce reminded me of nothing so much as the kind of diners you see when traveling in West Texas. The cleanest joint in town? Not likely, but then, barbeque joints usually aren’t.
Oklahoma Joe’s has all the standards you’d expect from a Kansas City barbeque stand: ribs, burnt ends, pulled pork, etc. At the recommendation of several friends, both Natasha and I opted for the Z-Man, a sandwich of brisket, topped with provolone cheese, and an onion ring. Natasha had hers with a side of coleslaw, while I went with the fries. A pink lemonade (a requisite for real barbeque) rounded out the meal.
As this place is noted for ridiculously long lines, with supposedly up to an hour-long wait at times, they had our food up and ready in no time. Literally, it was like 30 seconds, which amazed me. A cafeteria-style place, we took our order and found a table. At first glance, the Z-Man looks good, but surely nothing I’d rave about like so many people do.
A medium-sized sandwich (with a mountain of fries), the Z-man looked no better than sandwiches I’d had elsewhere. However, upon biting into it, I saw what separates Oklahoma Joes from the Zarda's and KC Masterpieces. The meat was slightly smokey, very tender and overall really flavorful. Coupled with the crispy ring, gooey provolone and tangy sauce, it was a really good sandwich.
The food is miles above most of the pretenders that this city is littered with, and the service was good too. Completely lacking in pretension, the staff doesn’t yell at you a la Gates, and the prices are very reasonable (the Z-Man is $5.99).
Of course this begs the question: is Oklahoma Joe’s the best barbeque I’ve had? Sorry Joe, but in a heated contest, I give a very slight edge to Bryant’s on overall taste and quality. This, of course, is no slight on Oklahoma Joe’s, and I’m sure many people will disagree with me. But my own personal preference is for the vinegary-goodness that is Arthur Bryant’s.
And while I won’t give it the glowing, "best food ever" review that many of my associates will, I’m really glad I finally got around to trying the place. I can’t see waiting an hour for it, but I will definitely be eating at Oklahoma Joe’s again.