Whereas Bryant’s looks like it hasn’t been touched in 60 years, Gates is almost sparklingly clean. The menu boards and promotional material give the place a decidedly chain feel, something which I’m personally not a big fan of in a bbq place.
We ordered a half rack of ribs and a “beef and a half” sandwich (thanks to Tim Jankovich for this tip years ago). We arrived too late for burnt ends, so I decided to go with a sausage sandwich.
When I saw the sausage appear, I started to have flashbacks to HBO’s Real Sex 27 (Marr, you know what I’m talking about). The thing was frickin’ huge. Baby’s arm with an apple huge.
I’d never before seen a sausage that had to be butterflied to eat, but that’s exactly how Gates prepares their sausage sandwich. Unfortunately the behemoth’s flavor wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, as it came out a little bland and bologna-like in texture. JP, a Texas native, was equally unimpressed.
The ribs were spares and like everything in KC, they were served wet. They had a slight smoke ring under the rub and sauce. The rub had a nice mixture of sweet, salt and just a little bit of spice. I’m a big fan of Gates’ spice rub, having used it for years on ribs in the backyard. The sauce is sweet with a definite cumin flavor. Overall, the ribs didn’t really do much for either me or JP. They were a little on the tough side and didn’t have a whole lot of smoke flavor. They weren’t bad by any means, but we weren’t going to stuff ourselves trying to finish them either.
The beef and a half was a monster. Over a pound of thin sliced brisket was piled high between three little pieces of white bread. The meat had a nice smoke ring, but it was a little bland and on the dry side. While I was disappointed with the meat by itself, the addition of a little sauce made the sandwich quite good. Ridiculously large, but good. There’s a reason Gates has a loyal following, and it’s not because they serve bad food.
Our meal over, we noticed George Gates holding court in the corner. George is the son of Ollie Gates and bears the namesake of his grandfather, the restaurant’s founder. George was surrounded by a bevy of women drinking martinis and fighting for his attention. Needless to say, it’s good to be a Gates in Kansas City.
When we asked to take a little tour of the pits and take a picture, we were politely rebuffed for health code reasons and offered the option of the manager taking a picture with my camera for me. Very nice of the staff to try and accommodate, but certainly different from the reception we received at Bryant’s. Truth be told, it’s probably the response two jackwad bbq dorks like us deserved.
After dinner, JP and I walked outside, both craving a little bit of bourbon.
If you’ve watched the scene in Animal House when the boys walk into the Dexter Lake Club where Otis Day and the Knights are playing, you’ll understand what JP and I felt like when we walked into the “Lounge” next to Gates BBQ. The music didn’t actually stop, but everyone’s conversation did. We both had flashbacks to Mondo’s bar in Elgin, TX.
Fortunately the patrons of Gates lounge were much friendlier than Mondo’s. After ordering some bourbon on the rocks, the lady next to us asked the obvious question “what are you two doing here?” When we responded that we were on a barbecue tour of Kansas City, we quickly went from outsiders to welcome visitors.
BBQ has a funny way of doing that.
Over the next hour of conversation, we heard as many opinions on where the best bbq was as there were people in the bar. Before someone would name a place other than Gates, they would look around to make sure that George hadn’t walked in through his private entrance.
After finishing our last drinks, JP and I reluctantly said goodbye to our new friends.
Once in the car, we both agreed that in the battle of Bryant’s vs Gates, we were overwhelmingly on the side of Arthur Bryant’s. I like my barbecue places to have character and Bryant’s oozes it, along with a lot of lard. Gates feels more corporate, like the cross between a Sizzler and a Corky’s. In terms of food(and this is where I'll put the disclaimer that taste is subjective), there’s no contest for us between the two. Gates is okay to very good. Bryant’s is very good to awesome.