Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ode to Weekend Getaways

Over the past few years D and I cultivated a love for the Weekend Getaway.  Of course, we enjoy longer vacations as well, but it's nearly impossible for us to coordinate matching periods of leave from work for more than a few days a time.  Earlier in our careers it was a little easier, but these days we've become the grownups and don't care to be gone too long.  Hence, the well-suited long weekend.

We can usually eke out a day on the front or back end of a weekend, making a nice 3- or 4- day trip.  It's the perfect amount of time for a little sightseeing, and due to the quick turnaround it's fun to prioritize our weekend itinerary.
Sometimes we've added in racing events, as in Austin this past April when we took a three-day weekend for a friend's wedding and the Statesman Cap 10K:

Sweaty and freezing back in the hotel...but what a great finish line view!
Or, the Salt Lake City Marathon a few years back...when we visited family friends and enjoyed the race, too.
We've even done weekends in Hawaii when D was stationed in Korea, ski weekends in Taos, and lots of Denver trips, hiking in Nederland, a cosmopolitan foray in DC, concerts in Seattle, touring in Atlanta, beach trip in Fort Lauderdale, deep sea fishing in Corpus Christi.  Sometimes I think I could write for those airline magazines..."3 Magical Days in Clarksville, Tennessee!" Yup, we've been there too, for the Clarksville Rotary Annual Metric.
The weekend away requires careful and flexible planning.  Dan usually picks a place to run or exercise.  It's my job to pick out a restaurant or two that I'd like to try (Nando's in DC most recently - after I'd read some blogs about it!), then we take turns selecting a few sights to see - museums, concerts, botanic gardens and the like. 
Long gone are the days of suffocating the weekend with nonstop activity and minute-by-minute scripting.  We go for the dim sum version and aim to do the unique activities we otherwise can't, when at home.  It's probably not the best value, but we try to use our hotel points and airline miles for these quick trips.  It suits me well as we are both homebodies - after a few days away we start to miss Nugget (our main source of discussion/my main source of worry when we're out of town) and pine for our tiny home, with all our things crammed in it.  It's just that the novelty of a hotel or AirBnB wears thin in a few days no matter how much fun we're having.

So maybe not every vacation from work has to be monumental - the quickturn, not too far from home, is a nice break from quotidian routine.  Just long enough to enjoy a new place, without missing Nug too much or breaking the bank!

Next up, Montreal?  Or some where in New England?  It's fall and maybe time to leaf-peep!  I also hope to recover in a few weeks, and maybe prepare for fall rushing it this time, though - learning has occurred :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Busy bunny

In August we made our (now, annual) pilgrimage to Alaska.

I ruined the vacation by injuring my hamstring on the second day, but we still had a great trip camping in Denali National Park, hiking around Winner Creek, Eklutna Lake and Crow Creek Pass.   We floated and fished the Kenai River (catch and release  - trout and Dolly Varden) and we saw eagles, bears, moose.  As always we ate well, relaxed, and I had a blast limping my way through the gorgeous scenery.

Sunny all day in the AK!
In early September I took a quick vacation to Seoul for a weekend (jet lag, wha??) and then to DC to visit D who was on a work trip.

Finally back home - to relax and to work - I am single parenting the Nug for a while.

There are a few neat things about being injured  - mostly, I get to go to Physical Therapy!  As a patient!  The hardest part is all the homework but it already makes a difference in my pain and strength.  The important thing is to accept that I caused my own delay in healing by returning to running too soon.  I still hope to run some fall races -- August and September were a total running wash. 

Exciting things ahead!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Best BBQ in Kansas City

It occurred to me last night, over a pulled pork sandwich, that I ought to jot down my thoughts on the barbecue places I've tried so far.  It's not that everything (or anything, really) I chew or digest merits recording, but I'd like to have a list so I know which places remain to be tried.

Without further fanfare, and opinions completely my own:

1.  Q39

No barbecue yet can beat this place.  To celebrate my promotion and D's return from a month away, we took leave on a Friday a few weeks ago.  We made a nice city day of it by visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and lunching at Q39 - finally!

You might think the fun of the day biases my review of lunch, but I assure you, it's not so!

I don't take pictures of food, but I should have made an exception for Q39 since I can't stop talking about it.  Everything we ordered (pulled pork, chicken, beans, ribs, apple coleslaw, fries) was the best of its kind.  Each dish we tried was unique in flavor and still absolutely delicious.  I don't typically care for ribs, but I care for Q39's.  Well-spiced and crusted, with velvety chunks sliding clean off the bone.  The barbecue sauce is perfect to my taste, and I like the confidence that Q39 has in it - there's no array of cleverly named sauces to try - just the one, done well.  The restaurant is functionally designed with barn door/contemporary urban farmhouse decor that thankfully doesn't feel like a hipster rookery.  It's pleasantly crowded, and the noisy bustle bestows an atmosphere of excitement as everyone anticipates their meal.  Even among the busy tables D and I chatted easily.  The service is well-paced without being pushy, effusive, or nosy, and most importantly didn't attempt to have a meaningful personal relationship with us.  Also, the waiter didn't sneer when I just ordered water instead of an upcharged beverage.

We did not anticipate the bit of a wait for lunch on a weekday, but it afforded us a very pleasant walk in a neighborhood of beautiful older homes.  The Thomas Hart Benton Studio is a 10 minute stroll from Q39, and this diversion of course whetted our appetites.  When our table was ready we received a text and enjoyed the well-manicured lawns and gardens on the way back to the restaurant.  

This meal was not inexpensive, but priced correctly for the value.  I say this as someone who cuts her own hair and wears jeans from 2005.  Anyway, if I had out-of-town visitors, I would take them here first to check off the "must-eat BBQ in KC" list.  The parking lot is crowded, but we lucked out and got a space right away.  Q39 caps the end of a short strip mall and I believe you can park on the streets in the area if needed.  In any event, just go, and save yourself the trouble of dabbling in barbecue anywhere else.  
1000 West 39th St
KC MO 64111

2.  A Little BBQ Joint - Independence, MO

Want the stereotypical relaxed summer porch barbecue setting complete with paper towels, serving baskets lined in gingham pattern wax paper, high stools and picnic tables?  A Little BBQ Joint it is then.  No hoit, no toit, and a menu just broad enough to please everyone.  The barbecue chicken was awesomely sticky and well-flavored without too much pepper or sugar.  KC style is not my preference but I recognize its merits and A Little BBQ Joint deserves my accolades.  The portion was more than I expected and the beans (my beanstick, remember?) certainly on par with Q39 - if only there'd been more!  I don't remember the fries but to me that's mere filler, and not worth calories or details.  The half chicken with pickle and beans cost $8.99 which I believe is a fair price.  

They serve Diet Dr Pepper which is Dan's go-to carcinogen, so that's a plus for him.  A Little BBQ Joint is a lively, beachy restaurant with large covered outdoor deck and stage for live music on weekends.  I arrived with a big group without advance notice, we were accommodated swiftly, and the service was on point. 

The antique cars displayed in the parking lot create a nice amusement if you have to wait for a table. Young kids would be comfortable here.

I plan to visit again for a cold drink on one of those hot summer evenings when you'd like to hear a little live music in a tshirt and old jeans.  Maybe even the ones from 2005.

There is plenty of parking in two designated lots.  The menu focuses on fuss-free sandwiches (including the Truman S - it is his home town, after all!) and unique items like a pulled-pork baked potato, brisket chili, with a few novelty bacon-heavy dishes.  The Truman Library and Museum is less than a mile up the road, so why not combine a trip to the Library with lunch at A Little BBQ Joint?  That's a memorable weekend for anyone.  And, if you've been inspired by the Thomas Hart Benton Studio that you toured while waiting for a table at Q39, you can have your breath taken away by one of his most famous murals which adorns the entrance of the Museum.  

1101 West 24 Hwy
Independence MO 64050

3.  Tin Kitchen - Weston, MO

This is a "Southern Smokehouse" with plenty that's not barbecue, but their pulled pork is the best I've ever had.  I love it unabashedly and I won't apologize for enjoying a Carolina-style sandwich in Kansas City.  The 24- hour slaw is great, too - low on mayonnaise and very tangy.  This is a pulled pork sandwich I wish I could make myself, especially as I ate it twice in the same weekend recently.  I rarely find a restaurant dish that is perfectly suited to my taste, but the downside is that I will never try anything else on their menu, because I don't want to challenge my paradigm of perfection.  Unfortunately, this means I have nothing further to share with you regarding their menu.  D always orders the Green Chili Cheeseburger so I can't even comment on any barbecue nibbles nabbed from his plate. 

Weston is a lovely place to eat a tasty meal, walk along the rolling trail paralleling the Missouri, window shop among historic homes and churches, indulge in the quaintness of a small tourist town, and build a thirst for a beer at the Weston Brewing Company.  Is that a bad day for anyone?  The Tin Kitchen is a keystone Weston establishment, and has expanded to TK2 (just around the corner) with a larger bar but same menu. 

Tin Kitchen
509 Main Street
Weston MO 64098

4.  Papa Bob's

What more can I say about a little place that's already been featured on TV?  Man v Food lost out to Papa Bob's "Ultimate Destroyer Challenge" which necessitates eating a fortnight's worth of barbecue and sides in 45 minutes.  Most mortals end up paying the $62 and just won't have to go to the grocery store for a bit.

I wasn't quite so ambitious and I lost out to my regular Destroyer (one pound of meat - your choices - $13.00) and had to bring half home, head hung in shame over my doggie bag.  I reasoned that when at Papa Bob's you go big.  Well, I aspired to the stars, ate small, and had lunch for two more days afterwards.  

Depending on where you are, this is possibly the farthest flung, as it's in Bonner Springs along Kaw Drive, not far from the Kansas River.  I like it that way.  You have to go there intentionally and when you arrive it feels like a big occasion, marked by no fewer than 10 sauces to try, and any variation of meats to go with. 

It's a charming white building and oh-so-clean, practically sparkling on the inside thanks to the chrome and retro '50s diner look.   The menu is vast, but listen carefully, if you don't get Brooke's Bad A$$ beans then you might as well leave and go home to reconsider your life choices.  The sweet and sour slaw is my second favorite, and will be yours too if you prefer tangy vs creamy cole slaw.  

This is a family place and the eponymous menu listings honor Bob's grandchildrenThe walls are covered in pictures and papers announcing burger and sandwich specials.  The menu is the widest of all barbecue places on this list, and if you are really bbqued-out and need a fish sandwich or some corn nuggets, Papa Bob's got you covered.

Papa Bob's is an excursion into one man's long-beloved goal to own a barbecue joint and share his passion for barbecue.  I love that when we eat there, we are manifesting his vision, and it's more than great food, it's a dream made real for him and for our bloated, happy bellies.

Papa Bob's Bar-Be-Que
11610 Kaw Dr
Bonner Springs KS 66111
(913) 422-4210 

5.  Jack Stack - KCPL, Metcalf, various locations

The super-watt Jack Stack is the Louis Vuitton of barbecuery around here.  It's got cloth napkins!  Actual glass for beverages!  You pay at the table!  Oh la la! There are several Jack Stack locations, and I most recently dined at one last night in fact.

On a Saturday night you will wait for a table, which has never bothered me as long as it's a meal worth waiting for - and in this case, Jack Stack always is.  Typically D and I would either be chatting at home so to sit at a bar or on a bench and wait a spell is no big deal to us.  Some folks get antsy, and D sure can get hangry, but in that case we would eat at the Chick Fil A or Freebirds that's just down the street.

Everything on the menu is sound and every Jack Stack you go to is consistent - the very definition of quality.  You will pay handsomely for some of the entrees, but I still scored a dinner time pulled pork sandwich and beans with soda and tip for under $20.00.

My favorite item there is the burnt ends platter with the macaroni and cheese.  It's a once-in-a-while treat, but it's the first restaurant meal we had when D moved to Kansas in 2014, so I'm very fond of it and Jack Stack in general.

D can't remember what he likes best there, but if I remember correctly (and I think this is a memory he wants obscured!) he enjoyed MY order of burnt ends most of all!  Aha! 

Jack Stack is where you'd take out of town work colleagues with whom you are brokering deals and are maybe barbecue beginners, angling to try a little of everything.  Or maybe you want to celebrate a graduation or a birthday or just another Friday night - it's a great choice.  The restaurant is comfortable and the service is impeccable.  Last night, for example, in my group of six, our drinks never ran dry and we were never pressured to leave even after a few hours, though it was a busy night.  That's a quality dining experience and why I don't mind the higher tab Jack Stack commands.

You can always use our technique and avoid the high prices and crowds and have Jack Stack for lunch.  You can't go wrong with any options, but you better not take all the burnt ends! D has dibs on those, err, at least the ones on my plate.

Go early to get seated quickly, and relax in your choice because while nothing on the menu is wild and boundary-pushing, it's all very solid, high-quality, and you can't choose poorly.

Jack Stack Overland Park
9520 Metcalf Ave
Overland Park, KS 66212

6Joe's Kansas City

The best thing about this place is the people who work here - from counter staff to the people clearing tables- who take exorbitant pride in their jobs and exude such thorough friendliness that you can almost forgive the 60 minute wait in a queue that begins in a gas station parking lot.

It's a long line, starting out the door, and snaking past the convenience mart part of the gas station, which is off to the side of the barbecue counterFinally inside the door, you now have a good 45 minutes to agonize about your order.  They've thought of this, and have printed paper menus directly inside, for you to carry on your switchbacks through the shop.

Finally at the counter I ordered a pulled pork plate with beans, spicy slaw and fries.  D says, "I'm not a rib guy" but he is rather in the minority of the 100 or so rib guys behind us in line.  He ordered the ribs anyway, and a good thing, too, since it's the best part of the menu, we've heard.  I mentioned in a previous post that the fries are too salty, the pulled pork bland, the spicy slaw without much slaw or spice, but the little riblet I snuck off Dan's plate was good.  Really, really good.  Perhaps it's the wait in line that makes the ribs that much sweeter, but I don't think it's possible for any barbecue novice to re-create at home that high order of tangy, supple meat as it drops off the bone and into my gaping maw.

Go for the ribs, the nostalgia, the celebrity, the cult following, and to pay homage to a Kansas City landmark.  You'll enjoy people-watching as you wait in line, and you'll learn a lot about yourself as you silently wish the happy eaters "hurry up already, bleep-bleepers!" so you'll have a seat when it's finally your turn to tuck in.   

You can fill up your car here too, and grab a bottle of KC Joe's sauces or memorabilia to take home.  We didn't need anything else to bring back, because we are still talking about how the ribs and people at KC Joe's are the finest around.  

Original KC Joe's Gas Station Restaurant
3002 West 47th Avenue,
Kansas City, Kansas 66103
(913) 722-3366

7All Slabbed Up - Leavenworth, KS

I believe this is the newest of the roundup here, and the closest to home.

It is nice to have it nearby, and it would draw more of a following were it anywhere but in the KC area.  That said, to have a barbecue joint of this caliber in a small town is lucky indeed.

I tried the burnt ends here once, and they were great, but as with burnt ends, they aren't always aroundOn my next visit, I chose two meats - and while the pulled pork is well done and on par with many other area barbecues, the brisket is the real show-stopper on the menu.  I don't know if KC-dwellers will travel this far for brisket, but it's fine with me if they miss out, leaving more for the rest of us!  D and I uncharacteristically tried the fried pickles once, and were treated to huge serving - it's rare for me to highlight a fried filler side, but these were good enough that I recommend them if you've budgeted for a splurgy fatty treat.  The better, healthier choice (my friend, beans) are so tasty that I usually order an extra serving of them, which assuages any remaining pickle guilt.

The bar inside is charming, plastered with requisite signed dollar bills, and in a small town it's nice to scan the bills for outsiders who've visited our little city and left their saucy mark.  The restaurant itself sits on a gentle slope and from the outdoor seating you can have a nice view towards the VA and park, and the feeling of being a little bit outside your element above the busy street.

It's a satisfying, welcoming place and we are lucky to have it to round out the constellation of restaurants here in Leavenworth.  I've heard great things about All Slabbed Up catering, but haven't had the chance to try it yet.  We usually get take-out when close to home, and at All Slabbed Up the service is friendly and quick.

In sum, go for the brisket.  Maybe the fried pickles, and certainly the beans.  Revel in the fact that you are 5 minutes from home.  Repeat as needed.

405 Muncie Rd
Leavenworth KS 66048