Q39 (Kansas City, MO)


It’s hard not to notice that over a good fraction of the United States, barbecue is having more than a little bit of a renaissance. To an existing field of old and established barbecue joints (many of which are now working on improving things to stay in the game), there’s been both a notable uptick in new barbecue spots opening in established territory (just see how many new, excellent barbecue places have shown up in and around Austin, TX, for example), and even several barbecue styles like Texas BBQ spreading far, far beyond their traditional boundaries (with respectable Texas-style places showing up as far away as New York City). So it’s interesting to come back to Kansas City, which has long been (along with Texas, Memphis, and the Carolinas) been one of the classic BBQ hubs. Into an already thoroughly saturated market (Kansas City has, easily, over 100 BBQ joints over the metro area, including such classic stalwarts as Jack Stack, L.C.’s, Arthur Bryant’s, or Joe’s), there continue to be new places opening up and trying to add their unique spin on the topic. In this case, I’m talking about Q39.

Q39 is located on the side of Kansas City’s Midtown area (the name comes simply from the location, Q39’s flagship being located on 39th), in a surprisingly busy neighborhood location which could probably use a bit more parking. But wandering in, despite the very busy nature, the staff was able to find a nice table in back for our party of three quickly, and we sat looking over the menu while enjoying some Boulevard beer. Since we’re in Kansas City, I decided to do what the area is best known for, burnt ends, getting them in a combo plate with some brisket.

Let’s start with the brisket. First, I’m particularly snobby when it comes to my brisket. I’ve eaten some truly sublime brisket over the years, especially from Franklin BBQ, Kreuz, and City Meat Market, brisket that embodies everything that barbecue should be: a good, moist interior with a lot of meat flavor, a good crusty bark, and a smoke taste that just perfuses the meat. Done well, it’s up there with Jamón Ibérico in the meat excellence department. But, for every great bit of barbecuebrisket I’ve gotten, I’ve also been served up literally dozens of dry, tough, flavorless, chewy, leather-like slabs of brisket. It’s a hard form to truly master. So, with all my snobby-ness in mind, I found the brisket to be in the middle of the pack, albeit on the higher end of it. The basics were there: the meat had a good overall meaty flavor and a crusty bark, but I also found it saltier, slightly dry and a bit less smoky than I care for, leaving me reaching for the sauce (gasp!). But still, pretty good, and a damn sight better than 95%+ of the places in New England, and better than some of the places I’ve done in Texas as well.

Next up was the burnt ends, and this is where some redemption happened. Burnt ends are an interesting invention in the barbecue world. They started as exactly that, the leftover bits (mostly from the fattier “point” end of the brisket), usually collected up and thrown back in the smoker for another round to crisp up again. The abovementioned Arthur Bryant basically turned these into an art form, and since the 1970s they’ve pretty much evolved into their own form of barbecue; in fact, they are in high enough demand that actual classic “burnt ends” are pretty rare, usually these days it’s just chunked up bits of the point end of the brisket. But even then, the concept works: you get some of the more tender bits of the brisket, with a lot of fat rendering down and mixing with extra smokiness from the bark, and a bit of tang from the sauce. Done well, burnt ends are sublime, and here Q39 didn’t disappoint in the slightest: the burnt ends here are everything they should be: tender bits of brisket, with a heavy, dark bark, rendered fat, a slight bit of a salt, and a nice sauce. I’d definitely come and get these again.

While I’m a firm believer that barbecue joints live and die by the meat and not the sides, the sides were actually pretty good. I opted for the potato salad which was very nicely executed (like any good potato salad, it needs to focus on the potatoes and not the mayo), and Carol the white bean cassoulet. The cassoulet was a bit looser in consistency than I’m used to, but quite good otherwise, very flavorful with just a hint of smoke. I’d definitely think of the cassoulet on a future visit.

For this meal we were joined by Dave, a grad school friend, who, as a local, decided he was in more of a burger mood and got a very excellent Q burger topped with onion straws and some chopped brisket, and his dish looked quite good as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed Q39. Meat-wise, they’ve got some decent brisket and some excellent burnt ends, and do it in a pleasant and efficient dining room. I can see why the place is popular (in fact, almost bursting at the seams with customers during our visit) even with literally dozens of other good places within a short drive.

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